Until a couple of decades ago, fly-fishing meant trying to hook trout. Then the definition of the sport began to expand, and today's fly fisherman is equally intent on landing bonefish in the Bahamas, tarpon in the Florida Keys, Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada, brook and rainbow trout in lower Canada, or Pacific salmon in Alaska.
It's not surprising that fly-fishing has become a near craze, for the sport allows you -- no matter how well you can cast, tie a fly, or wade through a rushing stream -- an intimate contact with some of the world's most pristine regions. Better lodging near prime fishing locales, the nearly universal bloodless practice of catch-and-release, the intrigue of the hunt, and the extensive instruction now being offered have all contributed to the great popularity of the sport. For some, fly-fishing is a highly cerebral exercise, for others it means sheer physical enjoyment. All who try the sport, however, seem to agree that few experiences can match presenting the fly to the quarry, which then honors the effort by taking the bait.
Although fly-fishing is possible in countless locations, following are some of the most rewarding, beautiful, and in some cases remote fly-fishing spots in North America and the Caribbean, along with nearby places to stay. Fishing areas are arranged by type of water: rivers, multiriver settings, lakes, remote "fly-out" areas, saltwater flats, and private streams.
san juan river, new mexico
North America's premier big-trout river noted for its arm-length catches -- very large and average-size rainbow, brown, and rainbow-cutthroat hybrid trout. One of North America's most consistently productive tailwater fisheries. Despite the river's increasing popularity with fly fishermen, four- and five-pounders are quite common; eight- and nine-pounders possible. Best to fish in the off-season, after Labor Day or in the early spring, to avoid crowds.
RIZUTO'S SAN JUAN RIVER LODGE
Hwy. 173, Box 6309
Navajo Dam, NM 87419
800/525-1437 or 505/632-3893
Nestled among the high-country plateaus of northwest new Mexico, the lodge is three miles downstream from Navajo Dam. Upscale lodge with eight 450-square-foot rooms (queen-size beds). Affiliated with nearby restaurant, fly tackle shop, and guide service. Reserve at least one month ahead.
bighorn river, eastern montana
One of North America's prime fly-fishing areas for large trout. Highly productive waters because of copious hatchings of insects year-round. In fall and winter months streamer flies suggesting minnows are effective in attracting migrating brown trout. Average catch run 17 inches, though 22 inches always a possibility. Crowds ease up in fall.
BIGHORN RIVER LODGE
Fort Smith, MT 59035
800/235-5450 or 406/666-2368
packages at $850, including lodging, meals, and guided fishing
Located 12 miles downstream from Fort Smith, Montana. Attractive well-furnished lodge with accommodations for up to 12. Large bedrooms with private bath. Menu includes exceptional low-fat, low-cholesterol dishes and fresh baked breads. Fly shop on premises. Private professional instruction available. Billings has closest airport with scheduled service. Reserve six months ahead.
alagnak river, bristol bay region, southwestern alaska
Guided fly-fishing for larger-than-average rainbow trout, arctic grayling, and all five species of Pacific salmon. Rainbows run 2 to 10 pounds plus, coho salmon to 20 pounds, king salmon to 70 pounds. An exceptional seasonal salmon fishery allows beginners far more catches than they would have in other fisheries. Staffed with some of Alaska's finest guides, who also provide expert instruction in Alaskan angling methods. Boats and motors are well maintained, and trips to other trophy-trout waters can be arranged. Don't be surprised to spot American bald eagles, moose, beavers, caribou, and Alaskan brown bears while fishing.
Bristol Bay, Alaska
(for reservations, 2925 90th St. SE, Everett, WA 98208; 425/337-0326)
packages start at $2,200 per person, including lodging, meals, guided fishing, and airfare from King Salmon, Alaska
Lodge has capacity for up to 45. Accommodations include a main lodge, with separate heated guest cottages for one to three, and small lodges for groups of 6 to 12. The menu concentrates on hearty food for hungry anglers, including salmon, prime rib, steaks, and chicken. Fly-tying facilities. Camp accessible by air only from King Salmon, Alaska. Reserve ahead during preceding winter season.
beaverhead, big hole, jefferson, red rock, ruby rivers, montana
Areas with numerous good fishing streams allow beginning fly fisherman the chance to test the sport in a variety of waters and situations. Guided wade or float fly-fishing for brown, rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout on five top streams. Serious fly-fishing; all areas popular with fly-fishing aficionados as well as the executive angler.
FIVE RIVERS LODGE
13100 Hwy. 41 North
Dillon, MT 59725-9533
packages begin at $1,195, including lodging, meals, transfers, and guided fishing
Up to 32 people in suites with twin or king-size beds. Executive meeting facilities, with fax, personal computers, and darkroom. Nearby Dillon airport able to handle corporate jets. Reserve six months ahead.
colorado river headwaters, blue river, colorado
Guided catch-and-release, barbless-hook-only fly-fishing for rainbow, brook, cutthroat, and brown trout on 10 miles of private water -- rivers, spring-fed ponds, and alpine lakes. Two-pounders are common, though six-pounders are possible.
Kremmling, CO 80459
800/722-3343 or 303/724-3343, fax 303/724-9063
packages start at $1,300 per person, double occupancy
Enchanting lodge overlooking Colorado River. While superb fishing is the ultimate mission, outstanding meals are a guaranteed reward. Fly-fishing instruction available for novices. Air shuttle service from Denver or Kremmling airports. Reserve six months ahead.
"blue ribbon" trout streams, idaho, wyoming, montana
Serious and dependable guided fly-fishing on the Henry's Fork and the South Fork of the Snake, Madison, Teton, Falls, and Warm rivers and the many rivers in Yellowstone National Park, all within 80 minutes of the ranch by car.
THREE RIVERS RANCH
Box 556, Hwy. 47, Warm River
Ashton, ID 83420
$2,480 per person, six nights and five days (based on double occupancy) with shared guide
Guests stay either in duplex cabins under tall shade trees along Robinson Creek (a fine shallow trout stream coursing through the property) or in the ranch house, a separate building accommodating up to 10. Memorable meals served family style. Float-fishing in drift boats, especially for more mature anglers. Reserve one year ahead.
Select Alaskan and Canadian fishing camps provide "fly-out" fishing opportunities. The lodge, located on a lake with facilities for floatplanes, transports guests in the early morning to fish in remote locations. At dinnertime they are flown back to the main camp.
ENCHANTED LAKE LODGE
King Salmon, AK 99613
from $4,900 a week per person
Great comfort in the wilderness on Nonvianuk Lake. With excursions in search of rainbow trout, arctic grayling, arctic char, lake trout, northern pike, and the Pacific salmon, the lodge has been rated Alaska's premier fly-out fishing operation. Separate cabins for up to 12 anglers. Superb hearty food. Lodge is accessible by air only from King Salmon. Reserve at least one year ahead.
northern saskatchewan, canada
Area lakes contain trophy-class northern pike, lake trout, walleye, and arctic grayling (there is a catch-and-release policy on pike). Pike are among the most exciting quarry for the fly fisherman because of the way they literally attack the fly or surface bug.
HATCHET LAKE LODGE
Maple Creek, Saskatchewan S0N IN0
five day, four night packages start at $2,300 per person, including lodging, meals, guided fishing, and round-trip airfare from Minneapolis
All the luxuries of a top-rate fishing resort on a remote wilderness island near the Northwest Territories border, truly "miles from nowhere." Fly-out options to 14 area lakes, though the lodge itself is so remote many guests choose to stay and fish there. Main building and cabins are native spruce. Great meals; breakfast and dinner are announced with the skirling of bagpipes played by a transplanted Scottish Highlander. Reserve at least six months ahead.
deep water cay, bahamas
Fly-fishing saltwater flats from shallow-draft "bonefisher" boats or by wading calls for considerable concentration to spot the fish. It is a technique that requires being able to cast a long straight line under windy conditions. The rewards are especially gratifying, since the main flats fishes -- tarpon, bonefish, and permit -- are ferocious battlers. Deep Water Cay, a 200-square-mile area of the world's most fertile bonefish flats, is excellent for saltwater fly-fishing. Ideal for the wading angler. Large permit and other saltwater-flats battlers are abundant.
DEEP WATER CAY CLUB
1100 Lee Wagener Blvd., Suite 352, Fort Lauderdale, Fl. 33315.
954/359-0488 fax 954/359-9488
packages of three, four, or seven days, beginning at $1,255 per person based on double occupancy, including lodging, meals, and guided fishing
Small intimate resort located at the east end of Grand Bahama Island. Luxurious accommodations in air-conditioned guest cottages. Excellent cuisine, professional bonefish guides, and smooth-riding 16-foot shallow-draft skiffs. Don't forget your passport. Reserve six months ahead.
upper florida keys
Passionate fly fishers come for inshore species -- tarpon, bonefish, and permit. But the region also allows for deepwater challenges, like dorado, sailfish, and marlin.
P.O. Box 527 Mile Marker 82
Islamorada, FL 33036
800/327-2888 or 305/664-4651 fax: 305/664-2893
Grand Slam Fishing package, doubles from $265 (food and guided fishing not included)
Presidents and celebrities have long escaped to Cheeca Lodge for fly-fishing and supreme pampering. In addition to the 49 guest rooms in the main lodge, there are 154 villa rooms and suites at the resort complex. Noted regional and sophisticated cuisine.
potter county, pennsylvania
Trophy-size fish are the rule rather than the exception at the Hammersley Wild Area. Fishing for brown, brook, and kamloop rainbow trout is done on 6 1/2 miles of private streams, divided into 3/4-mile beats. Privacy is stressed: there are never more than two anglers with one guide on a single beat. Fishing, primarily on headwaters streams between 10 and 35 feet wide, presents few challenges to the wading angler.
BIG MOORE'S RUN LODGE
RD #3, Box 204A
Coudersport, PA 16915
814/647-5300 fax 814/647-9928
guided fishing packages start at $805 per person based on double occupancy, including lodging and meals
A private year-round redwood lodge with accommodations for 10 anglers in five rooms. Cuisine is sumptuous, including steaks, pheasant, quail, duck, and roughy. For lunch a delicious streamside buffet picnic on a tablecloth with silverware and dishes, accompanied by wine. Special fly-fishing schools and one-on-one private instruction available. Accessible by commercial air from Bradford Regional Airport or by private plane from nearby Ranch Aero Airport.
REX GERLACH is a veteran outdoor writer.