1. Madison River, Montana
One of the most storied rivers in the Western U.S., the Madison draws anglers from around the world. Big brown and rainbow trout are the primary targets on this river. Abundant insect hatches regularly bring large fish to the surface, giving you a shot at dry fly fishing almost every day of the year. When the fish aren't eating on top, streamer fishing offers the chance to net trout of epic proportions, especially during the autumn months. With over 150 miles of fishable water, ample access for wade fishing, big wild trout, and stunning scenery, the Madison is a river that everybody should fish at least once.
2. Deschutes River, Oregon
Trout aren't what come to mind when most anglers think of the Deschutes -- the Deschutes boasts one of the finest summer Steelhead fisheries in the lower 48 -- but during May and June the trout fishing is among the best anywhere in the West. Native redband rainbow trout patrol the grassy banks and feed fecklessly on enormous salmonflies. The river is an oasis among the arid, snake-infected hills that border the river in high desert of Central Oregon. A multi-day float trip with riverside camping makes for an exciting wilderness adventure.
3. North Platte River, Colorado & Wyoming
Beginning in Northern Colorado, the North Platte offers exciting fishing for brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout inside a rugged, boulder-strewn canyon. A few miles after crossing the border into Wyoming, the river hits the remote, rugged and windswept plains of Wyoming. A series of reservoirs impede the river's flow, but below each, prolific "tailwater" fisheries are formed. Grey Reef and The Miracle Mile are two stretches of the river famous for their large trout, often pushing two feet in length.
4. Missouri River, Montana
The Missouri River in Central Montana is arguably the finest destination in the U.S. for catching big trout on dry flies. Biologists have put fish counts as high as 7,000 per mile, including a large number of brown and rainbow trout greater than 20 inches. It's not known as an easy river, though. The wide, relatively flat river makes for challenging, often technical fishing conditions. It can be frustrating watching rising fish pick natural insects off the water, only to ignore your offerings. A guided float trip goes a long way in trying to crack the secrets of the Mo'. When everything comes together, there are few places more rewarding to fly fish.
5. South Fork of the Snake River, Idaho
The South Fork on the Snake epitomizes what many think of as a great "Western" river. Its wide and powerful. Craggy canyon walls give way to miles of cottonwoods. Moose and eagles patrol the river, and gorgeous native Yellowstone Cutthroat trout swim below. Given its impressive size, the South Fork is best fished from a drift boat, which allows you to cover miles of river. The river is one of the best remaining places to catch Yellowstone Cutthroat in their native environment. Brown trout and rainbows are also part of the mix, making for an exciting fishery. A float trip on the Snakes makes a lasting impression on any fly angler.
What fly fishing destinations would you add to this list?