12 Top Fly-Fishing Retirement Towns

12 Top Fly-Fishing Retirement Towns

Here's FR&R's list of the finest places for living out the dream

  • By: Jim Reilly
Let's face it, none of us is getting any younger.

In fact, our recent FR&R Reader Survey indicates that a good portion of us are at that stage of life when retirement may be right around the corner. You know, time to relax, move into a condo in Florida and pick up golf. Maybe even play a bit of bingo every now and then.

Just imagine it-drawers full of pastel shirts and pleated shorts; bus tours of the Maine Coast during the summer and maybe a part-time job at Wal-Mart. Ah yes, that sweet payoff after years of toil in the elements or under flickering fluorescent lights. Enjoy!

Yeah right.

If you're reading this, chances are you prefer Montana to Florida-unless you happen to be stalking a bonefish or battling a tarpon; your favorite thing to do on a golf course is poach bass out of the water hazard, and you think bus tours are for ninnies. In fact, if retirement means anything it means more time to spend on the water fishing, right?

That's how we feel, too, which is why we compiled this roster of the 12 best retirement towns for the hard-bitten fly angler.

Now, many of the places listed here may have been mentioned elsewhere as good spots for retirement in general, and are far from undiscovered. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing-it just means they all possess adequate infrastructure to handle the needs of a graying population-hospitals, part-time jobs, cultural activities and perhaps a Denny's or two.

But all of these towns are also located near fantastic fly-fishing water, plain and simple. And although Western hotspots are given prominence for obvious reasons, our choices are otherwise fairly evenly spread throughout the country, so an angler looking to relocate can offer his wife a variety of options.

So here then, in no particular order, is Fly Rod&Reel's list of the top-12 fly-fishing retirement spots:

Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouth University has long attracted world-class scholars and performers to this quintessential New England town, and fly anglers now number among those moving to Hanover. In the anglers' case though, they come to learn on the banks of the Connecticut River rather than in the refined lecture halls of Dartmouth. Only two hours from the coast, yet nestled at the foot of the White Mountains, Hanover is a good choice for those seeking a place that offers a variety of fishing options in a genteel setting.

"It's your prototypical ivory-tower college town," Tom Ciardelli, owner of Hanover Outdoors, says of Hanover. But it also holds its own in terms of fishing options: Ciardelli says the main fishery is the Connecticut River, which runs through town. Other nearby trips include quick drives to the White and Ottauquechee rivers in Vermont. For a change of scenery (and species) anglers can drive two hours south to the coast and fish for stripers and bluefish. Other possibilities include the upper Androscoggin River and Maine's Rangeley region for trout and smallmouth.

Area Stats
Grafton County
Pop: 81,743
Median age: 37
Median household income: $42,962
Median home value: $109,500

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Montreal 190 miles
Boston 125 miles

What to do off the water:
Head north to Canada and stock up on cheap pharmaceuticals.

Fly Shops
Hanover Outdoors

Traverse City, Michigan

Northwest Michigan may not have the "best" of a single type of fishing, but from steelhead to salmon, and smallmouth to pike they have a bit of everything, and Traverse City is located right in the heart of it. An angler would have to be pretty jaded to get bored up here with the Manistee, the Pere Marquette and the legendary Au Sable rivers all situated nearby (and don't forget the nearly endless possibilities of Lake Michigan).

All that water is enough to make a guy pick up and move there, and that's exactly what Chuck Hawkins did. He retired to Traverse City from Los Angeles 14 years ago and hasn't looked back. Fly-fishing was high on his list of criteria, and he looked at places such as Jackson Hole before choosing Traverse City. The fishing, he says, is incredible. "I don't know how to describe it. We have, arguably, the best fly-fishing in the United States."

Area Stats
Grand Traverse County
Pop: 77,654
Median age: 38
Median household income: $43,169
Median home value: $130,400

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Detroit 250 miles
Chicago 320 miles

What to do off the water:
If winter steelheading isn't your thing, go skiing on the friendly slopes of nearby Mount Holiday.

Fly Shops&Guides
The Troutsman

Hawkins Outfitters

The Northern Angler

State College, Pennsylvania

If you are a hardcore match-the-hatch, dryfly purist, then this is the place for you. With over 30 freestone creeks and limestone streams but a short drive from this dynamic college town, State College is hard to beat. Steve Sywensky, manager of Flyfisher's Paradise, describes State College as "this little mass of urbanization set in the middle of Appalachia and near some excellent trout fishing."

The abundant coldwater springs of Centre County keep the rivers and creeks open year round, so you'd be hard pressed to exhaust all the fishing opportunities in the region. But if you need a break from the educated trout of Penn's Creek, the 40,000 students of Pennsylvania State University attract many big-city amenities such as fine restaurants, concerts and sports events to choose from.

Area Stats
Centre County
Pop: 135,758
Median age: 29
Median household income: $36,165
Median home value: $114,900

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Pittsburgh 135 miles
New York City 235 miles

What to do off the water:
Take a stroll through downtown and enjoy the scenery (wink, wink).

Fly Shops
Flyfisher's Paradise

The Feathered Hook

Asheville, North Carolina

Think the South is out of the question if you're into trout? Well, then you haven't fished around Asheville. According to Frank Smith, owner of Hunter Banks Company, there's nearly 2,700 miles of trout streams in western North Carolina. Among the notable rivers are the Davidson River (a TU Top 100 river), the North and South Mill rivers for trout, and the warmwater French Broad River running right through town is a good bet for smallmouths.

A 90-minute drive to the west will put you on two of the South's big-name tailwaters: the South Holston and the Wataugua, and the brook trout streams of Great Smoky Mountain National Park are just a bit farther.

Area Stats
Buncombe County
Pop: 206,330
Median age: 39
Median household income: $45,011
Median home value: $119,600

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Knoxville 115 miles
Charlotte 130 miles

What to do off the water:
Visit the Biltmore Estate-America's largest home.

Fly Shops&Guides
Hunter Banks Company

Curtis Wright Outfitters

Key West, Florida

Key West is a no-brainer for anglers with saltwater (and maybe margaritas) on their minds. Although far from undiscovered, Key West is still the best place in the US for the serious saltwater angler. Throughout the year you can choose from tarpon, bonefish and permit on the flats; and sailfish, shark and tuna off shore. And with the Caribbean as your backyard, you'll never run out of space to fish.

Granted, you'll have to contend with throngs of college students in the spring and crowds of rum-soaked vacationers throughout the year, but when you're living in paradise and great fishing is (literally) right out the door, who can complain?

Area Stats
Monroe County
Pop: 79,589
Median age: 43
Median household income: $42,283
Median home value: $241,200

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Havana 90 miles
Miami 160 miles

What to do off the water:
Actually, you should stay on the water: snorkel, sail or just kick back and relax.

Fly Shops&Guides
The Saltwater Angler

Capt. Bruce Chard

Capt. Tom Rowland

Capt. Lenny Moffo

Mountain Home, Arkansas

Want a real chance to catch a world-record trout? Then this is your place. Mountain Home sits right in the middle of the White River tailwater system that in 1992 produced a 40-pound, 4-ounce brown trout. That's right, 40 pounds. Although fish of that size are exceptional even on the White, several 20-pounders are caught each year, and 3- to 5-pound fish are quite common.

If tailwaters are not your thing, you can always launch your boat in any of the large impoundments nearby and fish for stripers and largemouth bass. Ron McQuay, manager of Rim Shoals Fly Shop, says another quality of the area is that the White River is a year-round fishery with the biggest fish often caught between November and February.

Hey, there are worse things you could do with your golden years than chasing down a world-record brown.

Area Stats
Baxter County
Pop: 38,386
Median age: 48
Median household income: $29,106
Median home value: $84,500

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Little Rock 173 miles
Memphis 195 miles

What to do off the water:
Drive an hour and a half to Branson, Missouri, and catch a country-western show, if you dare.

Fly Shops&Guides:
Blue Ribbon Flies

The Ozark Angler

Rim Shoals Fly Shop

Bozeman, Montana

Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone, Missouri…you get the picture, right? Far and away the ideal location to live (let alone retire) for the trout angler. With the aforementioned rivers located but short drives away and dozens of blue-ribbon streams just a bit farther, Bozeman is Shangri-La for trout anglers.

Aside from the fishing, Tim Schwarze, a guide with Greater Yellowstone Flyfishers, attributes Bozeman's popularity among retirees to the presence of services such as supermarkets, shopping centers and medical facilities that retired folks are accustomed to, things you wouldn't find in smaller cities in the region. Plus, as Schwarze says, "we've got waters to fish in every direction."

Area Stats
Gallatin County
Pop: 67,831
Median age: 31
Median household income: $38,120
Median home value: $143,000

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Salt Lake City 409 miles
Denver 694 miles

What to do off the water:
Take a hike through the Gallatin National Forest or go sight-seeing in Yellowstone.

Fly Shops&Guides
The Bozeman Angler


Greater Yellowstone Flyfishers

Montana Troutfitters

The River's Edge

Durango, Colorado

Nestled at the base of the San Juan Mountains is Durango, a town with a cowboy past and ideal for fly-fishing. Artsy with a Southwestern flair, Durango may not be a huge retirement community, but the people it attracts take full advantage of the surrounding landscape.

Now as to the fishing-you've got the Animas River flowing nearby, the huge rainbows of the San Juan are about an hour away and the surrounding mountains are teeming with small mountain streams full of eager trout.

Area Stats
La Plata County
Pop: 43,941
Median age: 36
Median household income: $40,159
Median home value: $183,900

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Santa Fe 216 miles
Denver 350 miles

Park City, Utah

Long a haven for retired Delta Airlines pilots (nearby Salt Lake City is a major hub), Park City also attracts anglers who don't want to travel far to fish good water. Case in point is the Provo River, which flows right outside of town. Its three sections offer enough variety to keep even the most experienced angler satisfied.

Another place local anglers like to fish is Weber River (about a 30 minute drive from town)-a small river that holds trophy-size browns. Oh, and perhaps the best thing is that the crystal-clear waters of the Green River are just over three hours away.

Area Stats
Summit County
Pop: 29,736
Median age: 33
Median household income: $64,962
Median home value: $296,000

Distance to nearest metro area:
Salt Lake City 30 miles

What to do off the water:
Go for the gold-Olympic-quality ski slopes are just minutes outside of town.

Fly Shops
Trout Bum 2

Park City Outfitters

Park City Fly Shop

Bellingham, Washington

Diversity is the name of the game in Bellingham. Situated where the Pacific Ocean meets the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the rivers and lakes surrounding this town hold a variety of fish ranging from Pacific salmon to smallmouth bass, with runs of steelhead and coastal cutthroats for those who know where to look.

The local river is the Nooksack, home to a number of Pacific salmon species as well as a run of winter steelhead, but Lake Whatcom is where anglers go for excellent smallmouth fishing. With the Canadian border just 10 miles from town, Brady Martin, owner of H&H Outdoor Sports, says most anglers in the area have a British Columbia fishing license. Bellingham is only a three-hour drive from the Kamloops region, which offers quite possibly the best lake fishing for trout in the world.

Area Stats
Whatcom County
Pop: 166,814
Median age: 34
Median household income: $49,325
Median home value: $155,700

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Vancouver, BC 50 miles
Seattle 90 miles

What to do off the water:
Drive north to cosmopolitan Vancouver, take a ferry to Alaska, or head south to Seattle and grab a cup of coffee.

Fly Shops:
H&H Outdoor Sports

Ashland, Oregon

Ashland is the place for music- and theatre-loving fly anglers. Home to the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the world-class Britt Festivals, Ashland is a progressive, cultural city located near some of the best waters in the Northwest.

The big draw in this region is the Rogue River, where anglers can fish for trout, steelhead and a population of juvenile steelhead known as "half-pounders." But Ashland residents also can quickly access some of northern California's finest rivers and streams such as the Upper Sacramento, the McCloud and Hat Creek.

Area Stats
Jackson County
Pop: 181,269
Median age: 39
Median household income: $36,461
Median home value: $140,000

Distance to nearest metro areas:
Bend 191 miles
Portland 289 miles

What to do off the water:
Catch a play or concert or go for a hike at Crater Lake National Park.

Fly Shops
Trophy Waters
Fly Fishing Shop

Rogue Angler