For some, it’s the roar of the crowd in the Big House—100,000 strong, all bellowing for the maize-and-blue. For others, it’s the irresistible attraction of the opposite sex. They claim Ole Miss’s campus-wide speed limit is 18 miles per hour because that was Archie Manning’s number. But one look at the co-eds strolling the pathways and you’ll know the real reason. And then again there is actual academic achievement (it turns out that this often-overlooked factor has some bearing on future employment, if you’re into that kind of thing). Whatever your main motivation, there’s no denying that choosing a college is a heavy decision.
For fly fishermen, of course, picking your future alma mater (or influencing the choice of your children) is mostly about the old real estate adage: “location, location, location!” If you could work a few quality football games, maybe a festive soiree, and an education into the mix, so much the better. We’ve chosen our top 10 colleges based solely on their fly-fishing strengths (but they’ve all got a lot more going for them, too).
Colorado State University
Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
Best Nearby Fishery: Rocky Mountains National Park
Key Species: Cutthroat trout
Cost (annual): $20,000 to $37,000
Pro Tip: New Belgium Brewery offers special brews direct from the factory if you bring your own growler. Need we say more?
Fort Collins is uniquely situated on the Front Range and provides access to a huge range of fishing opportunities—from the high-mountain brookie ponds and cutthroat streams an hour’s drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park, to the stiff winds and backing-searing rainbows of the Grey Reef on the North Platte three hours away over the Wyoming line. Its location allows you to catch the Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Arkansas River—also just three hours from campus. CSU has one of the best veterinary programs in the country, while Fort Collins is consistently ranked among the best places to live—and start a business—anywhere. If sheer diversity isn’t tempting enough, you can also join Trout Unlimited and assist in the recovery of the greenback cutthroat—Colorado’s state fish, now known only in a few stretches of water in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Pennsylvania State University
Location: State College, Pennsylvania
Best Nearby Fishery: Spring Creek
Key Species: Rainbow trout
Cost: $20,000 to $40,000
Pro Tip: One of the first universities to offer a fly-fishing course for credit (way back in the 1930s); today’s “Kinesiology 004” will put you in contact with an impressive angling legacy (not to mention some actual trout). For more advanced anglers, Penn State even offers a competition casting course.
Penn State sits amidst some of the best limestone in the eastern United States, which means practically every local river is prime big-trout habitat. Spring Creek wells up from the ground only five miles from campus and its waters are home to one of the highest-density populations of wild brown trout in the US. The entire stream is catch-and-release, and is currently enjoying one of its healthiest periods in years.
Arkansas State University—Mountain Home
Location: Mountain Home, Arkansas
Best Nearby Fishery: White River
Key Species: Brown trout
Cost: $5,000 to $7,000
Pro Tip: KT’s Barbecue Smokehouse, in Gassville, on the banks of the White River, boasts some of the only smoked hamburgers on sale anywhere. But get there early: They sell out by lunch time.
Our least-expensive selection, ASU-Mountain Home provides an important option in tough economic times. With a surprisingly gorgeous campus in a laid-back town, you might almost forget that you’re only minutes away from—likely—the next world-record brown trout, swimming somewhere in the White or Norfork rivers (two of the last three world records came from the White River system). Pack for cold weather—the best fishing is October through February, when the “shad kill” coming through Bull Shoals Dam results in 10-pounders rising to surface feed on Alaska-style flesh flies.