Forget what you heard about never escaping the wind in Wyoming—it’s possible in Lander, where the average wind speed rates just 6.8 miles an hour. Top that off with copious cloud-free days and a plethora of local trout streams, and this is a fisherman’s paradise. In addition to local stream options, which include the Popo Agie, the Little Popo Agie, Red Creek, the Sweetwater and Bull Lake Creek, Lander offers a backyard wilderness fishing paradise.
The Wind River Mountains rise dramatically from the west side of town and hundreds of trout-laden mountain lakes offer golden trout, rainbows, browns and brookies to good size. In fact, the world-record golden, which measured 28 inches and weighed 11.5 pounds, was taken in the Winds; some lakes still offer legitimate five-pound goldens. When hiking through the mountains or tipping a few in town at Lander Bar, anglers rub elbows with hardcore backpackers, mountain climbers and real cowboys.
With such varied landscape and so many quality trout options, it would be difficult to find a better trout town in the Rockies. To top things off, the average Joe can own a quality home with a killer view without overextending the budget, because Lander, if there is such a thing in the Rockies anymore, is a mostly undiscovered angling paradise.
- Pitfalls: If you need a Home Depot or airport it’s 30 miles to Riverton, the largest town in the general area. Also, some of the area’s best fishing rests on the Wind River Indian Reservation. You’ll need a reservation license to access some big trout.
- Big Draws: Residents take advantage of Wyoming’s gracious tax structure (no state income tax) and the low cost of living. Also, a two-hour drive to Pinedale places anglers on more great water, meaning the Green and New Fork rivers.
- Best Eats: Cowfish is the place to be. Try the pasta bowls and steaks. The attached bar is the place to dine if a quality Monday-night game is on TV. In addition to great meals, the wine and beer offerings are impressive.
- After Hours: Lander Bar is a totally western authentic drinking establishment where locals of all varieties hang out while tipping domestics and a selection of micro-brews. If you’re hungry, order pizza from the attached restaurant, the Gannett Grill, and eat it outside on a patio. Put on your dancing boots for Friday and Saturday nights.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: After a big night at Lander Bar, the Magpie is a natural place to hang out, eat breakfast and caffeinate before heading out on the stream.
- Kicking the Dirt: Wild Iris Mountain Sports: (307) 332-4541
With two big-name streams outside its back door—the Big Wood River and Silver Creek—and a plethora of eateries and bars to satisfy off-fishing hours, Hailey and the entire Sun Valley area is a great place for hard-core fishermen to be.
Besides its noted streams, Hailey is within easy striking distance of the Little Wood, Trail Creek, the Big Lost, Magic Reservoir, Mackay Reservoir, the Salmon River (for steelhead) and the South Fork Boise. In addition, some killer trout lakes are found in the Boulder/White Cloud and Pioneer mountains.
Some of the Wood River’s best fishing occurs during winter, between early January and late March, when 14- to 18-inch rainbows slam midges and small nymphs. If you arrive during summer, a morning spent fishing the Trico hatch on Silver Creek or hoppers on the Wood can be teamed up with a mountain bike ride in the afternoon.
If you like a little skiing, hiking, mountain biking or mountaineering when you’re not fishing, and you prefer an upbeat, highly educated and progressive town, Hailey and the Sun Valley area offers it all.
- Pitfall: In the last 10 years home prices in Hailey have skyrocketed.
- Big Draws: Compared to the price of housing in other areas, such as Jackson, Wyoming, and Big Sky, Montana, Hailey is a bargain and the town is located just 15 or 20 minutes from the base of Mount Baldy. A prime section of the Big Wood’s catch-and-release-only water flows right behind town.
- Best Eats: Ketchum Burrito (KB’s) is the place to be if you dig Mexican food and want to fill up with a burrito. Miramar offers the authentic variety of Mexican food, including seafood dishes.
- After Hours: The Wicked Spud is a true local scene that serves oversize schooners of beer. A bar menu offers solid burgers and fries.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: Java’s motto is “Wake Up and Live.” If you haven’t tried their specialty, a Bowl of Soul, you haven’t lived; or check out Hailey Coffee Company.
- Kicking the Dirt: Lost River Outfitters; (208) 726-1706
Cody is situated near Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance and offers all kinds of excellent angling opportunities, on the streams in Yellowstone and closer to home—meaning right in town. If you’re looking for the in-town angling experience try the Shoshone River, which hosts some big rainbows and cutthroats. Just beyond the Shoshone is the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, where cutthroats and big browns are found in a scenic canyon setting.
If you prefer stillwaters, East Newton Lake should top your hit list. Proficient anglers take browns and rainbows ranging toward 26 inches. In addition, big browns and cutts are found in Buffalo Bill Reservoir just southwest of town. During spring and fall the North and South forks of the Shoshone, which drain into Buffalo Bill, offer big surprises as those reservoir-raised trout head upstream to spawn. High-mountain-lake fishermen find all kinds of unique options, including some decent golden and cutthroat trout fishing, in the Beartooth Mountains.
If headed into Yellowstone Park from Cody, anglers choose from Yellowstone Lake, Trout Lake, the Yellowstone River, Slough Creek, the Lamar River, Soda Butte Creek and Pebble Creek.
- Pitfalls: During January the average low is 12 degrees and a constant wind takes the chill factor below zero. In July the average high is 85 degrees. Just think wet-wading in summer and survival during winter. Another downfall, according to the local shop dudes and guides, is the singles scene—it sucks. Cold winters could be in store.
- Big Draws: Cody offers a classic western landscape and tons of fishing. Every day of the year there are decent options to be had. And, having the Shoshone flowing right through town means anglers find after-work options galore. In addition, Cody offers lots of restaurants and bars, a solid summer rodeo and the Buffalo Bill Museum.
- Best Eats: Hit the Proud Cut on the main drag. For diversity, try Tommy Jack’s for a Cajun spin on life. Gumbo, catfish and gator are on the menu.
- After Hours: Cooter Brown’s is the place to be if you’re hooting it up. The Silver Dollar is an old standby right on the main drag.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: For a quick cup you’ll do well at one of Cody’s parking lot mud-huts. Irma’s is a local favorite for breakfast.
- Kicking the Dirt: North Fork Anglers: (307) 527-7274
West Yellowstone, Montana
West Yellowstone is a fly fisherman’s dream town with options not exhaustible during a lifetime of fishing. Located on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, with quick access to southwest Montana’s and east Idaho’s fabled trout waters, West would be the perfect angler’s habitat if it wasn’t so damn cold during winter. Spring shows up late and winter arrives early. If your spouse likes flowers and produce gardens, save yourself an eight-month headache and don’t move here. If trout fishing is life, you belong.
On the bright side, that weather keeps the cost of housing down. If you’re just out of college and looking for adventure, patronize one of the local shops, pick up a guide’s license and get down to business. In a year or two you’ll own a nice little home near town and you’ll spend a couple hundred days a year on the water.
- Pitfalls: The tourist hoards descend on town beginning in June. They don’t leave until September. During winter West Yellowstone becomes a little too snowmobile-laden for my liking. Check the national highs and lows this winter and you’ll see West Yellowstone listed (on the low end, of course) so many times it’s scary.
- Big Draws: Living in West Yellowstone places anglers directly in fly-fishing culture. Reasonable day trips from West include the Henry’s Fork, Fall, Bechler, Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone, Gibbon, Lamar, Gardner, Lewis, Teton, Red Rock and South Fork Snake rivers, among many others. Hundreds of quality lakes, including Hebgen and Henrys, are there for the taking, too.
- Best Eats: Strozzie’s serves a mean pizza and they do so in the bar, which offers pool, live poker and attitude—look for the poster of Johnny Cash flipping off a photographer, but don’t think about stealing it. You will be shot.
- After Hours: You can’t go wrong at Strozzie’s. The Stage Coach Bar is another sure bet and weekends offer live music.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: West Yellowstone doesn’t lack for greasy breakfast options and strong coffee. Try the Running Bear Pancake House or stomp up and down Canyon Street for more options.
- Kicking the Dirt: Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop: 1-800-854-9559
Jackson is a tough place to make a go of it if you’re interested in owning a home and raising a family. In fact, the average cost of living in Jackson is 177.95 percent higher than the national average. But the culture is great and fishing options abound. In addition, you won’t find a more spectacular western landscape. In another life I’ll be rich and spend as much time in Jackson as I choose, taking advantage of great skiing, perfect mountain biking, wonderful wildlife viewing and solid nightlife.
For those with a monthly stipend (or a trust fund) this is a great place to rub shoulders with brethren who have the time and inclination to live an outdoor life to its fullest.
- Pitfalls: Some three-acre lots are on the market for a cool $5 million.
- Big Draws: Lots of fine restaurants, killer views, a spectacular spring creek in the backyard and the native fine-spot cutthroat in abundance. Also, in Jackson anglers are only an hour away from the fisheries of Yellowstone National Park. When you’re tired of fishing—like that’s going to happen—Jackson offers great mountaineering, hard-core skiing and demanding single-track biking.
- Best Eats: Start the day right—hit the Creekside Deli and order a breakfast burrito. According to Scott Sanchez, a fishing guru who lives in Jackson, order half a burrito because a full one is too big. For lunch, Creekside offers great sandwiches that last three days. A bonus to lunch at Creekside is that it’s located across the street from the Jackson Hole Visitor Center, which has a perfect lot for driftboat parking. For dinner, anglers and locals converge on the Snake River Brewery, which serves a variety of beer, and cheap, but good food. Look for pastas, salads, pizzas, burgers and prime-rib sandwiches. Higher aspirations place anglers at Sweetwater on town square. Steaks, lamb and elk are on the menu. Another prime option is the Blue Lion. If heading out of Teton National Park in the evening try Dornan’s. If you belong to the cash-flush crowd try Amangani just outside Jackson.
- After Hours: You can do the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar charade—with a bunch of tourists wearing five-dollar cowboy hats—or you can dine at the Snake River Brewery and chill out afterward with locals. Another option is the Stagecoach Bar in nearby Wilson and that is a good choice. Disco Thursdays. Packed weekends. Lots of eye-candy and shenanigans.
- Kick -Start with Caffeine: Jedediah’s is a great breakfast spot and they serve cheap, strong coffee that puts you on the mend after a big night in Jackson or at the Stagecoach. For a more local flavor, try Jackson Hole Roasters, which is located near Jedediah’s and offers dirtbag karma. Pearl Street Bagels is top-notch, too, but you’ll have to queue with the triple-skinny latte types there. After you grab coffee at Pearl Street, walk across the street and check out Cloudveil’s retail store.
- Kicking the Dirt: High Country Flies: (307)733-7210
If you’re a native-cutthroat and bull-trout connoisseur, Fernie is a great place to be. And, the quaint town offers a ski area, lots of great drinking and dining options, plus nightlife galore. If you’re looking for an active, upbeat town with forests full of trout, char, elk and grizzly bears, this may be your place.
Some of Fernie’s best-known angling options include the Elk River, which flows through town. Numerous Elk River tributaries, including the Michel, offer solitude and large trout. Cutthroats to 20-plus inches and bull trout to 10 pounds or more are often caught in the southeast corner of British Columbia. As a bonus, Fernie anglers can jump over the border into Alberta for tremendous trout options on the Oldman, Crowsnest and Bow rivers. Here’s a suggestion. When you order beer in Fernie ask for a Blue or a Canadian and leave the precursors out, lest you draw attention to southerly origins.
- Pitfall: The price of housing in Fernie is debilitating and that trend has spread to Sparwood, which is located about 20 minutes away.
- Big Draws: Fernie flies under the radar with most American anglers and British Columbia has too many great waters to fill up with local fishermen. In addition, the merit of nearby Alberta waters can’t be overblown.
- Best Eats: Sometimes you just have to go for it and going for it in Fernie means eating at The Old Elevator. Choose from braised oxtail, fresh mussels, butternut squash and goatcheese ravioli, chargrilled elk tenderloin and pan-seared vodka and citrus curried salmon. For dessert hammer the Guinness and chocolate crème brûlèè. Fernie Brewing Company is a more affordable atmosphere where pitchers flow easily and hockey rules the flatscreens. Yama Goya Sushi is an excellent in-town option, too. The Curry Bowl offers great Asian cuisine.
- After Hours: Hit the Park Place Lodge or the Central Hotel for cocktails. If you want to mellow out and talk fishing, try the Fernie Tea & Coffee House and its leather sofas. You won’t find alcohol at the Tea House, but they serve caffeine.
- Kick Start with Caffeine: The Blue Toque is Fernie’s best breakfast option. Choose from massive breakfast burritos or plates of eggs, hash browns and veggies. In addition, you’ll find strong coffee and lots of art to gawk at—the Toque is located in the old Canadian Pacific Railway Station, now a serious art gallery and hangout.
- Kicking the Dirt: Kootenay Fly Shop: 1-877-423-4483
The Blackfoot, Rock Creek, the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork are the main fisheries and their varied sections and appealing options couldn’t be explored fully in a lifetime. In addition to those amazing local options, Missoula provides a great base to hit Idaho’s prime cutthroat and steelhead waters.
One of the best things about Missoula is its college, the University of Montana. Along with a quality football team that knocks the pants off its instate rival every darn year (yes, I’m a biased UM grad), budding professionals gain a college education while honing fly-fishing skills before or after class. Add great restaurants and endless nightlife to that list and you’ll see why any trout addict who needs an education would be wise to visit Missoula.
- Pitfalls: Missoula sees a lot of cloudy days and during winter it suffers from inversions.
- Big Draws: Missoula offers an angling culture along with a blue-collar attitude. You don’t have to be a millionaire to belong here.
- Best Eats: The Depot offers a varied menu and an outside bar. Prime-rib sandwiches and burgers are the ticket. To scout out local college talent and to get a dose of grease, hit Hooters.
- After Hours: The Missoula Club offers inexpensive burgers and a great local scene, plus cheap beer on tap. The double-hot-pepper cheeseburger is the Mo Club’s best seller. For straight cocktails and beer hit Red’s, the Rhino, Charlie B’s or Stockman’s.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: The best way to start a solid day of fishing is to hit The Shack for buffalo pie or huevos rancheros. If you’re truly adventuresome hit the Oxford for brains and eggs and a peek at the Bukowski side of town.
- Kicking the Dirt: The Kingfisher: 1-888-542-4911
Let’s say you’re just fed up with the city life and you want to live where the pace is snail-slow and earning a living isn’t an issue. If that’s the case, Meeteetse may be for you. Regarding Meeteetse’s surrounding area and its fishing options, it has it all—the Wood and Greybull rivers, Sunshine Reservoir, the Absaroka Mountains and a plethora of high-mountain lakes.
- Wildlife abounds in the area and it’s not uncommon to see antelope, deer, elk, bighorn sheep and black and grizzly bears prowling about. If you need many social activities to keep you going, Meeteetse may not appeal. However, if the social scene isn’t an issue and you don’t mind driving 30 miles to Cody for groceries, you may want to check this place out. It’s where the Absaroka Mountains meet the Wyoming badlands.Pitfalls: If you’re the lonesome type, don’t move to Meeteetse alone. There isn’t even a day scene, let alone a night scene.
- Big Draws: Some awesome native cutthroat fishing, plus wildlife and scenery galore.
- Best Eats: You have two options here—the Elkhorn and the Outlaw Parlor & Cowboy Bar. The Elkhorn offers the standard cheeseburger and sandwich menu, plus Rocky Mountain oysters. In addition, patrons find a full bar with pool tables and an impressive mounted-head collection. The Outlaw is more of a sit-down-and-enjoy-a-big-dinner kind of place. It’s also where Butch Cassidy was once arrested for “borrowing” a horse. (Meeteetse is the only place Cassidy spent time in jail.) On the menu you’ll find homemade soups, breads and pies, along with steaks, chicken and ribs.
- After Hours: Pool and brews at the Elkhorn under the watchful eyes of all those mounted heads.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: Lucille’s offers a good breakfast and stakes claim to the “best” chicken-fried steak in the West. Meeteetse Chocolatier has organic coffee, and chocolates, of course.
- Kicking the Dirt: Head to the Elkhorn and rub elbows with local landowners, looking for a private place to fish on the Greybull.
North Idaho is home to native cutthroat and bull trout, and it also offers rainbow trout in abundance. The scenery in Sandpoint, with the timbered Selkirk Mountains rising overhead to the north, and Lake Pend Oreille dominating the eastern vista, is awesome. If you’re looking for arid, high desert and brown trout, head west to Montana. If you like timbered mountains and native trout, this is a good place to live.
In fact, Sandpoint offers a nice base for the young adventure seeker—Lake Pend Oreille and Priest Lake provide world-record Kamloops rainbow-trout opportunities along with some oversize lake trout. Northern pike also are available, especially during spring when they haunt the shallows and crush bunny flies. Local streams, such as the Moyie, St. Maries, Pack and Coeur d’Alene are severely overlooked. They provide shots at solid rainbows and native cutthroats, and the angling pressure is relatively light. In addition, Sandpoint offers great bass fishing, including a developing smallmouth fishery in Lake Pend Oreille.
Fishing isn’t the only draw. A local ski mountain, Schweitzer, is uncrowded and offers 2,400 feet of vertical drop, plus lots of Nordic. Mountain-biking trails, especially the desired single track, abound and the lakes afford waterskiers, sailors and the splash-and-giggle crew plenty of room to roam.
In town, residents find lots of brethren who hang out at a variety of quality eateries, coffee shops and bars. For the young, freewheeling, live-large-or-die types, Sandpoint is a great place to be.
Pitfall: You better explain the $10,000 tax-donation law to your parents because you’ll need every cent to survive here.
Big Draws: An hour drive north places anglers in southeast British Columbia where goliath bull trout and oversize native west-slope cutthroat are found. To the west are Montana’s Clark Fork, Flathead and Kootenai rivers.
After Hours: Good food, drinks and dancing can be found in one spot at Eichardt’s Pub, Grill, Coffee House. The menu ranges from elk burgers to ahi tuna. Locals hang out at a variety of dark bars along Main Street.
Kick-Start with Caffeine: Sandpoint is hip and big business knows that. That’s why one of the most popular coffee joints is the ubiquitous Starbucks. Whether you like chains in your dream town or not, you can’t say that a mug of SB’s Colombian won’t get you headed out for the stream in the right frame of mind.
Kicking the Dirt: Sandpoint Outfitters: (208) 263-2778
For fishing lifestyle and culture, Ennis is great. No matter which day of the year you arrive in this town, somebody is on the water and talk at the local coffee shops and bars revolves around angling passion.
And why shouldn’t it? Out its backdoor Ennis hosts the Madison River, one of the best trout streams on the planet. Nearby, anglers find Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen Lake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Beaverhead River, the Big Hole River and about 50 smaller streams, and just as many lakes and ponds, that provide excellent fishing, but are too sensitive to list here. Truly, anglers could fish the Ennis area for a lifetime and not touch all the water.
Regarding the town, Ennis is changing from a place where any old trout bum could find a reasonable home to a glitzy affair. A suggestion: If you want to live in Ennis on a basic salary, get in if you still can or live in Bozeman (60 miles away) and visit Ennis when the fishing is prime.
- Pitfalls: The wind in Ennis doesn’t blow quite as hard as it does in Great Falls and Livingston, but it’s not far behind. From January through June hold on to your hat—it’s brutal. In addition, don’t expect to have the Madison to yourself. It’s become the most heavily fished stream in a state of heavily fished streams.
- Big Draws: More quality fishing water in a 100-mile radius than just about anywhere in the West. Good bars with cheap beer.
- Best Eats: The Continental Divide is an angler’s hangout, with a menu that offers anything from king salmon to quail. You’ll pay a bit more at the Divide than you would elsewhere, but the quality makes it worth it. Another sure bet is the Bear Claw, which is a must-do after fishing Ennis Lake or Beartrap Canyon. Get the cheeseburger and you’ll never regret that choice.
- After Hours: Ennis is a single-man’s beer-drinking paradise. The Silver Dollar, the Claim Jumper and the Long Branch are located in town, within 50 yards of each other. Other options include the Bear Claw. Norris Bar, located just over the hill from Ennis, also is a good time. During summer they serve burgers and ribs and it’s located adjacent to the Norris Hot Springs/Water of The Gods.
- Kick-Start with Caffeine: If you want to sit down for breakfast, try Sunshine Bagel or The Pharmacy.
- Kicking the Dirt: The Tackle Shop: (406) 682-4263 or Slide Inn: (406) 682-4804 or Beartooth Fly Fishing: (406) 682-7525