6 River Trips That Belong on Every Angler’s Bucket List
When I think about my favorite river trips, my fondest memories often take place after I’ve finished paddling for the day. That’s one of the best things about river tripping: once you’ve found a campsite and gotten all those chores squared away, there’s still some daylight left. I used to break out a book or a deck of cards (or, with the right group, a six-pack I dragged behind the boat to keep cold). But once I discovered fly-fishing, I was hooked—no pun intended. These days, I plan my paddling trips based not just on the boating, but on the fishing, too. These six trips belong on every angler’s bucket list.
1) Flathead River, Montana
The Flathead is known for its rainbow and Westslope cutthroat trout fishing, but it makes for a fine float, too. The Middle Fork begins in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and winds its way through northwestern Montana, creating the southern border of Glacier National Park. The Middle Fork’s Class II and III rapids make for an exciting trip, but leave boaters with plenty of energy to cast along the way. The real beauty of fishing the Flathead? The trout aren’t exactly picky—about what kinds of flies they’ll bite or about whether your cast is technically perfect.
2) Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho
Few river trips are as iconic as the Middle Fork Salmon—in terms of either the rafting or the fishing. A 100-mile trip down one of North America’s most scenic stretches of river contains 100 rapids, many of them Class III and IV, but if you’re an angler, that’s only half the excitement. The Middle Fork’s cutthroat trout fishing is legendary. Visit this corner of the Frank Church Wilderness between July and September, when you’re practically guaranteed to catch fish. Thanks to the Middle Fork’s breathtakingly clear water, the fish are visible from the second they latch onto your dry fly until you release them back into the river.
3) Copper River, Alaska
It’s true what they say: everything’s bigger in Alaska, including the rivers—and the fish. There’s something truly spectacular about floating the uniquely braided glacial rivers of the Last Frontier, and it doesn’t hurt that you’ll be rafting past massive glaciers. You’ll also see plenty of fish wheels on the section of the Copper between Chitina and the Million Dollar Bridge in Cordova, a sure sign that Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon are ready to be harvested. Your biggest competition for the best fishing spot? The resident grizzlies.
4) Tuolumne River, California
It would be tough to improve on a day of rafting the Tuolumne River, just a stone’s throw from Yosemite National Park. But it can be done: it’s one of the most productive trout fisheries you’ll find in California. The river’s headwaters are filled with gorgeous golden trout, and farther down, anglers can fish for brookies, rainbows, and brown trout, who regularly reach 10 to 14 inches. The whitewater is equally exciting, with rapids up to Class IV (or, during high water periods in May and June, even Class V).
5) Upper Colorado River, Colorado
The Upper Colorado is best known for Gore Canyon, and its gnarly stretch of continuous Class IV and V whitewater. But there’s so much more to the “Upper C,” as it’s affectionately known. Beginning just downstream from the canyon at the Gore take-out, the river takes on a lazy, meandering character—there are a couple of Class II and III rapids, but it’s mostly flat water and occasional riffles all the way to State Bridge. In the warm summer months, the run is dotted with anglers, but you’ll have no trouble finding an idyllic spot to cast for big rainbow and brown trout.
6) Lower Klamath River, California
Fishing is more fun when you can share it with the whole family, and in that sense, the Lower Klamath delivers. The section begins just south of the Oregon border, and its approachable Class II rapids and temperate swimming holes make for a perfect family-friendly long weekend. The Lower Klamath also happens to be among the finest steelhead fisheries in the Western U.S., with a season that lasts from mid-July all the way through November. There’s also a solid run of Chinook salmon—upwards of 100,000 of them make for the Trinity and Middle Klamath Rivers every fall.
Photos: Middle Fork Salmon fishing – Justin Bailie; Middle Fork Salmon catch – Justin Bailie; Tuolumne River fishing – James Kaiser; Lower Klamath River – Cindi Stephens