Tigerfish, in the words of adventure angler Larry Dahlberg, "have the fuselage of a bonefish, the tail of a tarpon, the paint job of a striped bass, teeth like a bull shark and a compound hinged jaw that works like a turbo-powered paper shredder." They are found in the Zambezi River, Zambia, and catching one is akin to "hooking a crocodile."
Where there are fish, there will be fishermen, whether it’s an alpine trout stream overflowing with sassy rainbows or a drainage ditch holding a few sickly carp. And in the last few decades, anglers have become inclined to travel further and further afield in search of ever more exotic experiences.
Interest in fly-fishing for saltwater species—like bonefish, tarpon and even billfish—has done a great deal to broaden the menu of adventure angling options. So has the discovery that species not previously thought of as sport fishing quarry—peacock bass in Brazil, taimen in Mongolia and the aforementioned tigerfish—can be drawn to a fly, with explosive results.
Fly-fishing is not just for trout anymore—though day in and day out, trout are still the most sought-after fly-rod species. In North America, no place says trout like Montana, and in Montana, few venues say trout as eloquently as the Big Hole River, with its healthy stocks of wild brown and rainbow trout. Some anglers float the lower river, fishing streamers for bigger fish; others prefer to wade the upper, casting dry flies for smaller quarry. With abundant Big Sky scenery, everyone comes away happy.
Anglers are also hunting trout in more far-flung places. Kamchatka in far eastern Russia—a place that may be best known as a minor outpost on the Risk Board—has become one of the world’s go-to destination trout fisheries. Kamchatka’s Zhupanova River is considered one of the best rainbow trout streams in the world.
“The Zhupanova is the most amazing trout stream I’ve ever encountered,” said Guido Rahr, president of the Wild Salmon Center, which conducts extensive research in Kamchatka. “From the size of the trout to the landscape, I don’t think a trout stream architect could have designed a better river.” New Zealand and Patagonia are other top trout destinations.
As for more exotic fish, peacock bass can be found in the Amazon watershed, and have been known to pulverize top water plugs into dust and snap nine-weight rods like kindling, so ferocious is their strike. “It’s like a big fellow tried to jerk the rod out of your hand,” said J.W. Smith of Rod & Gun Resources.
Bonefish, on the other hand, are far more finicky. It’s challenging to tempt them to a fly, but once they’re hooked, their speed and strength can overwhelm novitiates. Among bonefish aficionados, Andros Island, the largest island in the Bahamian chain, holds an iconic place. “For large numbers of bonefish—and a real shot at large bonefish—no place compares with Andros,” said Rupert Leadon, proprietor of the long-established Andros Island Bonefish Club.
We talked to a host of professional guides and several industry notables to compile this list; the fly-fishing venues here are the favorite destinations of anglers who have covered a lot of miles in quest of new challenges. From the gin-clear trout runs of New Zealand to the far more challenging environs of outer Mongolia, the experiences these fisheries offer are guaranteed to be memorable—even if the fish aren’t biting.