If you’ve hitched up a pair of waders or cracked the spine of a fishing magazine lately, you’ve noticed that fly-fishing for trout, salmon, and their piscatorial relatives has changed. Gone are the tweed-suited, 19th-century fly anglers who set a pattern for fly-fishing as a fine and far-off endeavor on placid waters. Today’s anglers travel farther, seek out new species and push the limits of technique. There’s no better example of the globe-trotting, anything-goes trout angler than Thad Robison, who goes so far as to ask what fly fishing is in the first place—and even, what are trout?
While fishing recently in Mongolia, Robison reports cutting hair from yaks to get streamers. “We were carving up all kinds of animals on the countryside,” he says. Robison and the rest of a band of roving anglers and videographers known as AEG—the Angling Expedition Group—were slinging streamers and foam poppers up to 16 inches long with rods most folks would save for salmon and tarpon. They swung these flies (a term used loosely) into the deep water along cut banks, where they were inhaled ravenously by the locomotive-like salmonids known as taimen. The fish, which can grow to more than 100 pounds, had heads “as big as pumpkins.”
Robison credits a robust diet. “Those taimen are used to eating squirrels, rodents and ducks—anything that they can fit in their mouth. They’re very aggressive.”
Not exactly the picture of wary brown trout sipping dries from the surface of a spring creek, for sure. But as fly anglers travel ever-farther to sample the best trout and salmon fishing, they find that untouched locations require some novel approaches. Robison and the AEG crew navigated the Mongolian rivers by one-man rafts, and crossed the prairies and mountains by horseback, camel and two Russian military vehicles.
Photographer and fly-fishing gadabout Tim Pask, set loose for several weeks in the two-million acre Atlantic Salmon Reserve in Russia’s Kola Peninsula, found his only option for transport, besides walking, was by helicopter.
That said, some well-known and comparatively accessible locations still offer some of the best trout fly-fishing to be found.
“Nothing, even having a tigerfish take a Dahlberg Diver from the surface of the Zambezi River, compares to watching a 35-pound Atlantic salmon rise up from the Petite Cascapedia River bottom,” says Tom Dickson, long-time trout nut and editor of Montana Outdoors. He recently fished Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, “I could see it down there, 15 feet below. I'd thought it was a log.”
The well-known West Branch of the Delaware River can be both exciting and challenging, reports Erin Mooney, Trout Unlimited’s national press secretary. “The Delaware offers some of the best fly-fishing in the East—it certainly can be some of the most difficult trout fishing east of the Rockies,” she says. “Hit it right, though, and it will be a day of fishing you'll never forget.”
The justifiably famous streams of New Zealand’s South Island are some of the favorite haunts of angler and author Gary Borger, who values the “unreal scenery, great people that speak a form of English that is more or less understandable, very big trout in absolutely crystalline water, and hunting trout individually rather than just fishing the water.”
The “world’s best fly-fishing for trout” is not a claim to make lightly (or with much confidence, for that matter). We polled writers, globetrotting fly-fishermen, fishing film-makers and trout conservationists to name their top places to fish trout and salmon anywhere in the world. After winnowing out some perfectly spectacular possibilities, here’s the list of 10—from discerning brown trout to 50-pound Mongolian “pumpkin heads” willing to pounce on a swimming rodent.