By Skip Clement
Googling, as it often does, leads to wrong turns. One such wrong turn landed on a 2013 Forbes story by Monte Burke titled America’s Top 10 Flyfishing States. I read it and remembered I’d read before and that I disagreed with some of it in a few ways. Of course, picking best fishing states is a errand for the lighthearted and doesn’t involve and intense study of data (licenses sold, fish caught, etc…).
If you look at statistics, state by state, it could throw you off. For example, Wyoming is a great fly fishing state, but the entire population is rather small. A state like California is the complete opposite as it relates to population.
One way to measure a state’s popularity as fishing gold mine is non-resident licenses issued
Let’s take a look at Burke’s 2013 countdown and take a peek at his reasoning for a few of them. His list, and mine (FLM) are not in a particular order – just numbered for convenience.
1. Florida – FLM AGREES “Florida is hands-down the best saltwater flyfishing destination in the States. The Keys still have big, wary bonefish. They have the wily permit. And they are loaded with tarpon. The Everglades, too, have tarpon, plus redfish and snook and even largemouth bass. Swing around to the Panhandle, and you’ll find tarpon and reds. But Florida has some inland jewels as well. Largemouth bass are everywhere, in canals, ditches, lakes and ponds. Disney’s lakes supposedly have enormous bass.”
2. New York – FLM AGREES “I’m biased. I live here now as a southern expat. But check this out: the state has Montauk, Long Island Sound and all the southern beaches of Long Island which, together, might make for the best striped bass, bluefish and false albacore fishing in the nation. The Catskills—with the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, the Neversink and the branches of the Delaware—offer the nation’s best trout fishing east of the Rockies. And the Adirondacks have earned their spot in flyfishing lore. Then you have the Great Lakes rivers—the Salmon River the most well-known among them—that have runs of salmon and steelhead. These species are not native, of course. But they are there. The state has incredible variety, maybe the best in the nation.”
FLM: Montana is a great fly fishing state, made even more famous by the movie A River Runs Through it and iconic rivers, but so are Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming excellent trout fishing states. See Colorado.
4. Pennsylvania – FLM AGREES “On this list partly for history’s sake. The Letort Spring Run is no longer what it once was. The rapid suburbanization of the area has taken an almost lethal toll. But this is the little spring creek where Vincent Marinaro and Charlie Fox pioneered the American version of fishing “far and fine,” that is, casting light tippets with small flies to big, wary trout. You still have the various spring-fed creeks in the State College area. like the Little Juniata, Penn’s Creek and, of course, Spring Creek, which seems to have thousands of brown trout per mile. Like New York, Pennsylvania has some steelhead and salmon rivers, like Elk and Walnut creeks. The only thing missing in this state is a saltwater scene. William Penn should have just gone ahead and annexed southern New Jersey.”
FLM: It is a great fishing state, but more realistically, “…the land of Hemingway, Harrison, and McGuane…and salmon and steelhead from the Great Lakes.” – Burke
Wisconsin (resident 1,437,227 and non-resident 1,281,788) and Minnesota (1,398,895 resident and 1,351,615 non-resident) far more fish happy than Michigan alone.
FLM: Add Washington and call it one.
7. Alaska – FLM AGREES “The state has a fishing season of only a very short few months. But, wow, what a few months those happen to be. Salmon, steelhead, resident rainbows, grayling, northern pike, grizzly bears, floatplanes and the last true American wilderness.”
FLM: Alaska issues 250,000 resident fishing licenses and 370,000 non-resident fishing licenses.
8. Idaho – see Colorado
9. North Carolina
FLM: Add South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and the other Appalachian states and call it one.
FLM: Colorado is a great fly fishing state, but so are Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming great fishing states.
Missing from Burke’s list Texas
FLM: With 1,900,808 resident licenses and a fishery that straddles most of the Gulf of Mexico, it should be on the “Best” list.
FLM: Maine is my sleeper state. Wisconsin, Minnesota and California deserving of stand-alone recognition.
There are 38,402,443 fishing licenses/permits/tags issued in the United States.
The income generation is worth $708,688,945.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, more than 46 million licensed anglers generate over $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for more than 828,000 people.