Below, you will find brief descriptions of 11 lodges and resorts that not only provide superb fly-fishing but also offer an extensive selection of life’s finer pleasures.
When fishermen debate which trout stream is the best in the world, Argentina’s Rio Traful inevitably enters the conversation. Just 10 miles long from its boca (mouth) on Lago Traful, it is a fast, clear mountain stream that contains exceptionally large brown and rainbow trout as well as landlocked Atlantic salmon weighing up to 20 pounds. And because the river flows through private land, it is not overfished like so many Patagonian streams. Indeed, the entire left-hand bank of the Traful falls within the boundaries of the Estancia Arroyo Verde. Long owned by the Larivière family, the justly renowned lodge has just six twin-bedded cabins. The fishing season runs November to April; I prefer February and March when the river is clear and less turbulent. On warm summer evenings, huge trout start flopping around in the pools, and the sense of anticipation can be almost unbearable.
Set on a 4,200-acre estate bordering Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blackberry Farm is one of our favorite American country house hotels. The property most frequently attracts attention because of its luxurious accommodations and exceptional cuisine. But in 2001, it became the first Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge in the eastern United States. This is an excellent place to learn to fly-fish, as highly competent instruction is always available. Flowing through the estate is a mile of Hesse Creek, a shallow, gin-clear stream, with intermittent deeper pools. Stocked with 10- to 14-inch rainbow trout, it is used for instruction. Although best fished in spring and fall, it is productive year-round. Guests also have access to more than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is strenuous, hike-in, guided fishing, in narrow, turbulent mountain streams. Most of the trout, including the native brook trout, are small (6 to 9 inches). In some places, however, there are larger resident brown trout (15 to 24 inches), which mysteriously emerge from hiding in fall. In search of larger fish, Blackberry Farm’s guests often undertake leisurely daylong float trips down the tranquil Clinch and Holson rivers. In 2018, sister property Blackberry Mountain opened just 7 miles northeast of the farm. There, similar fly-fishing opportunities are available, organized by the outfitter based at Blackberry Farm.
One of the most rewarding aspects of fly-fishing is that it invariably leads you to places of astonishing natural beauty. Often the surrounding landscape is reason enough for a trip. Nowhere is this more true than at Smith Fork Ranch, a wilderness retreat set in a box canyon midway between Aspen and Telluride, overlooked by some of the highest peaks in the Rockies. The ranch offers a private 3-mile stretch of the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River as well as six stocked ponds containing trophy-size trout of multiple varieties. Additionally, a mountain stream available to Smith Fork Ranch guests offers the rare A-strain Colorado cutthroat trout. On the famed Gunnison River itself, the pinnacle of the year’s fishing is between mid-June and mid-July when the salmon fly hatch produces some of the best dry-fly fishing in the country. Salmon flies, more properly known as Pteronarcys californica, are clumsy insects 2 1/2 inches long with two pairs of wings and an orange body. Large trout find them irresistible.
Set on a 640-acre estate first settled in the 1860s, Firehole Ranch comprises just 10 handcrafted lodgepole pine cabins. This is an intimate place surrounded by the inspiring landscape of southern Montana to which guests return season after season. Nearby are legendary wild trout streams such as the Yellowstone, Madison, Gallatin, Henry’s Fork of the Snake, Lamar and Firehole. For me, much of the joy of the ranch stems from its atmosphere of continuity. Owner Lynda Caine grew up nearby and purchased the property in 1999. The ranch is open from early June to late September and offers 10 fishing guides to its guests.
Colorado offers an endless array of fishing-based hideaways, and recently I’ve enjoying the splendor of the Taylor River Lodge 35 minutes from Crested Butte. This high-end fly-fishing camp encompasses an 8-acre estate and features six one-bedroom log cabins, each named after a trout fly, and two private homes each comprising two suites, bunkrooms, kitchens and fireplaces. The lodge features a casting pond stocked with rainbow trout where guests of all skill levels can hone their craft. The property also includes a mile of private river for fishing located just steps from the cabins. If one is seeking an adventure away from the resort, float trips are offered along the beautiful Gunnison River. The retreat is seasonally open from late May through mid-October.
Set on 37,000 acres in the classic Lewis and Clark country of northwestern Montana, The Resort at Paws Up comprises 28 vacation homes and 36 luxury safari-style tents. The property offers a bewildering array of activities, plus an equestrian center with an Olympic-size indoor arena. But for me, it is the resort’s 10 miles of the legendary Blackfoot River that provides the principal draw. (This is the stream made famous by Norman Maclean’s book “A River Runs Through It” and Robert Redford’s subsequent movie.) Nearby, there are other classic streams such as the Missouri, the Bitterroot and the South Fork of the Flathead, untamed wilderness rivers that offer superlative dry-fly fishing for species including the westslope cutthroat trout. Fly-fishing is offered by the resort from roughly May 15 to September 15, though timing can change due to weather conditions.
British Columbia seems to have more than its fair share of natural beauty. The 15.8 million-acre Great Bear Rainforest, which extends from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Alaska, contains wolves, cougars, grizzlies and the famous white Kermode, or spirit bear. Nimmo Bay is an intimate, family-owned wilderness lodge set along an unspoiled forested shoreline across the Queen Charlotte Strait. Nine comfortable, two-bedroom pine-paneled waterfront chalets complement a dining room serving exceptional cuisine. Guided fishing is available from early August to late October, with helicopters ferrying anglers to over 50 isolated streams holding abundant salmon, steelhead, char and trout. The helicopter remains with you all day and provides access to 50,000 square miles of terrain.
When fishermen talk about Alaska, the conversation tends to center on salmon. But Alaska also offers the world’s best rainbow trout fishing. (Here, the rainbows grow enormous because of a rich summer diet of salmon eggs.) At Enchanted Lake Lodge, all five species of Pacific salmon can be caught during the season (June to September), but the rainbows are the stars of the show. Sight fishing (casting to a fish you can see in clear water) is possible with dry flies as early as June. Located just inside Katmai National Park, this exceptional fly-in/fly-out retreat offers a panoramic dining room and comfortable guest cabins. Floatplanes transport a maximum of 12 guests per week to a web of wilderness streams.
I have long had a soft spot for the West Coast of Ireland and Connemara in particular. The salmon rivers there are not remotely as prolific as those in, say, Alaska, but from early June to September there is a healthy run of fish. (Irish salmon runs are increasing due to the abolition of commercial netting in 2007 and improved regulation of the fish-farming industry.) And the atmosphere of the region, the beauty of the landscape and the genial companionship of the fishing guides are incomparable. The impressive 48-room castle hotel overlooks a 700-acre estate, through which flow 2 private miles of the Ballynahinch River. The castle is also a mere 30-minute drive from Lough Corrib, which offers the finest wild brown trout fishing in Europe, with the famous mayfly hatch (late May/early June) bringing fly fishermen from all over the world.
Pound for pound, bonefish have no rivals for strength or speed. The so-called “ghosts of the sand flats” are found in shallow tropical seas the world over. First you have to spot a shoal — and it is invariably your eagle-eyed fishing guide who does that — and then you must cast a relatively small fly a considerable distance, with a high degree of accuracy, to a specific fish. The reward for your success is the feeling of suddenly being hooked up to a Ferrari. The best bonefishing and the largest bonefish are probably to be found around the atolls of the Seychelles, but closer to home I have experienced countless hours of excitement on the sand flats of Belize. Cayo Espanto is a 4-acre private islet, with just seven extremely lavish cottages, located 10 minutes by speedboat from the small airport on Ambergris Caye. The shallow translucent waters around the islet contain a large population of bonefish, and it is possible simply to wade off the beach with a fly rod. However, it is invariably more productive to engage a fishing guide with a flat-bottomed boat and to drift along the edge of the nearby mangroves.
A European-style country house hotel, Huka Lodge comprises 25 accommodations in stylish cottages set along the banks of the Waikato River near Lake Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand. One of the finest hideaways of its type in the world, Huka also offers exceptional trout fishing on the renowned Tongariro River, just a 25-minute drive away. There, the fishing is at its best in late winter (July to September) when the trout run up the river from Lake Taupo to spawn. Personally, however, I prefer the summer, when a short flight by helicopter brings you to the wilderness steams high in the hills to the east of the lake. This is trout fishing for the connoisseur: sight-casting to trophy-size trout in water of scarcely believable clarity.
Read our editor's "New Zealand Trout-Fishing Journey" in which he visits eight other lodges on the North and South islands.