Please be advised that hiking out to and wading into rivers can be dangerous. Research all regions and bodies of water before heading out. Also, you’ll need a permit to fish in certain rivers.
The fishing line unfurls behind you. You gently push your arm and fishing rod forward and let the line unwind. It gracefully lands atop the river without making a ripple. Then, a mouth rises from the water and snatches the fly, you pull back on the line and feel a sharp tug—this is fly fishing.
Much like producing an exceptional bottle of wine, to find success on the river, one must be in touch with nature. This makes fly fishing in wine country the perfect combination.
Here are a few regions where you can fly fish and enjoy a glass.
The Hudson Valley/Catskills, New York
While sometimes disputed, the Catskills, located in Central New York, is often called the birthplace of American fly fishing.
“As it developed in the 1800s, we became the most popular location, and indeed, many of the innovations of those early years occurred in our area,” says Paul T. “Terry” Shultz, a board member of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. Shultz has fished the Catskills since the 1950s.
Early innovators in the region included Theodore Gordon, who revolutionized dry fly fishing; Reuben Cross, who shaped how flies are tied; and Joan Wulff, who reshaped casting techniques and still has a fly fishing school in the Catskills today.
While there’s an abundance of rivers and other bodies of water to fish, some of the “best known trout rivers include the Beaver Kill, the Willowemoc, the Neversink, the Esopus [and] the Schoharie—these five comprise the ‘Charmed Circle.’ Plus, the Delaware [River] and its two branches, the East and West,” says Shultz.
About an hour south of the Neversink River, you’ll find the 80-mile-long Shawangunk Wine Trail, which runs throughout Ulster and Orange counties in the Mid-Hudson Valley region and includes 13 wineries and cideries. Look for Aaron Burr Cidery, Hudson Chatham Winery, Whitecliff Vineyard and more.
Lewis-Clark Valley, Idaho
Home to the Snake River, Clearwater River and more than 50 wineries, Idaho is the place to be for fly fishing wine lovers. Much like the Catskills, the Gem State has a long history with the sport.
“Because of its remoteness and access to high-mountain lakes and streams, Idaho became a fly-fishing destination during the sport’s boom between the 1930s and 1960s,” says Connor Jay Liess, public information specialist at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “Well-known public figures such as Ernest Hemingway and even presidents made trips out to Idaho to fish its scenic rivers and streams.”
Idaho is home to three American Viticulture Areas (AVAs): Eagle Foothills, Snake River Valley and Lewis-Clark Valley. The latter is a favorite of many fly fishers.
“Every year, thousands of folks flock to the Lewis-Clark Valley to fly fish along its scenic rivers and mountain streams,” says Liess. “Lewiston [Idaho] sits in a pretty unique geographic spot in Idaho where the Snake River meets the Clearwater River. Both rivers offer several access sites, spectacular views and unrivaled opportunities to catch both steelhead and salmon during the colder months, typically September through December.”
Andrew “Drew” Evans, manager at the North 40 Fly Shop in Lewiston, Idaho, also recommends the Clearwater River for steelhead. And notes fishers can possibly catch that smallmouth bass and carp on the Snake River.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the AVA’s eight wineries. Grapes have been planted in the region since at least the 1870s. And the Lewis-Clark AVA produces notable Cabernet Sauvignon along with Riesling, Tempranillo and more.
Rangeley Lakes Region, Maine
Home to more than 3,000 miles of coastline—one of the largest in the nation—there’s no shortage of places in Maine to explore, especially if fly fishing and wine are on the itinerary.
Michelle Landry, executive director of Rangeley Lakes Region Historical Society & Outdoor Heritage Museum, notes that Paleoamericans and the ancestors of today’s Wabanaki fished Maine’s extensive bodies of water long before European settlers arrived.
But the fishing industry in Maine’s Rangeley region changed in 1863 when George Shepard Page, a businessman from New York, was so “impressed with his Rangeley fishing experience, that he sent eight brook trout he caught to editors of the New York Times, the New York Evening Post, and the Spirit of the Times,” says Landry.
After the “secret was out, more anglers started visiting the Rangeley Lakes region to fish for the famous brook trout,” says Landry. “Hotels, lodges and sporting camps sprung up around the area to accommodate visitors who wanted to try their hand at catching a record-breaking Maine brook trout.”
For water in Western Maine, Landry notes that the Rapid River, Upper Dam Pool, Magalloway River, Kennebago River and the Lower Cupsuptic are “known for trophy-size wild brook trout and wild landlocked salmon and are open to fly fishing only,” she says.
After a day on the water, you can check out some of the nearly 30 wineries on the Maine Wine Trail.
“The wine industry is growing exponentially, with new producers and vineyards popping up every year,” says Margot Mazur, wine writer and educator at The Fizz.
But when traveling down the Maine Wine Trail, don’t expect large wineries.
“Maine is mostly made up of smaller vineyards and producers,” says Mazur. “You won’t find many large commercial vineyards in this area, and we’re okay with that. It’s a small community of passionate people and farmers. We’ll be happy to welcome you!”
Grand Junction, Colorado
Home to four national parks and countless miles of river, there’s no shortage of places to explore and get your waders wet in the Centennial State.
If you’re looking to a enjoy a glass of something local after a day on the water, head to Grand Junction, Colorado, which is about four hours west of Denver.
Tyler Morris, a guide at Western Anglers in Grand Junction, leads guided float trips on the lower section of the Colorado River (from Colorado’s Glenwood Springs to Rifle), and a three-day, two- night camping trip down Gunnison Gorge (starting at the Chukar Trail and ending at Pleasure Park).
He notes that the Gunnison is “actually one of the steepest rivers in the continental United States. It’s got the most gradients [and] it’s very, very fast [with] lots of rapids.” So, it’s best to book a guided trip, like with Western Anglers.
While fishing both bodies of water is different, Morris notes that “they’re pretty healthy, wild rivers. There are good wild populations. They don’t stock any of the brown trout. So, every brown trout that you catch is completely wild.”
Along with wild brown trout, you could also possibly catch rainbows, cutthroats and the Colorado River cutthroat, which is its own subspecies of trout. There are also the native flannelmouth suckers, bluehead suckers and white fish.
On the stretch of the Colorado River, Morris notes that you can see cottonwood trees, and possibly bald eagles. Whereas on that stretch of the Gunnison, it’s 2,000 feet from the river to the rim of the canyon.
“It’s kind of breathtaking, as corny as that sounds” says Morris. “A lot of people, when we are fishing, I tell them, ‘Just take a minute and look up at the canyon walls.’ You’ll see these rock formations that are just so old and just crazy to think that a river formed them.”
Along with ample rivers, Grand Junction is also home to the Grand Valley AVA, where you’ll find more than 30 wineries. While a host of grapes are planted throughout the state, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Riesling are the dominant varieties.