5 GREAT COLLEGES FOR FLY FISHING
University of Montana, Missoula, Montana
In many ways, fly fishing is what put Missoula, Montana, on the map. Missoula is, of course, where "A River Runs Through It" author Norman Maclean grew up. When the book was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt in the 1990s, enrollment at the University of Montana started to explode. Today, the sport of fly-fishing and the angling industry remains a defining element of Missoula's unique character.
On campus: UM's Introduction to Fly Fishing course provides students with a history of the sport, fish identification skills, and a foundation in knot-tying, casting mechanics and fishing techniques. In 2010, UM sent a team to the World Varsities Trout Fly Fishing Championship in Ireland, where the duo earned third place. The Outdoor Program rents rafts and inflatable kayaks for those who prefer rowing over wading.
Nearest fly shop: You can barely cast a line in Missoula without striking a fly shop. The closest to campus is Kingfisher, just across the Clark Fork River from campus. If you're downtown, stop by Grizzly Hackle on Front Street. The Missoulian Angler on the Hip Strip is also within walking distance of campus.
Fishing local: The Clark Fork River forms the northern border of campus, and there's almost always an angler casting a line just downstream of UM where Rattlesnake Creek runs into the river. On the western end of town the Bitterroot River joins the Clark Fork, doubling the size of the river.
Outside town: The Missoula area has several trout-rich waters with opportunities to catch Westslope cutthroat, browns, bulls and rainbows. There's the Blackfoot River, where much of Maclean's legendary tale takes place, the world-renowned blue-ribbon Rock Creek is about 25 miles east of town and the Bitterroot River, known for its spring skwala hatch. Weekends offer time to explore farther from town – the Big Hole, Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers, for example, are all within a few hours' drive.
Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado
The Gunnison Valley regaled for offering Colorado's finest fly-fishing. With area elevation ranging from 7,000 to 14,000 feet, there are hundreds of creeks flowing from the mountains to the valley floor, creating an abundance of varied fishing opportunities in every direction.
On campus: Western State offers a month long, noncredit Introduction to Fly Fishing Course that gives students the fundamentals of the sport, including an emphasis on what it takes to be successful on local waters.
Nearest Fly Shop: Gunnison River Fly Shop in town offers the best fly selection in the valley and ample advice for those new to the area. If you're headed out of town, stop by Almont Anglers Fly Shop at the confluence of the East, Taylor and Gunnison rivers.
Fishing local: The Gunnison River flows along the western edge of town while Tomichi Creek forms the southern border. The Gunnison offers prime fly fishing when the Salmonfly hatch hits in mid-June and continues to improve into July. The Kokanee salmon run starts in early fall and continues into October. Browns also spawn up the Gunnison from Blue Mesa Reservoir in the fall. The Tomichi is known for its choice brown trout habitat.
Outside town: Up for a challenge? If so, head to the tail waters of the Taylor River just below the Taylor Reservoir dam. The trout here feed on shrimp stocked in reservoir and grow to enormous sizes, but they see heavy pressure and are tough to fool. Two hours west of town, is the Gunnison River Gorge, often called the "Baby Grand" and its steep granite walls and limited accessibility make it feel as remote as the real Grand Canyon. The Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers are also less than two hours away.
Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan
Ferris State University in Big Rapids touts big-city educational offerings accompanied by a small-town feel. The Muskegon River, which some call "Michigan's best-kept secret," flows right through town, and the Manistee National Forest is directly west of town.
On campus: The University's introductory fly-fishing course provides students with fly-tying instruction, proper casting technique, river reading for fishing habitat and two days of actual fishing experience. Check out the Ferris State Fishing Club, an all-inclusive student group that participates in fishing tourneys around the Midwest and beyond. In 2016 Ferris State was named the first-ever National Collegiate Ice Fishing Champions.
Nearest fly shop: The Orvis retail store down the road in Grand Rapids will outfit you from head to toe and offers free classes on fly-fishing and fly-tying. Headed to the Pere Marquette? Three Ferris State alums own the Pere Marquette River Lodge in Baldwin where you'll find all the info you need for a successful day. They also offer weekend classes throughout the year.
Fishing local: The Muskegon River flows right through town and offers trophy browns and rainbows year-round. During the hot summer days it's all about the smallmouth bass. Access the Muskegon from campus by locating the trails behind Brophy/McNerny Hall on Knoll View Drive or head to the 4.5-mile Riverwalk that follows the water's edge through town. Further downstream the steelhead arrive in late fall and fish well through May. Chinook and Coho salmon run in September and October.
Outside town: Head over to the Pere Marquette River for fall salmon and excellent trout fishing in the summer. The 11 miles of tail water below the nearby Croton Dam offers healthy populations of rainbows and browns, as well as salmon in the fall and steelhead from fall to spring.
Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina
Cullowhee sits at the center of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, created in 2009 to highlight the area's best fishing locations. The centerpiece of the trail is the Tuckasegee River, flowing 40 miles from southeast to northwest. In 2016 Cullowhee's own Jackson County was recognized as North Carolina's Trout Capital. With 4,600 miles of fishing streams and an annual stocking of nearly 100,000 trout, the county also features the state's longest contiguous stretch of North Carolina Mountain Heritage Trout Waters.
On campus: Students in WCU's Parks and Recreation Management program produced a local fishing guide titled "Fly-Fishing Where Whee Play" that spotlights 11 fishing hot spots near campus, as well as regulations and fly patterns. The university's outdoor program, Base Camp Cullowhee, offers outdoor gear rental.
Nearest fly shop: Head north to neighboring Sylva to find Hookers Fly Shop. The area's oldest fly shop offers free classes for the community, local info and a "Flies of the Month" subscription service to keep your fly box as stocked as the local rivers.
Fishing local: Trout numbers and size in the Tuckasegee River rival many better-known locations out West. The Tuck, as it's known locally, offers rainbows, brookies and browns, and as the warms up in the downstream reaches, a healthy smallmouth bass population. The Upper and Middle Tuck sections are also near the university.
Outside town: There are multiple options less than an hour from Cullowhee. The Nantahala River is 45 minutes away. Panthertown Creek is 35 minutes from Cullowhee and Great Smoky Mountain National Park is just 30 minutes from campus.
Humboldt State University, Arcata, California
Humboldt County provides more fishing options than most anglers are interested in pursuing. With rivers, lakes, bays and an ocean all nearby, anglers can cast a line for salmon, steelhead, cutties and browns or head to the ocean for an entirely different experience.
On campus: Humboldt's on-campus fish hatchery provides a unique hands-on education where students in the Fisheries Biology program raise trout from egg to mature fish. Or staying focused on angling by enrolling in Fishing the Northwest class to learn the skills and techniques unique to Northern California.
Nearest fly shop: Mad River Tackle in Arcata stocks the area's largest selection of steelhead, salmon and trout flies.
Fishing local: The Mad River originates at Ruth Lake and flows through the northern part of Arcata. Species include steelhead, chinook and Coho salmon, and trout. The Mad is known for its excellent winter steelhead, due in large part to the operation of the Mad River Fish Hatchery.
Outside town: It's truly the opportunities outside of Arcata that make Humboldt County an angling paradise. With a half dozen rivers in the area, there's no shortage of options. The Klamath is about 50 miles north of town and features salmon, steelhead and trout. The Smith River near the Oregon border is as remote and pristine as its Wild and Scenic designation hints at. Steelhead, salmon and cutthroat trout all inhabit the Smith. To the south, the Mattole River is home to a wild population of steelhead. The three bodies of water at Humboldt Lagoons State Park north of Arcata offer plenty of rainbow trout, black bass and redtail perch.