Below, you will find brief descriptions of 10 lodges and resorts that not only provide superb fly-fishing but also offer an extensive selection of life’s finer pleasures.
Andrew Harper’s Top 10 Fly-Fishing Lodges and Resorts
By Andrew Harper
The Harper Way | March 19, 2017
Set on a 4,200-acre estate bordering Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blackberry Farm is one of my 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. A mile of Hesse Creek flows through the estate: a mountain stream harboring brown and rainbow trout up to eight pounds in weight. Although best fished in spring and fall, Hesse Creek is productive year-round. Around 700 miles of rivers and streams are within an easy drive, and Blackberry Farm’s guests often undertake leisurely daylong float trips down the tranquil Clinch River in pursuit of browns and rainbows as well as the Southern Appalachian brook trout.
2. Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado
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 three-mile stretch of the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River as well as a number of ponds containing trophy-sized rainbows. 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 two-and-a-half inches long with two pairs of wings and an orange body. Large trout find them irresistible.
3. Firehole Ranch, Montana
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 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, while chefs Kris and Bruno Georgeton have been on the job for more than 25 years. Firehole Ranch is open for 15 weeks each summer.
4. The Resort at Paws Up, Montana
Set on 37,000 acres in the classic Lewis and Clark country of northwestern Montana, The Resort at Paw’s Up comprises 28 vacation homes and 30 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.
5. Nimmo Bay, British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia seems to have more than its fair share of natural beauty. The 19 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 from the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Nine comfortable, two-bedroom pine-paneled waterfront chalets complement a dining room serving exceptional cuisine. Guided fishing is available from July 19 through October 20, with helicopters ferrying anglers to 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.
6. Enchanted Lake Lodge, Alaska
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 – September), but it is the rainbows that 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, recently refurbished guest cabins. Floatplanes transport a maximum of 12 guests per week to a web of wilderness streams.
7. Ballynahinch Castle, Ireland
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 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 40-room castle hotel overlooks a 450-acre estate, through which flow two 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.
8. Cayo Espanto, Belize
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 three-acre private island, 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.
9. Estancia Arroyo Verde, Argentina
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 Larrivière family, the justly renowned lodge has just six twin-bedded cabins. The fishing season begins in December, but 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.
10. Huka Lodge, New Zealand
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 – 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-sized trout in water of scarcely believable clarity.
Read Mr. Harper's "New Zealand Trout-Fishing Journey" in which he visits eight other lodges on the North and South islands.
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