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The Backstage Pass

The Most Pristine Trout Fisheries in the World

May 03, 23

When you think of the word “pristine” what images form in your mind? One of the first things that come to ours is the recognizable Fiji Water commercials filled with untouched, crystal clear water pools on some postcard-looking tropical island. Pristine is something that is very pure. A place unspoiled by industry or modern society.


At the Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures headquarters, we got to talking about some of our favorite freshwater fisheries. We ended up assembling a quick off-the-cuff list of what we believe to be some of the most pristine trout fisheries in the world, which is not based on scientific data, but rather on our personal opinion from our extensive travels.

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In order for a destination to make this list, it had to perfectly reflect certain criteria:

  • The overall cleanliness of the water
  • The presence of other indicator species, such as grayling, whose presence indicates all the signs of a very healthy fishery
  • The overall remoteness of the fishery can determine the level of fishing pressure
  • The average size of the resident trout in that water system. Like large trout directly correlating with healthy bug hatches and other rich food sources
  • The potential risk of threats like the proximity of the rivers to mines, storm drains, sewage
  • Those rivers are managed and protected by the law

While exceptional fishing can be found right here at home, great fishing can also be found outside of the lower 48. So let’s take a look at what made the list in no particular order.

1. Alaska

Some would say many of the fisheries around Anchorage are hit hard by anglers to the point that they are overfished, which isn’t necessarily true!

However, still to this day, many of the rivers originating in Bristol Bay - from Katmai National Park, Lake Iliamna, and Wood Tikchik State Park - are the healthiest streams in North America.

The majority of streams in Bristol Bay are only accessible by plane, drastically lowering the amount of angling pressure. And with a cap on the number of anglers a lodge can take in per week, these fisheries tend to see few anglers each season.

Rivers like the Copper, Kulik, Goodnews, Upper Nushagak, and Kvichak among many others all support large and healthy rainbow trout. There aren’t many fisheries in the world where rainbow trout ferociously attack flies like they do in Alaska.

The Land of the Midnight Sun is the least densely populated state per square mile in the U.S. There are only 1.3 persons per square mile in the state of Alaska!

That definitely beats the number one spot, New Jersey, which has a total of 1,210 people per square mile.

The large abundance of grayling, a fish that requires ultra-clean water to survive, also proves that these fisheries are pristine and left untouched by human interference.

+ Listen to this WAYPOINTS Podcast: CAMILLE EGDORF: Alaska Trip Planning and How to Do it Right

2. Argentina

Many people describe fly fishing in Argentina as fishing the U.S. West 75-100 years ago. The overall landscape of the Patagonia region in Argentina is very similar to the look of any fishable landscape you would find in many places throughout the U.S. Rockies.

Most of the fishing operations are located in areas such as San Martin, Rio Pico, Junin, Esquel, and the southernmost tip, Tierra Del Fuego. These operations are far away from any human interference or infrastructure, plus fly fishing isn’t nearly as popular in Argentina as it has become in the United States.

Many rivers such as the Rio Traful, Rio Malleo, the Limay, Rio Grande, Rio Pico, and Chimehuin River do produce abundant hatches and food sources that translate to finding consistently big, solid trout.

It is important to note that trout cannot survive and reproduce in certain parts of Argentina. Only the Patagonian region (the lower 1/3 of the country) is considered prime fly fishing for trout. At the end of the day, many of the trout rivers in the Patagonian region are just like our famous trout streams back home but see far less fishing pressure. That is what it boils down to.

An Argentina fly fishing trip should be on every trout enthusiast’s bucket list.

+ Listen to these WAYPOINTS Podcasts: TRAVIS SMITH and RANCE RATHIE - The Ins and Outs of Fly Fishing in Patagonia Part 1 and Part 2

3. Canada

Canada’s strict water and fishing policies allow for great trout fishing to be had across the country. While well known for the incredible steelhead fisheries in British Columbia, Canada also offers world-class trout fisheries such as the Albany River, Elk River, Old Man River, Wigwam River, Tree River, Bow River, and many more. These fisheries can be accessed through the following lodges and outfitters:

The trout in many of the Canadian fisheries run above average in size, and offer dependable dry fly fishing, good hatches, and healthy, wild trout!

There are some great wilderness adventures that will take you to some of the most remote trout fisheries in North America including the Plummer’s Lodges Bear Lake and Tree River programs in the Northwest Territories and the Miminiska Lodge program located on the Albany River system in Ontario.

The Bear Lake Lodge and Tree River outpost programs offered by Plummer’s lodges are located within the Arctic Circle and combo packages between the two can easily be arranged. Bear Lake boasts the all-tackle world record lake trout and grayling, and the Tree River has the all-tackle world record Arctic char giving anglers the opportunity for a real trophy!

Miminiska Lodge is located on a widening in the Albany River system of Ontario. The lodge has some very good fishing for pike and walleye on the lake with Beaver floatplane access to some terrific tributaries that support a population of trophy class brook trout!

4. Chile

Fly fishing in Chilean Patagonia is one of the top experiences in all of fly fishing adventure travel. Many of the country’s fisheries and streams, which can only be accessed near the Chilean Fjords, have still not been fished!

There you will find many parks and reserves throughout Chile, such as Parque Nacional Queulat and Reserva Nacional Rio Simpson on the southern end of the country.

Many of the streams and rivers in this part of the country are many kilometers away from any road system.

The country’s capital of Santiago, the largest city in Chile, holds almost 40% of the entire country’s population. According to GeoCurrents, there are over 400 people per square mile in this area.

If you take a look at this population density map of Chile, you’ll notice that the southern end (where all the fantastic fly fishing takes place) is less than 1.5 persons per square mile.

A combination of very little fishing pressure due to access restrictions and large parks/reserves and the perfect mix of quality water from mountains and glaciers make this a pristine fly fishing paradise for trout. Chile is pretty incredible.

5. Iceland

Iceland is one of those fisheries that isn't quite yet on everyone’s radar as a fishing destination, but definitely should be!

The country of Iceland provides some of the top trophy brown trout and Atlantic salmon fishing found anywhere on the planet.

Iceland is notorious for being one of the most stable countries in the world:

And with its location on the Earth, Iceland stays very cool, even throughout the summer months. The record high temperature for Iceland was 86.9 degrees Fahrenheit recorded in the summer of 1939!

Fishing in Iceland is much different than fishing in the United States. In Iceland, most of the freshwater streams are private access only. You have to set up a license per day on a river with the landowner who then will assign you to a section or beat – which will be all to yourself.

Iceland, much like New Zealand, is not a numbers game, but the fish you do catch, you will never forget.

6. Kamchatka, Russia (Currently Closed Due to Conflict)

Kamchatka is arguably the most remote trout fishing destination on this list. Think of Alaska, just seventy-five years ago!

Kamchatka is situated in eastern Russia and is separated from Alaska by the Bering Sea.

There is almost zero angling pressure and there isn’t any commercial activity for hundreds of miles.

Anglers fly into Anchorage, Alaska before taking a quick international flight over to Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka. From Petropavlovsk, anglers will take a helicopter into the Kamchatka Wilderness to fish some of the most productive trout fisheries in the world.

There are several rivers that provide excellent fly fishing for trout in Kamchatka:

And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can take an exploratory float trip where you might become the first person in a particular stream to ever catch a trout on the fly.

Much of Kamchatka has remained the same for thousands of years and should be a trip for every serious adventuresome angler.

+ Listen to this WAYPOINTS Podcast: WILL BLAIR - Fly Fishing the Legendary Waters of Kamchatka

7. New Zealand

New Zealand is very similar to Iceland in the way that it is one of the most stable, friendly and safe countries in the world. This country is considered by many to be the most beautiful place on Earth; the scenery alone justifies the trip over.

The country of New Zealand does a phenomenal job of protecting its fisheries through stringent biosecurity regulations, as they are a significant part of the tourism economy.

New Zealand is comprised of two islands: the South Island, known for its trophy brown trout, and the North Island, which has robust populations of both. One thing that both islands hold in common, however, is stunning scenery that is as varied as it is wild and untouched.

Many of the prime fly fishing spots are located in remote backcountry wilderness areas, some of which can only be accessed in a helicopter (or after many days of hiking).

Anglers gladly put in the hard yards to access these pristine, gin-clear rivers just for the opportunity to sight fish for extremely large and wary trout. The reward comes not only from a successful day on the water but also from the tranquility that they are able to find in these virgin landscapes.

There is truly no other place like it.

All of these places mentioned above are the ultimate incarnations of what a modern-day garden of Eden fishery should look like. We can’t wait to revisit these pristine waters again and we sincerely hope someday you are able to find your way to one of these jaw-dropping destinations. You’ll be all the better for it.

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