Fly-Fishing Is the Trendy Vacation Activity You Need to Try Next
I never thought I was the type of person who would enjoy fishing. I love the outdoors, but I like my adventures with a dose of adrenaline and cardio. Fishing sounded too slow-paced, like the type of activity men did lazily with their buddies while drinking cans of cold beer. When we began spending more time in Central Oregon in 2020, my husband took up fly-fishing, an angling technique that uses a lightweight lure and artificial bait resembling a fly or other insects to attract and catch fish. He told me about the beautiful scenery, solitude and quiet that came with every excursion. Last year, we booked a fall trip to the green o, the adults-only retreat at The Resort at Paws Up (from $2,140 per night for two people) in Montana. The resort is on a 37,000-acre working cattle ranch, 45 minutes east of Missoula, and is known for its long list of adventurous activities that immerse guests in the Western lifestyle glamorized in shows like Yellowstone. I was more excited about doing a cattle drive and other horseback riding activities, but I still signed up for a fly-fishing excursion to appease my husband. The free-flowing Blackfoot River (where the novel A River Runs Through It is set) snakes its way through the resort. If there were anywhere to try fly-fishing, this would be it.
Our guide, Greg Stohrer, met us at the resort’s Wilderness Outpost one afternoon. He had just graduated from college and was enjoying one last fall season working at The Resort at Paws Up before starting a job in finance on the East Coast. We jumped in the back of an SUV hauling a 13-foot-long gray fishing raft with a center frame and drove for 10 minutes until we reached the put-in. Greg swiftly backed the boat into the water. The leaves on the cottonwood and aspen trees lining the river were beginning to change from bright green to yellow, and the afternoon sun turned the surface of the blue-green river pale gold. Greg, who sat in the boat’s center while we sat in elevated seats on either end, set up our fly lines and gave us a quick tutorial.
I loved the rhythmic motion of casting the rod and gently flicking it — known as mending — so the fly looked natural on the moving current. The beauty of the landscape instantly put me at ease and I was surprised by how badly I wanted to catch a fish. It was not so easy. While the Blackfoot teems with rainbow cutthroat and brown trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish, I found it mentally challenging to go through the steps, detect a bite and then raise my arm to hook the fish at just the right time with the right amount of force. Greg asked if we had ever fished in a whirlpool. “No, definitely not,” my husband and I both said with a laugh. Greg maneuvered the boat into a pool of bubbling white water, the boat bobbing side to side, and told us where to cast our lines. Within seconds, I had a bite; I pulled back firmly, just hard enough to set the hook, and began reeling in. I had caught a large brown trout. I was genuinely elated as my husband snapped a picture of me holding it — auburn scales glistening in the sun. Greg helped me gently slide the fish back into the river.
“There’s a primal aspect to hunting and fishing as a way to survive. I think we’re connected spiritually to those activities,” Ben Pepe, the manager of activities and fishing at The Resort at Paws Up, explained to me later in an interview.
Pepe grew up fly-fishing with his father in Montana. He has seen an uptick in participation in recent years and the sport’s culture change dramatically. While it used to be a “country club sport” that primarily appealed to older men, he believes there’s a new “cool” factor. He sees college kids, young families and women fishing regularly. The resort also has two female fishing guides on staff for the first time this year. The appeal lies more in the rugged exposure to nature and the “wellness and spiritual” aspect rather than being catered to on a luxury fishing trip.
Across the U.S., resorts and outfitters are diversifying fly-fishing offerings to attract more people to the sport. Land of Enchantment Guides, an Orvis-endorsed outfitter in New Mexico, offers fly-fishing experiences like Spirituality Through Fly-Fishing, a trip geared toward finding inner peace and harmony with the natural world. Also in Montana, Montage Big Sky offers a meditative fly-tying workshop more like an art class, where guests craft intricate and lifelike flies.
At Paws Up, the Cowgirl Spring Roundup, a women’s-only weekend with fly-fishing, was so popular that the resort added a fall weekend in 2020. Expert angler Mindy Marcum, the resort’s director of special projects, teaches women the art of fly-fishing during a half-day excursion. “I think women are realizing this is a sport we can stand next to the men in. The line, the rod, the flies don’t care who you are as long as you are presenting them to the fish on the water with finesse,” says Marcum.
The resort is also making fishing accessible year-round. There’s a new fly-fishing demonstration program where guests, from families to avid fishermen, can learn casting from shore. A new ice-fishing program will debut this winter.
Fall, when the water temperatures cool — resulting in happy fish — and the mayflies are hatching, is a stunningly beautiful time to fish and visit Montana. The secluded green o is about half a mile from the resort’s main village. At a higher elevation than the other accommodations and including glamping tents and cabins that are big enough for families, it’s the only place on the property where slender tamarack pine trees grow. Their needles drop in autumn, creating yellow brick road–like pathways through the stand-alone accommodations, contemporary “hauses” in different configurations. Ours, a Tree Haus, had a spiral staircase leading up to two stories of indoor-outdoor living space.
After our fishing trip, we hurried back to our room to change and then went to dinner at the clean-lined Social Haus. The restaurant and lounge exclusive to guests of the green o, has floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides. We sat near the cylindrical glass fireplace at the center of the restaurant and devoured a tasting menu that included a dish of wagyu beef served alongside a Blackfoot River rock. While we certainly had not fished or hunted for our meal, we were tasked with searing the perfectly marbled slices of meat on the sizzling rock. The mineral smell brought me back to the river.
A River Runs Through It
These hotels and resorts in the U.S. also have fly-fishing programs with a wellness bent.
Outside Park City, The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection (from $1,899 per night), has seasonal, guided fly-fishing trips on mountain lakes and challenging mountain streams. Guests can learn the etymology of fly selection and be still and reflective in nature.
The Chatwal Lodge (from $1,200 per night), inspired by the golden era of Catskills lodges, is in the heart of East Coast fly-fishing country. Complimentary fly-fishing and fly-tying classes are offered twice a week, and more advanced anglers can go on guided “away from all distractions” excursions to famous trout streams such as the Beaver Kill and Willowemoc.
Keswick Hall (from $463 per night) in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently reopened after a four-year closure and top-to-bottom renovation, debuting an award-winning golf course, spa, infinity pool, culinary program overseen by Jean-Georges and many outdoor adventures, including guided nature-filled fly-fishing outings.
The lakefront resort Shore Lodge (from $260 per night) in McCall, Idaho, 2.5 hours outside Boise, offers abundant bait- and fly-fishing. McCall has more than 200 lakes within a 30-mile radius. The resort’s concierge provides guests with the best uncrowded spots for catching cutthroat trout, chinook salmon, steelhead, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and more, with rugged mountains as the backdrop.