The first glimpses of spring mean different things to different people. For trout fishermen, melting snow signals that it’s time to stock up on lures and flies, clean and oil one’s reel, and spool up with fresh line.
In rivers and streams all over the Eastern United States, trout get moving some time between late winter and early spring. In New England, fly fishermen eagerly await the dates that traditionally mark the beginning of the season—April 1 in New York, April 10 in Vermont—while in states farther south like Tennessee and Virginia, the season for trout fishing never really closes.
Once you have your gear ready, the next most important decision you have to make is where to wet your first fly of the season. From the Appalachians to the Adirondacks, these are the best trout streams in the East.
Beaverkill River, New York
There may be no more famous trout stream on the East Coast than the Beaverkill River. Located in the Catskill Mountains of New York, this is a stream where many of today’s modern fly fishing techniques were developed over a hundred years ago.
There are countless great fishing spots on the Beaverkill, but the famed Junction Pool is the most well-known. This spot is located where the Beaverkill River and Willowemoc Creek merge in the town of Roscoe.
Roscoe, which goes by the nickname “Trout Town USA” is home to some awesome fly shops and several outstanding guide services, but you don’t need a guide to catch trout from this productive stream. Wild brook and rainbow trout swim alongside 18,000 brown trout that are stocked every year.
Housatonic River, Massachusetts/Connecticut
The Housatonic River flows through nearly 150 miles of Massachusetts and Connecticut before emptying into Long Island Sound. It’s best known for its pastoral scenery and for being one of New England’s premier trout streams.
The Connecticut portion of the river is where you’ll find the best trout fishing, particularly from the Routes 112 & 7 bridge downstream to the Routes 4 & 7 bridge. This section is a trout management area, and about 3 miles are designated fly-fishing only.
9,000 brown and rainbow trout are stocked here in spring, and 9,000 more in fall. Both seasons offer great fishing. A portion of the Housatonic River is also parallelled by the Appalachian Trail, which happens to be a lovely hike.
Mossy Creek, Virginia
Arguably the top trout stream in Virginia, Mossy Creek is a small, spring-fed limestone creek that trickles through the farmlands and forests of the Shenandoah Valley. Mossy Creek is about as close to perfection as it gets for big, scrappy brown trout.
But that doesn’t mean the fishing here is easy. The stream stays a consistent 50 to 60 degrees year-round, which allows the browns that are stocked here every fall as fingerlings to grow fast. But they also grow wise. These fish aren’t easy to fool, and fly fishermen who match the hatch do well.
Various caddis and mayfly species start to emerge in March and last well into summer. By June, terrestrials like grasshoppers and crickets become a major factor. In any event, the clean, crystal-clear waters of Mossy Creek are a joy to fish.
Androscoggin River, Maine/New Hampshire
The Androscoggin River arises in the White Mountains of New Hampshire before crossing into Maine, where it eventually empties into the Kennebec River, which empties into the Atlantic. It stretches 178 miles, and is one of the best trout streams in either state.
Some of the best fishing is in the upper portion of the Androscoggin River, particularly where it emerges as a tailwater from below the Errol Dam in Errol, New Hampshire. The water here is nutrient-rich, and fish grow up fast.
This section is stocked abundantly with rainbow and brown trout, many of which hold over through winter and grow to 20 inches or more. Wild rainbows and a few wild brookies are also available farther downriver, and lower areas also see a solid Atlantic salmon run.
Little River, Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains provide an awe-inspiring backdrop to the Little River, which could very well be the best trout stream in the South. Compared to the usual trickling streams in the Smokies, the Little River is actually quite a large waterway. It’s only “little” in name.
Depending on how you like to fish, various sections of this stream offer a lot of options. The middle section around Mannis Branch is made up of deep pools filled with large brown trout that are usually more than willing to snatch a dry fly from the surface. The only issue is that you’ll run into a lot of people swimming and tubing here in summer.
Farther upriver, the fish get smaller but the crowds thin out. Many areas are accessible only by hiking trail, making this a great backcountry fly fishing area. Expect a few brown trout along with wild rainbows and even some wild brook trout, which are gradually being restored to their natural habitat here.
Battenkill River, Vermont
For wild trout purists, Vermont’s Battenkill River is one of the best options in the East. This river hasn’t been stocked since the 1970s, making it wild trout central.
The Battenkill flows just shy of 60 miles from its headwaters in the Green Mountains, where it starts as a small, soft-bottomed stream where wild brook trout dart between secluded pools and gobble up small trico mayflies. Farther down, the river descends through Vermont farmland through a long series of riffles, runs and pools.
Brook and brown trout coexist throughout much of the river, often holding tight to the bank. These fish get a lot of pressure, and closely mimicking the local insect hatches is essential. Blue quills, blue-winged olives and March brown mayflies hatch at various times throughout spring. EXPLORE MORE How To Find Fishing Bait In The Backcountry
Little Juniata River, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is home to some beautiful limestone trout streams, and few have a better reputation than the Little Juniata River. Often referred to as the “Little J,” this 32-mile tributary of the Juniata River is dominated by wild brown trout.
Expect a lot of fish in the 10 to 14 inch range, as well as a few 18-inch-plus fighters. The Little Juniata isn’t known for trophy-sized trout, but wild fish get bigger here than practically anywhere in the state. It’s also a beautiful river, with chalky-green pools below towering limestone bluffs.
The best fishing is below the community of Tyrone. The 13.5-mile section downstream from the Ironville railroad bridge is managed as a special regulation catch-and-release only stream, and this is where a lot of the bigger fish are caught.
Ausable River, New York
A legendary trout stream that cuts a path through the Adirondack Mountains, the Ausable River is a place where incredible fishing meets spectacular scenery. The river consists of three branches: the Main Branch, East Branch, and West Branch.
It’s the West Branch of the Ausable River that gets the most attention from fly fishermen. It’s mostly a freestone stream that contains brook and brown trout, both wild and stocked. Typical catches range from 10 to 17 inches, and it’s the wild brook trout—most common in the upper reaches of the West Branch—that anglers get most excited about.
Thanks to its location within the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a lot of this river traverses public land and is easy to access. The Route 86 bridge is a great spot on the upper West Branch, and the tailwater below the Wilmington Dam is another popular place to fish.
Deerfield River, Massachusetts
The Deerfield River begins in Southern Vermont, but the bulk of its 76-mile course takes it through the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. That it’s the best trout stream in Massachusetts is almost beyond dispute.
Both wild and stocked trout swim here, with rainbows averaging around 12 inches and occasionally pushing 20. Expect to tangle with some hefty brown trout as well. Part of what makes this river great is the series of dams that help regulate the water temperature. While other New England rivers get too warm for trout, the Deerfield fishes well into summer.
The tailwater stretch below the Fife Brook Dam is widely considered to be the best, with several productive series of pools, runs and riffles. Be cautious when wading; water released from the dams can cause the river to rise quickly and unpredictably at times.
Jackson River Tailwater, Virginia
The state of Virginia discontinued trout stocking in the Jackson River in 1993, but that hasn’t diminished the standing of this picturesque stream. If anything, the lower Jackson River, below the Gathright Dam, has earned a reputation as one of the best wild trout fisheries in the state.
Gathright Dam was built in the early 1980s, creating Lake Moomaw. Smallmouth bass and lake-run rainbow trout are the main quarry above the lake, but the Jackson River Tailwater below the dam is chock full of fat, healthy wild rainbow and brown trout.
Flows are generally kept fairly consistent, and water temperatures below the dam seldom rise above the low 60s even in summer. Anglers find success drifting tiny midge flies or tempting larger fish with streamers. A handful of public access is available, but float fishing opens up a lot more water.