“Anglers of all types share one thing in common: they may have one species or technique they commonly target, but they also dream of hunting for wildly different fish in wildly different places. Whether you normally flip for bass in Arkansas or looking to bottom fish for sea bass off the Atlantic coast, these top 8 fishing destinations belong on your bucket list.”
There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and we mean that quite literally. You may be most attracted by the thought of mooching for king salmon or sinking baits for halibut along the Inside Passage; you might prefer fly fishing for grayling at the edge of the Arctic; or perhaps casting lures for silvers in a coastal river most interests you. (Read our Salmon Fishing on the Kenai River article, if silver salmon strike your fancy). Whichever of these options gets your blood pumping one thing is for sure: the clean waters, majestic mountains, and untainted wilderness of Alaska calls to all fishermen. On top of that, there are countless guided and self-guided opportunities throughout the state, so you can get insider knowledge or do things on your own, as you choose.
ADDED BONUS: Keep your eyes peeled in these parts and you have a great chance of spotting wildlife like bears, moose, and bald eagles.
This is a Kenai River silver salmon, and it represents only one of the countless opportunities Alaska provides.
If you like fishing the flats for species like bonefish, permit, and tarpon, make this your next destination. The nation is travel-friendly, just a few hours’ flight from the southern US, and it has protected and maintained the fragile flats environments better than just about anywhere else. Plus, if you move to deeper waters you’ll encounter everything from snook to grouper. Or head offshore and you can target marlin, sailfish, and the like.
ADDED BONUS: Belize is the only place in Central America where English is the official language, so you won’t have any trouble understanding your guide.
Belize is one of the top inshore angling destinations on the planet, especially if you like flats fishing for the prized bonefish.
3. CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA
This is a top location for big-game anglers in search of a 1,000-plus-pound black marlin. Called a “grander,” more giant black marlin of this size have been caught here than anywhere else in the world. As a result, there’s a well-established, experienced charter fleet. There are also tremendous opportunities for reef fishing (coral trout, barracuda, grouper), surf fishing (barramundi, permit, queenfish), and even freshwater fishing (barramundi, grunter, jungle perch).
ADDED BONUS: You get to listen to people say “g’day mate” wherever you go.
Put Australia on your bucket list; the fishing here is intense whether you stay close to shore or head out in search of a grander black marlin.
4. CHESAPEAKE BAY
Striped bass are the most popular gamefish on the eastern seaboard, and those hunting for a trophy need to visit the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay during the spring trophy season. This is when the big bruisers, some weighing 50-plus-pounds, make their way to freshwater to spawn. And according to NOAA’s scientists, between 70 and 90 percent of the Atlantic’s coastal stocks of migratory striped bass—found from Canada to Florida—spawn in the Chesapeake. Anglers can troll for stripers, cast jigs with lighter tackle or use cut bait in the open bay, and are allowed to keep one trophy fish a day. Catch-and-release anglers who are chasing only thrills and photographs can enter certain areas closer to the spawning grounds, and cast lures for these lunkers. Check out these three striped bass fishing tips before you travel.
ADDED BONUS: While you’re in Maryland you can try the state’s official (and amazingly tasty) food, blue crabs, which are also harvested from the Chesapeake’s waters.
5. KEY WEST
Is there an angler alive who hasn’t heard of Key West? We didn’t think so. The different opportunities abound, and in fact, many people come here to fish simply because you can target so many different species using so many different tactics, all in the same place. On the ocean side sailfish, kingfish, blackfin tunas, and amberjack are some of the top draws. On the Gulf side, tarpon, permit, bonefish, and redfish are all good options. (Get a look at fishing the mangroves for redfish in How to Fish: Popping Corks and Plastic Lures in the Mangroves). Whichever way you travel you’re also likely to encounter snappers and groupers of various species. On top of that, the laid-back attitude of Key West and its fishing guides means you rarely arise early—the good bite goes on all day long, anyway.
ADDED BONUS: Those who enjoy a vibrant nightlife will not be let down by Key West. Time your visit to coincide with Holiday Fest or Fantasy Fest, and you’ll be particularly thankful for that late wake-up call in the morning.
Leave the harbor at Key West, and there’s excellent fishing in every direction. Actually, there’s pretty good fishing right in the harbor, too.
Just outside the sea buoy, big fish prowl at these top bluewater fishing destinations.
6. KONA, HAWAII & CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
Why would we lump these two far-apart destinations together? Because they share a common draw—offshore fishing for big game species like marlin and tuna, within a few close miles of shore. If you don’t like long runs to the fishing grounds these two hotspots have the angling opportunities you’re looking for. They also have strong charter fleets, and in the case of Hawaii, the ability to do international-style travel without ever leaving the US of A.
ADDED BONUS: In the case of Hawaii, you also get to make a visit to “paradise.” Beyond the fishing, who wouldn’t love that? And when it comes to Cabo San Lucas, note that this is one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations, with resorts, beaches, scuba diving, snorkeling, and more, so the entire family will be entertained while you go to bend rods.
Every angler should try ice fishing at least once in their lives, and when it comes to ice fishing, Minnesota tops the list.
Walleye is the state fish of Minnesota, and with good reason. Whether you’re casting a rod or jiggling an ice fishing rod, no state produces more trophy 10-pound-plus walleye than this one. We say you should give it a go on “hard water,” because no angler can say he or she has done it all until they’ve experienced ice fishing. And with over 13,000 natural lakes to choose from (including the famous Mille Lacs), you have plenty of options when picking your specific destination.
ADDED BONUS: Few will argue the walleye’s magnificence on the plate. After fishing enjoy a traditional fish fry with your catch, and you’ll wish you could stay forever.
Mongolia doesn’t usually come to mind as a fishing destination, but for those in search of gigantic trout, it’s the best place to be. Photo courtesy of Angie at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
8. OUTER BANKS, NORTH CAROLINA
Although countless anglers travel here during the spring, summer and fall to target oceanic species ranging from marlin to mackerel, the winter and early spring run of giant bluefin tuna is what draws in anglers from all across the world. Here, it’s possible to go after fish weighing many hundreds of pounds (the biggest bluefin of 2015: a shocking 1,005 lbs.) with either heavy trolling gear or light jigging tackle. If you dream of going mano-a-mano with a truly giant fish, this is the place to do it.
ADDED BONUS: While you’re in town swing by the dunes of Kitty Hawk, visit the spot where the Wright Brothers made their famous flight, and see the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
You thought we would be able to stop at 8? No way. There are two more fishing destinations that are far too cool and exciting to go unmentioned. So we say to heck with budgets and word counts. We’re also going to go fishing here:
9. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA & CENTRAL FLORIDA
Largemouth bass aficionados will want to head to one of these two destinations, both of which offer top-notch bass fishing for trophy-sized fish. They have longer growing seasons than in states to the north, and while Florida strains of bass have traditionally been the largest around, many were long ago transplanted west and largemouth over 20 lbs. can be caught in California, too (four have been recorded in Castaic Lake, alone). If you’re not a bass angler and you want to learn the simplest method of targeting largemouth, watch our KISS bass fishing video.
ADDED BONUS: In both states, you can combine your fishing trip with a family vacation to Disney—Disney Land in California, and Disney World in Florida. Note that at Disney World they offer guided bass fishing excursions on-site, right in Lake Buena Vista.
10. SNAKE RIVER, GRAND TETON AND YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
If fly-casting for trout in a pristine environment is your idea of a fishing fantasy, then it’s time to head for the Snake. Brook, brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout are all on the menu. You can drive right up to the water at some spots, like the base of Jackson Lake Dam in the Grand Tetons, for easy access. Bold anglers in good physical condition, however, will probably want to range farther afield. The longer you hike, the less likely you’ll see other people—and you can get just as remote and isolated as you’d like.
ADDED BONUS: Combine your adventure with a camping trip in the national parks, and you’ll be seeing wild creatures like mule deer, elk, moose, and even bison.