Top 10 Fishing Destinations Bucket List
Whether you normally flip for bass in Arkansas or bottom fish for sea bass off the Atlantic coast, these top 10 fishing destinations belong on your bucket list.
December 25, 2016
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. No matter who you are and what you fish for, these 10 fishing spots are sure to get you charged up—each and every one belongs 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.
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.
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.
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.
This may be a rather far-flung fishing destination, but the waters off Kenya’s central coast offer one thing you won’t find elsewhere: the biggest variety of billfish around. Here, it’s not impossible to hook into blue marlin, striped marlin, black marlin, sailfish, swordfish, and spearfish—all in the same day. There are several resorts including some with charter fleets (look in Watamu and Malindi), and since this has been a popular fishing destination for Europeans for decades, there are many experienced, well-respected guides and charter boats to choose from.
ADDED BONUS: You’ve always wanted to go on safari? There are outfits like Fish N Safari and African Mecca that can arrange both offshore fishing and African safaris on the same trip.
6. 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.
7. 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.
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.
If you want to do battle with the largest trout species in the world, you need to make the trek to Mongolia. Here, Taimen rule the rivers. These fish can live for 50 years, grow to five feet in length, become wise with age, and are considered the ultimate trout challenge. When hitting a fly they often come clear out of the water, and when hooked are known for tail-walking across the surface.
ADDED BONUS: Like visiting Key West, the locals here aren’t as concerned with clocks as people in other places are. Expect a relaxed attitude, and enjoy it.
10. 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 10? 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:
11. 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.
12. 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.