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Lake Tahoe
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The best fishing spots in the U.S.

Get back to basics and catch your own dinner at the top fishing spots in America

Scott Snowden
Edited by
Scott Snowden
Written by
Tolly Wright

There's no denying that relaxation is an important part of everyday life and nothing is quite as tranquil as the peace of fishing. But you don't need to head to the fishing capital of the United States (Islamorada, Florida just FYI) to find prime spots to cast your line. The best freshwater fishing in the USA can be found in places like Montana, Colorado and California as well as North Carolina, Michigan and more. 

So, if you need a break from high-adrenaline activities like climbing the best hiking trails or partaking in the best extreme outdoor adventures, why not consider spending a day surrounded by nature, occasionally casting your line and marveling at the breathtaking natural beauty this planet has to offer? Keep one eye on that little bobbing float and get ready to catch some of the most delicious fish ever (think trout, salmon, catfish and more)—who knows, you might end up cooking a meal that could rival those served at the best seafood restaurants in America.

Best fishing in the U.S.

Thousand Islands, NY
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1. Thousand Islands, NY

In upstate New York (way upstate) on the eastern edge of Lake Ontario in the St. Lawrence River, you'll find over 1,800 tiny islands and countless freshwater fish. During the region's mild summers, it’s effortless to spend a full day on the water reeling in bass, salmon, walleye, northern pike and muskellunge. Even novice anglers can get lucky here, especially on one of the popular guided tours. Only confident, experienced fishers should attempt to catch the massive muskies, which are known to be as long as 5ft.

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Lake Tahoe, CA
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2. Lake Tahoe, CA

A favorite spot in Northern California and Nevada for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer, Lake Tahoe is also an excellent fishing experience. Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest, with majestic blue waters. During the warm months, anglers come to catch Kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout and mackinaw, always limiting their catches to five fish in total (limit of two mackinaws per fisher) to maintain the healthy fishery.  

Discover: The ultimate guide to Lake Tahoe

Colorado River, CO
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3. Colorado River, CO

Though this 1,450-mile-long river spans much further than Colorado, winding through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, some of the best fishing can be found near its beginnings in the Rocky Mountains. Flyfishers should aim to get to the upper Colorado River in June when the salmonfly (a giant stonefly species) hatches en masse and attracts plenty of big trout. Sign up for a trip with a local guide who can show you the best spots to wade or steer your boat.

Discover: The ultimate guide to Colorado

Lake Austin, TX
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4. Lake Austin, TX

While there are several lakes in Texas where you might be able to reel in a 20-lb trophy largemouth bass, Lake Austin boasts the added convenience of being in one of the Southwest’s coolest cities. A lower part of the Colorado River, this reservoir was formed originally in 1939 and has since become a primary attraction in the Texan city. During the summer, fish at night to avoid the recreational boaters.

Discover: The best things to do in Austin

Bighorn River, MT
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5. Bighorn River, MT

For fly fishing enthusiasts, this large river is considered a must-visit. While access to the river is limited—with much of the water flowing through private property and Crow Tribal lands—the public access fishing spots are worth braving the crowds for. With strict limits on catches to maintain the quality of the fisheries, most sports fishermen catch and release the trouts, trying new techniques and artificial flies as they go. The river is mostly home to brown trout, but prized rainbows can also be caught. 

Discover: The ultimate guide to Montana

Florida Keys, FL
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6. Florida Keys, FL

Off the southern coast of the Sunshine State is a fisherman’s paradise. Those recreational anglers hoping to catch bonefish, permit, redfish, snook or tarpon should head to the "backcountry," the waters between the Keys and Florida’s mainland. The real draw for most visitors, however, is the deep seas of the Atlantic Ocean, caught in the warm Gulf Stream. Charter a boat in these waters to try your hand at catching some of the most sought-after fish in the world, like blue and white marlin, sailfish and swordfish. 

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Martha’s Vineyard, MA
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7. Martha’s Vineyard, MA

One of New England’s most scenic seaside destinations is also a fantastic island for reeling in fish. For some serious catching, gather some family or friends and organize an expedition on a charter boat to chase after bonito and false albacore (known locally as albies). Feeling the local vibe? Stick to surfcasting. Grab a pole, or rent one, and find a good spot on the sandy beach or a rocky shore around sundown and you’ll be pulling in striped bass in no time.   

Discover: The ultimate guide to Marthas Vineyard

Columbia River, OR
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8. Columbia River, OR

The largest river in the Pacific Northwest is also home to some of the region’s largest smallmouth bass, salmon, sturgeons and steelheads (rainbow trout). While you can get bites all year round, spring and summer are ideal times to find trophy-worthy catches. The rough, often crowded waters are best navigated on boat by experienced anglers, but even novices can enjoy "plucking" with a rod from the river’s beaches and sand bars.

Discover: The ultimate guide to Oregon


Chesapeake Bay, MD
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9. Chesapeake Bay, MD

The brackish water of the Chesapeake Bay is not only the perfect habitat for those world-famous Maryland crabs but one of the best fishing spots you’ll find on the East Coast. Over 70 percent of the striped bass from the Atlantic Coast are born in the bay and its 150-plus tributary rivers. In addition to the striped bass—which is known locally as rockfish—anglers can catch bluefish, drum, speckled trout, flounder and croaker.

Discover: The ultimate guide to Maryland

California Delta, CA
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10. California Delta, CA

Boasting warm weather year-round, Northern California’s climate is ideal to catch fish whenever the mood strikes. In this river and estuary, also known as the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, anglers cast their lines from river banks, piers and boats, ready to catch striped bass, sturgeon, catfish, black bass and salmon. Popular competitive derbies bring hundreds of boats to the area and the spectacle is quite the sight to behold.

Discover: Everything to see and do in California

Kona, HI
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11. Kona, HI

Easily the sportfishing capital of Hawaii, the waters off the Kona district of the Big Island’s western shore are calm like a lake, but full of thrills for anglers. Here, deep-sea fishing stays true to its name with the depth just a few miles outside of the harbor bottoming out at 6,000 ft. Tuna, mahi mahi and ono are caught daily aboard charter boats, as well as sharks and big-game bottom fish—just don’t let the breathtaking views distract you from the task at hand.

Discover: The ultimate guide to Big Island

Lake St. Clair, MI
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12. Lake St. Clair, MI

This large body of water is probably best known for bordering Detroit, but it's also a great spot to catch muskie. At 430 square miles, St. Clair can hardly compete with nearby Lake Huron or Lake Erie in size, but its thriving supply of game fish is responsible for half of all sports fishing in the Great Lakes. Walleye, perch, crappi and millions of quality smallmouth bass all call this lake home. Take a charter boat in the summer and you’re likely to catch more bass in a six-hour trip here than you might during a full week in lesser waters.

Discover: The ultimate guide to Michigan

Outer Banks, NC
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13. Outer Banks, NC

If you and your fishing friends can’t decide which type of angling your trip should consist of, consider heading to the Outer Banks. Flyfish, inshore charter fishing, braking fishing and pier fishing are all available here. Most anglers in the area opt for headboat fishing—fishing on large boats that provide all the supplies necessary (reels, hooks, bait and fishing licenses) and take passengers to popular spots for flounder, trout, sea bass and more. 

Discover: The ultimate guide to North Carolina

Kobuk River, AK
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14. Kobuk River, AK

Experienced anglers who are tired of hooking the same fish trip after trip should head north for a chance to try reeling in a rarer catch. The Kobuk River is over 200 miles long (Kobuk means "big river" in Inuit) and is home to arctic grayling, lake trout, arctic char, chum salmon and northern pike... but the river’s true prize is sheefish. These cousins of salmon can be over a yard long and are so strong and fast that they can easily rip the rod out of even a seasoned fisherman’s hands. 

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Lake Shelbyville, IL
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15. Lake Shelbyville, IL

Though this 11,000-acre reservoir was man-made (through dams), the two bordering state parks and the wildlife are all natural. During the warm months, Illinois tourists flock to the nearby campgrounds and resorts to enjoy the wooded area and the ample fishing coves. Anglers regularly catch yellow bass, walleye, freshwater drum, flathead catfish, crappie and bigmouth buffalo. Bow fishermen can also be found shooting their arrows at the abundant supply of large carp.  

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Lake of the Woods, MN
Photograph: Courtesy Lake of the Woods Tourism

16. Lake of the Woods, MN

In the battle to claim the title of "Walleye Capital of the World," Lake of the Woods takes the lead. This massive lake on the northern tip of Minnesota is renowned for its ice fishing. Brave the frigid cold and book a weekend at one of the area’s well-maintained and comfortable ice shanties for an unforgettable experience. In the warmer months, set some time aside to pay attention to what’s above you; bald eagles also love this fishing spot.  

Discover: The ultimate guide to Minnesota


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