Great fishing can be found across the nation, from coast to coast and every waterway in between. Still, there are some states that stand proud of their great fishing.
Narrowing this down is a difficult task. What makes great fishing? What kind of fishing? What species? Opportunities abound and we have endeavored to cover them all to choose the best states possible.
No matter what we do, we will still miss great states with amazing opportunities but here are the 5 we found that stand ahead of the game!
Table of Contents
Florida is considered by many to be the fishing capital of the U.S. It has more salt and freshwater opportunities than any normal man could ever hope to cover. They have just about every great species in their abundant and varied ecosystems.
If you like fresh water, some of the best bass fishing is in the world can be found in the many rivers, canals, and lakes across Florida. With two bass exceeding 20 pounds caught in the last 20 years, this is the place to go to break records.
Though there are spawn times, bass fishing is almost year around in some parts of Florida. Other freshwater species such as crappie and bluegill are also abundant. Several of these species breaking the 4-pound mark have been landed by intrepid Florida anglers.
Florida Saltwater Fishing
While the freshwater fishing is amazing without a doubt, it’s the inshore waters and offshore fishing that are the key to Florida’s success. Some of the most sought-after fish lurk in the many mangroves, sandy flats, and deep channels.
Speckled trout in Florida is a sabbatical for many fishermen who yearn after its delicate and delicious meat. When the migration starts, anglers from thousands of miles away spot the shores and flats to search them out.
Two of the most prominent billfish call the waters off Florida home. Both marlin and sailfish are prized fishing. There are few sports fish that are more exciting to go after.
Grouper are a popular deep-water species that can reach weights well over 300 pounds for some species. These are a trial and test of a fisherman’s true grit. If that sounds a little too much, there are other species of the fish under 100 pounds that make for great fishing and great eating.
You can’t neglect the famous Mahi-mahi which are nearly as exciting to fish as billfish. In many nearshore shallows, these fish are prominent. Topwater fishing Mahi is about the most fun you can have in fishing.
If you are a fly fisherman, Kissimmee, Okeechobee, and the Little Econ River offer some of the best bass and panfish anywhere in the country. They will readily hit flies on the surface. Or take your fly fishing offshore for Mahi, snook, and redfish.
This is only a small taste of the opportunities present in Florida. There are dozens of species and more ways to fish them than you could imagine. Trolling, kite fishing, deep sea, are common or just put on a bobber and fish like a kid again. Anyway you do it will be effective. Check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for rules and regulations.
Considering a Move?
Most of the best waters in Florida are only accessible by boat. You may not have to own your own but renting can get expensive. Of course, you could just make friends with someone with a boat or opt for a Kayak for close shore work.
Much of the best fishing in Florida is in the Gulf. This is not to say that eastern Florida doesn’t have its opportunities, just not as varied. Luckily you can drive from one side to the other in just a couple of hours.
Florida is a very popular destination and it seems that every year more and more people are looking to relocate there. So, if you’re thinking about it, best move quickly. You can get moving quotes from TMQ.us.
Texas is a big state full of big water and even bigger fish. Well known for its bass fishing, this is only the tip of the fishing iceberg that is Texas. With abundant fish populations of hundreds of species in both fresh and saltwater, you could spend a lifetime fishing Texas and die happy.
As a jumping off point, let’s talk Texas bass. With well over a hundred national tournaments hosted in Texas, the species has to be abundant. Every year near record bass weighing more than 10 pounds and sometimes as much as 15 are hauled out of Texas lakes and rivers.
Other than the dead heat of July and August, bass are hauled in across the state. Enough that more charters exist for bass in Texas than any other state in the country. While the biggest bass are caught in Alabama, if you average them out the bass in Texas are larger by over a pound.
Moving on to other species, Texas is well known for is panfish and catfish. These are abundant in every body of fresh water across the state. The world record blue cat weighing nearly 125 pounds was caught in Texas. So was the one before it, weighing a mere 3 pounds less.
Texas Saltwater Fishing
Moving offshore, most species fished anywhere in the south are available in Texas if not so prolifically as Florida. The most commonly targeted oceanic species are mackerel, grouper, spotted trout, cobia, snook, and tarpon. The distributions are fairly even up and down the coast as long as you have the right habitat.
Shore fishing is less popular than in Florida but abundant opportunities exist. Galveston is the mecca of surf and pier fishing with Eagle Point Marina, Rollover Pass, and the famous Galveston Pier being the epicenters. Common species are redfish and speckled trout which can be quite abundant.
Texas Alligator Gar
One fishing trip that should be on every angler’s bucket list is to go after the massive, prehistoric Alligator Gar. These toothy monsters are made of pure, hard-fighting excitement. Not an everyday trip but just once you should go after one of these 7 foot, 150-pound beasts.
Considering a Move?
Most of the best fishing in Texas is on the eastern side. With the Mississippi and its many tributaries going all the way to the eastern coast. The most populated lakes tend to be in this half of the state. The further west you go, the worse the fishing gets.
Being such a large state, southern and western Texas can be hours from good fishing. You will need to plan your trips well ahead of time. The Dallas-Ft. Worth area has a lot of opportunities within an hour. San Antonia may require a few hours drive. Odessa and El Paso are very distant with overnight travel needed.
Shorebound or by boat, there are hundreds of options for how to fish any species in Texas. Kayaks are growing in popularity but the reigning king in Texas is the affordable Jon boat for all fresh water. Offshore, you will need something bigger. For all the fishing rules check out Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Alaska is a huge state with fish to match. It’s almost hard to catch a fish under 5 pounds and even those are rare. Once you fish Alaska, no other state will cut it for you. The opportunities aren’t as abundant as some of the states in the far south but any opportunity you get will be pure gold.
Salmon is the number one fish in Alaska waters. From King to Coho and everywhere in between, salmon are everywhere. Chartered trips for Salmon are a huge part of the Alaskan economy.
Salmon takes us down a long road. It may be best to start with fish that aren’t salmon species.
Offshore this is predominantly cod and halibut. Both are abundant across the Alaskan shores and are fished deep. They lack the flair of sailfish or tuna but hauling either of the sizable species into the boat makes for an unforgettable trip.
Inshore, if you are fishing trout or salmon species, you are probably after pike. The Innoko River, isolated far north of Anchorage, is the capital of northern pike. The fishing here is better than anywhere in the world if you are after these toothy fish.
Every other species of fish commonly fished in Alaska are in the Salmonidae family. These are fished in both salt and freshwater depending on the time of year. Common salmon species fished are Coho, King, sockeye, and chinook with humpys being a little less common.
Mostly fished just offshore, these anadromous fish will move into the rivers to spawn. The many bays, fords, and estuaries are commonly dotted with fishermen. As they move farther upstream, they feed less.
Alaskan Freshwater Fishing
More on the freshwater side, trout are prolific in almost every lake and river in Alaska. Rainbow trout are the bulk of the trout caught with fly fishermen the world over flocking to Alaska just for this opportunity. While they may be the most sought after, they are not the only species.
Cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden are common in Alaskan waters as are their cousins the graylings. All of these fish are amazing fighters that offer amazing sport and a great meal. Lake trout in Alaska reach amazing sizes and can be just as sought after.
A special aside should be given to the sheefish. This mostly ignored cousin to the salmon reaches massive sizes and is only available in the far north. It is a fish everyone should go after at least once in their lives.
Deep sea fishing and fly fishing dominate sports fishing in Alaska but there is a place for your trusty spinning gear. Fishing Alaska is like nowhere else, you should get a buddy or a guide your first couple of times to get you straightened out.
Considering a move?
The most populous place in Alaska is Anchorage. Barring those independently wealthy people who don’t mind isolation, this is probably your destination. The good news is that Anchorage is near Kenai, the fishing mecca of Alaska.
Getting around Alaska isn’t like driving in the continental U.S. There are few roads and most of them stretch for miles. Go to Alaska prepared. In the winter, travel all but stops outside the local area.
Whether on a trip or a permanent move, be extra cautious of fishing regulations. They can change as the seasons progress and sometimes even the same day. Some seasons are open just for a few hours at a time. Of any state, Alaska is the hardest to understand. Check out the rules on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game site.
Having a huge length of coastline, California has a variety of saltwater opportunities. Strangely though, it maintains its reputation for great fishing from its freshwater habitats. Both stand above the average state but if you want bass, head to California.
There are a number of lakes that boast near record size bass of all species. Some of the more popular are Lake Shasta, Lake Almanor, and Castaic Lake. All of these offers amazing sports fishing for a variety of species. Castaic lake being particularly well known for big large-mouth bass.
If trout is more your game, you can head to Lake Cuyamaca which is stocked annually with over 22 tons of trout. Or check on one of the splendid trout rivers. Of these, the Russian River offers great trout and steelhead while the McCloud River is near world famous for rainbow trout.
If saltwater is more your style, over 90% of the population centers of California are within 2 miles of the coast. A little far to haul a large boat but if you fish from shore or the many piers, you can get some great fishing action.
Common fish caught from shore are halibut, herring, and sculpin all of which are fine tasting fish. You may also get maceral or the occasional calico bass of a pier or in deeper waters. While this lacks the diversity of some states, the fish are plentiful and active.
Offshore you get a few salmon and shark species that are commonly caught. Tuna are a more regular target but the real prize is the massive striped marlin. These 300-pound beasts are about the hardest fight in fishing with a notable record marlin taking over a full day to get to the boat.
San Joaquin River
All of this above ignores the crown jewel of California angling: The San Joaquin River Delta. This massive water body has thousands of miles of combined shoreland and offers the best fishing in the country. So large that a whale once got lost there, common fish are bass, stripers, sturgeon, and some huge catfish.
Considering a move?
If you fish trout, there are options in the far north, far south, and dead center. The better trout seem to be in the north but you can get action most anywhere.
Bass are prolific around the state with the epicenter around the San Francisco and Sacramento area. There are shore opportunities but a solid bass boat will get you the best fishing.
Offshore is usually done by charters due to extensive regulations. Shore fishing is open to anyone and available across the state. San Francisco Bay is the most productive but Santa Monica comes in a close second. Check out the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the rules and regs.
After a hard fought battle amongst its northern neighbors, Michigan wins the 5th spot on this list. Statewide, walleye and perch are the most common species and what Michigan waters are known for. Less well known is that Michigan is probably the second best state in the country for bass.
Bordering the great lakes on all sides and with over 11,000 inland lakes, there is almost no place in Michigan that isn’t great for the angler. Much of this depends on your preferred species but you are guaranteed at least one good species anywhere.
While the Great Lakes are not known for their bass, fishing at the right time of the year can be amazing with Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair being the best. Most of the inland lakes offer reasonable bass with Lake Leelanau and Lake Hubbard being the most productive.
But you fish in Michigan for Walleye and Perch. Maybe the occasional pike. You are spoiled for choice. Along with the lakes above, both Union and Burt Lakes are good.
However, the king of Michigan fishing is Saginaw Bay. With national walleye tournaments held here yearly, there is simply no place better. Channel cats are also quite common as is the very rare pike.
Michigan is a place all its own with a very distinct culture. This has extended into their fishing. Spinning gear is the most common while fly fishing comes in spurts every few years. Ice fishing is its own challenge and very popular in the northern areas. Check out the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for rules and regs.
Considering a move?
Of all the states on this list, Michigan may be the easiest to move to. Cost of living is lower and some places need a larger workforce. Detroit may be dying but the rest of the state seems poised to grow.
With a needed workforce comes needed fishermen. Stocking is down across Michigan as natural reproduction steps in to support the local species.
If you are good with perch and walleye, fishing in Michigan is great. Bass always take work and you may have to hunt for pike but the sheer numbers almost guarantee success.