Daydreaming about bucket-list destinations is a common and welcomed occurrence for anglers. While most of us fish in our backyards 95% of the time, vacations, business and adventures with friends can take us all over the country. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, we’re fortunate to have unique saltwater fishing experiences in every nook & cranny – which made compiling this list of top fishing destinations a difficult task…
Lists like these are always subjective. If you asked 10 different people based in 10 different regions what the top 10 saltwater fishing spots in the US are, you’d get 10 different answers. This list was developed by our crew here at SAFC but that doesn’t mean it’s right. We want this to be a spark for conversation and debate so after reading through this post, leave your thoughts and fishing stories in the comments section down below.
Acting as the barrier between Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, anglers in Galveston, Texas can choose from speckled trout, tarpon and redfish in the bay or world-class sailfish, king mackerel, red snapper & wahoo out in the Gulf. Like the Keys and other southern fishing spots, Galveston offers year-round action. The island itself is full of history and access is a breeze with Houston less than an hour away. Popular targets for charters and recreational anglers alike are the many piers, beaches and jetties in the area as well as flats inside Trinity Bay, East Bay and West Bay. Big sharks are common too which make for great photo opportunities and quick releases. After returning to dry land, enjoy some of the best seafood in Texas at one of the many waterfront restaurants.
With South Florida receiving most of the credit to the state’s fishing fame, Panama City on “Florida’s Forgotten Coast” has access to trophy waters both inshore and off. The crystal clear inshore waters of the Gulf are famous for a variety of species like red fish, flounder, tarpon and sea trout and it’s not uncommon to see anglers having great days fishing from the many piers and beaches along the coast and inside St. Andrew Bay. Offshore you can troll for king mackerel, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin and cobia. For the trips where you’re heading 50+ miles offshore we recommend a longer charter. Trips up to 72 hours are popular and can be extremely rewarding if you don’t mind spending 3 days out at sea. Next time you think about saltwater fishing in Florida, consider PCB!
You’ll find productive water up and down the California coast, but the area around San Diego holds a wide variety of fish – and some of the biggest – and has a thriving year-round fishing scene with plenty of captains who know what they’re doing. Anglers can catch spotted bay bass in San Diego Bay all day long making inshore fishing here a fun, family friendly destination, but if you’re ready for adventure, head out on a multi-day trip of offshore fishing for giant tuna. These can be some of the most productive tuna waters in the world, but you have to be willing to work for them.
At the end of one of the world’s most famous rivers, the Mississippi River Delta meets the Gulf of Mexico creating some of the best saltwater fishing in the world. The marshy bays close to the river host trophy fish like redfish, flounder, sheepshead, black drum and speckled trout. With such unique land structure and numerous reefs and wrecks, hiring a charter captain who understands the fish habits in the area can be extremely helpful. Head out of the marina with the wind in your face and the sun rising over the marsh as you move south into the Gulf to troll the offshore canyons among oil rigs for marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphin.
Dubbed the “Fishing Capital of the World”, Montauk, NY is a gravitational pull for traveling anglers due to its proximity to New York City. The don’t flock without reason… Every year massive schools of migrating fish from the Long Island Sound up to Maine pass by making it one of the most popular locations north of Florida. Most anglers spend their time targeting Striped Bass. Big bass pounding through bait-balls close to shore make the water seem as if it’s boiling. These inshore frenzies make shore fishing a popular technique, so set up with light tackle and toss soft plastics, plugs or chunk bait along the rocky shorelines and keep a good grip on your rod. 30-40 pound bass are consistently caught from May to October. May and June can be hot, but things really light up in September and October. Watching hundreds of bass thumping against the surface is a sight to see in itself. As if that isn’t enough to make your palms sweaty, Montauk also has easy access to the rewarding offshore canyons for big tuna and other deep-water trophies.
Located at the intersection of the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and a variety of freshwater waterways, Virginia Beach offers up a uniquely diverse range of fish and locales. From world-class offshore action to a bounty of coastal species and a fantastic mix of inland, freshwater adventures, it’s no wonder Virginia Beach is considered an angler’s paradise. During the Virginia Beach striper-fishing season, you’ll find tournaments up and down the coast with one of the largest, if not the largest, striper tournament held in January out of Virginia Beach – perfectly timed as the stripers return to their spawning waters inside Chesapeake Bay. Mahi, amberjack, bluefish, cobia, tuna and marlin all swim in the deep waters off of the beach giving anglers a myriad of opportunities. After a day on the water, be sure to enjoy the beach, explore the boardwalk and try some of the local.
The prominent reputation of Cape Cod’s fishery has been around long before Wicked Tuna caught national attention… From Buzzards Bay past Martha’s Vineyard, out and around Nantucket and back up to Provincetown, migratory stripers fill the water along with giant bluefin tuna, bluefish, cod, swordfish, wahoo & more. The natural shape of the Cape’s land creates sheltered conditions and virtually year-round flat seas. Fish the Sounds or head to the nearby deep in search of big boys. Tossing live herring around rocky shorelines is a tried & true technique for trophy stripers, as well as working live eels, poppers and jigs – outgoing tides seem to produce more fish. You’ve got some options for timing on the Cape: The striper action heats up in May and June with the open ocean lurkers becoming more active from June to September. The relaxing ambiance of sand dunes and mellow beach-houses create an atmosphere worthy of family vacation, so convincing your significant other to visit this historic area shouldn’t be difficult.
The waters around North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks are some of America’s most productive saltwater fisheries. Similar to the tip of Montauk, NY, Hatteras Island is the easternmost point on the Atlantic Coast (south of Delaware) and acts as a highway for fish. As the Gulf Stream waters move baitfish-chasing trophies up the coast from southern fisheries like South Florida and the Caribbean, red drum, yellowfin tuna, sailfish and wahoo aggressively feed. Ideal months to visit are April through June, and then again in the fall for exciting tuna action.
The marinas here alone are worth the trip. Lines of boats that look more like floating houses and decked-out sport-fishing yachts reflect the glamour of the Miami skyline. The fish must like it, too. Offshore fishing yields reel-screeching fish, but the true jewels of Miami are the bays where mangroves and flats attract snook, snapper, jacks, bonefish, tarpon and permit and create some of the most engaging fishing on the Atlantic Coast. Access to productive fishing spots is easy and there’s surely no shortage of knowledgeable charter captains ready to put you on fish. The tropical weather, white sandy beaches, year-round action and the flashy backdrop of the city make this a must-fish for beginner and experience anglers alike.
A full calendar of warm tropical weather, crystal clear water and converging currents makes the Florida Keys arguably the best saltwater fishing destination in North America. It’s almost unfair to lump the Keys into one “destination”… But for the sake of this list let’s run with it. From Key Largo to Key West they each enjoy access to different hot spots and cultivate unique vibes both at the marina and on the water. Tangle with tarpon in the shallows or battle for hours with trophy marlin, tuna or dolphin in the open ocean. The list of species is long and the charter boats are a plenty. If you’ve got a bucket list of fishing locations, this should be at the top.