Everglades National Park, Florida
Chokoloskee Island is smack-dab in the middle of a kayak fisherman’s nirvana—the western edge of Everglades National Park. Look on a map and you will see literally 10,000 islands surrounded by mangroves, mudflats, oyster bars, sandy beaches, and a rich marine nursery that is home to an amazingly diverse fishery—trout, redfish, snook, tarpon, and cobia abound.
With its many varieties of fish, vast array of fishable habitat throughout the year, and protected waters in almost any weather, this is one of the best kayak-fishing spots in the world.
The Chokoloskee put-in is a great place to start from. There is excellent trout, redfish, and snook fishing close by, or you can paddle a short distance to the nearest group of islands or even to the outer islands, an easy six miles away. Many kayak anglers make a day of it by fishing on the outgoing tide to the outer islands, lunching on one of the white sandy beaches looking out to the open Gulf of Mexico, then floating back with the tide. Ample current allows you to concentrate on fishing and still make it back; just be sure to note the channel markers on the way out. Those mangrove islands all look alike, and it’s easy to get turned around.
If the weather changes and the wind comes up, there are many protected spots around the islands to get out of the wind and continue fishing.
Look for tailing redfish in the shallows near the mangroves or jig for trout on the grass flats. If you’re lucky, you’ll paddle by manatees swimming or see porpoises fishing in the shallow waters.
When to Go: Snook year-round (but biggest in summer), reds year-round (but best in the fall), trout year-round, tarpon and cobia spring and fall
Fish to Fish: Speckled trout, snook, redfish, tarpon, cobia
Where They Hide: Trout—grassy flats; redfish—mangrove edges and oyster bars; snook—mangrove roots and passes
Terminal Tackle: Shrimp, pinfish, and small crabs for live bait; gold spoons, MirrOlures, Rapalas, DOA Shrimp, and soft jigs
Recommended Outfitter: Chokoloskee Charters’ (www.chokoloskeecharters.com) mother-ship trips can get you and your kayak to the faraway fishing holes seldom visited by paddlers.
Bites and Beers: Everglades City Rod and Gun Club (200 Riverside Drive; 239-695-2101). This is a gorgeous mansion with dark-stained cypress wood on the interior. You expect to find Papa Hemingway at the bar talking up his latest fishing adventures. The screened-in porch dining area overlooking the water is pure Florida style. — John Bolivar
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Potomac River, Maryland
Nestled in one of the most populous areas on the East Coast, the Potomac has long been a whitewater gem. That gem also shines with some kick-ass fishing. March sees rockfish (local dialect for striped bass) and shad show up at Little Falls on the Potomac and other barriers in neighboring rivers. A good morning could see 20 or more fish to hand. Soon after that, the smallmouth and largemouth bass kick in. Fish the lower Potomac, below Alexandria all the way to Quantico military base, or the slower sections of the upper Potomac above Great Falls for largemouth. Fish moving water and eddies around rapids for smallmouth. Of course, you may have to share said eddy with playboaters waiting for their turn on a wave. Log on to www.dgif.state.va.us/fishing for license and registration information.
After fishing in the summer, catch a surf at Virginia Chute from Angler’s Inn and go for a dip in the Potomac’s velvety warm waters.
When to Go: March-October
Fish to Fish: Bass—striped, largemouth, and smallmouth. Some fly fishermen stalk the Potomac’s carp with a fly rod—a pursuit not unlike fishing for bonefish on the tidal flats of the Florida Keys—minus the tropical islands.
Where They Hide: Stripers tend to congregate around bait-attracting structure when they make their appearance. Largemouth are generally to be found in the slower areas that are rich in weed beds. For smallmouth, look for rocky structure and current.
Terminal Tackle: Crankbait, spinners, Clousers, floating plugs—it all depends on where you are fishing and what you are after. Like its paddling treasures, which range from Class V to still water, the Potomac’s fishing is extremely varied.
Bites and Beers: Burrito Brothers (202-543-6835) on Capitol Hill makes a mean, healthy meal. Dixie Bones (www.dixiebones.com; 703-492-2205) in Woodbridge, Virginia, serves the area’s best barbecue.
Recommended Outfitters: Angler’s Lie (www.anglerslie.com; 703-527-2524); Fletcher’s Boat House (202-244-0461); and John B. Hayes, who guides smallmouth on the upper river (703-402-4837) — Marty Grabijas
Puget Sound, Washington
With an estimated 2,000 miles of wonderfully convoluted shoreline, major tide events, and an abundance of trout and salmon, Puget Sound is a kayak angler’s delight. King, silver, pink, and chum salmon and steelhead are the obvious draw. However, a variety of other species such as lingcod and flounder also dwell in these waters. Drop crab or shrimp pots on your way out to fish and pick them up on the way in to add variety to your table.
Stellar fishing can be found 12 months a year in the Sound. From January through April, there are steelhead in the area’s rivers. Around April and through July, resident silver salmon cruise the beaches, chasing baitfish. Once the days start to get shorter, king, silver, pink, and chum salmon congregate in the estuaries for their spawning run. It is at these times—generally September through December—that the fish are most concentrated and anglers in canoes or kayaks can come into their own.
Note that Puget Sound’s fishing regulations are some of the most tortuous in the nation. Be sure to know where you are going and what you might encounter. Log on to www.wdfw.wa.gov for registration and license info. The area’s fisheries are under stress from a number of different factors, and catch-and-release fishing is the best way to mitigate your impact.
When to Go: 12 blessed months per year
Fish to Fish: Salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout (catch and release only), steelhead, lingcod, flounder
Where They Hide: Epic tide changes, varying baitfish habits, and fish migratory routes make this piece of water especially challenging to fish effectively for an out-of-towner. Cruise www.washingtonflyfishing.com for beta.
Terminal Tackle: It varies greatly, but baitfish lures and patterns in brown, olive, chartreuse, and hot pink are consistent producers.
Recommended Outfitters: Morning Hatch Fly Shoppe (253-472-1070); Captain Tom Wolf (253-863-0711) specializes in trout and salmon fishing on fly and light tackle
Bites and Beers: The Hy-Iu-Hee-Hee (253-851-7885), on Burnham Drive in Gig Harbor, offers great food and beverages for cheap. It is the quintessential locals’ watering hole. Also try Chinooks Restaurant in Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal (www.anthonys.com; 206-283-4665), the base of North Pacific commercial fishing. — M.G.
Georgian Bay, Ontario
The land of classic kayak touring and islands scraped clean to the bedrock by glacial retreat is one of my top choices for a fishing paddle tour. Georgian Bay is home to an area called the 30,000 Islands because it is literally a labyrinth of waterways separated by 30,000 islands. Portage inland and there are too many lakes to count. No matter where you fish, you are likely to encounter smallmouth or largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and the occasional muskie. Given its many islands, fish-attracting underwater structure, and protected bays and inlets, Georgian Bay can provide a canvas for a lifetime of exploring.
Parry Sound is the logical jumping-off place for most, with quick access to the Outer Islands of Georgian Bay—a largely bug-free paradise composed of rocky islands—or inland waters such as Spider and Clear Lakes, which are a quick portage away.
Most of Georgian Bay is crown land, which means that most any island that doesn’t have a cottage on it can be your home for the night. Check local regulations on camping. Portions of the bay and its inland lakes are designated parks with reserved campsites. Log on to http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/fishing/gen.html for registration and licenses.
When to Go: Go right after ice-out and you will have the place to yourself—along with a couple gazillion smelts (finger-sized fish caught at night around creek mouths via nets or small hooks with bait). Fishing for northern pike picks up in May, and bass come into play around June.
Fish to Fish: Smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, muskie, and the occasional rainbow or lake trout—mostly in inland lakes
Where They Hide: Pike and largemouth can most often be found around weed beds and protected bays. Smallmouth bass frequent rocky underwater structures and points. For a midsummer’s day treat, try still fishing in the Outer Islands with a sunfish, big hook, steel leader, and bobber. Northern pike in excess of 20 pounds cruise the islands’ cooler waters in summertime, providing trophy fishing and a big enough fish fry for a party of six.
Terminal Tackle: Jointed Rapalas, both floating and diving, poppers, Clousers
Bites and Beers: Don’t expect much. The local tourist food is notoriously bad, and the year-round population is not large enough to support cool local eateries.
Recommended Outfitter: Grindstone Angling (www.grindstoneangling.com; 905-689-0880) has a shop and provides guiding out of Waterdown, Ontario. — M.G.
East Matagorda Bay, Texas
South of the town of Matagorda, East Matagorda Bay is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a long peninsula and offers protected fishing in shallow flats—perfect for a kayak. And this is one destination where kayaks get preferential treatment over motorized craft. A handful of marked kayak trails lead through a shallow estuary to some excellent fishing for redfish and speckled trout on East Matagorda Bay—and motorized boats don’t have access.
Follow FM 2031 south of town toward the gulf, and you’ll spot multiple kayak trail put-ins on the left side of the road. Paddle along any one of these marked trails—established by Captain James Arnold, owner of Day on the Bay Services—out to the East Bay, where the redfish and speckled trout can be found schooling in the grassy flats and shoreline in water that’s one to three feet deep.
Captain Arnold offers this bit of advice to kayak anglers who are fishing here for the first time: “Look for birds going after baitfish. Redfish and speckled trout will school when they get after baitfish, and that causes the baitfish to come to the surface, where the birds come in and scoop them up.”
And there are plenty of birds in the area to help locate those schooling fish. Matagorda County has ranked No. 1 in North America in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count since 1997, and last year 251 species were spotted in one day.
When to Go
When to Go: Fall (October-November) is the best, but it’s fair to good year-round. Mornings are an ideal time to be out there.
Fish to Fish: Redfish and speckled trout
Where They Hide: In the grassy flats and along protected shorelines
What They Bite: For live bait, you can’t beat shrimp. As for artificial lures, try gold spoons and soft plastics (in either strawberry/white or pearl/chartreuse) with 1/4- and 1/8-ounce jigheads.
Recommended Outfitter: Day on the Bay (www.dayonthebayservices.com; 979-244-6787)
Bites and Beers: Waterfront Restaurant (979-863-2520) in Matagorda Harbor. Take in your filleted fish and they’ll even prepare it for you. — Adem Tepedelen
For the last few years, this small waterfront town has been the home of the annual Northeast Kayak Fishing Rodeo and the epicenter of New England kayak fishing. With local salt ponds and Long Island Sound nearby, you can be angling in no time.
“The bluefish are pretty crazy,” said Jerry Sparks, a local kayak fishing guide. “They just tear up the tackle. They come in schools and it’s nonstop action with surface plugs.”
Access is plentiful, and Barn Island State Boat Launch (www.lisrc.uconn.edu/coast-alaccess/site.asp?siteid=550), an easy drive from Stonington, even features a canoe/kayak launch ramp that’ll quickly get you on the sound and into some striper and bluefish action. Other nearby hot spots include the Thames River (in the fall) and Point Judith, Rhode Island (late spring and early fall). And if you’re there June 10–11, consider signing up for the rodeo (www.kayakfishingrodeo.com/), which is open to beginners and experienced kayak fishermen alike.
When to Go: May-June, Sept.-Oct.
Fish to Fish: Striped bass and bluefish
Where They Hide: Back bays, estuaries, and river systems; concentrate on weed lines and rocky points
What They Bite: MirrOlures, Smack-it poppers, DOA soft plastics
Recommended Outfitter: Northeast Kayak and Guide Services (email@example.com; 413-219-8455)
Bites and Beers: Noah’s (www.noahsfinefood.com; 860-535-3925) in Stonington — A.T.
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