Every day, the editors at Kayak Angler receive photos from readers around the world. A steady stream of grip and grins, dawn and dusk, pimped-out kayaks and trophy catches flash across our screens. Now we’re turning the tide with our guide to the most popular paddle-fishing hotspots in the Americas, with local insight from the pros who fish there. These top kayak fishing destinations in the Southeast US are only as far away as you dare to dream or drive.
[This article is part of our Choose Your Own Adventure series. For more great kayak fishing destinations, see 7 Top Middle America Fishing Hotspots.]
6 Top Southeast Fishing Hotspots
1 Outer Banks, North Carolina
Known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, North Carolina’s storied Outer Banks consists of a narrow band of sand butting against the raw power of the Gulf Stream. The resulting weather and waves have been the doom of many ships and a boon for kayak anglers. Local guide Rob Alderman covers the ocean and sound from the Virginia line to Ocracoke Island. “That’s 120 miles of coast,” he points out.
Alderman splits his time between stalking sea trout, flounder and redfish in the sounds and charging the surf to chase cobia, bull reds, sharks and mackerel on the seaside. Fishing is best spring through fall with shoulder seasons the hottest. Winter can be white hot for striped bass when the wandering fish migrate past the northern Outer Banks.
On the inevitable lay day, these islands offer the best surfing, kite surfing and wind surfing on the East Coast. Or climb one of the local lighthouses for a breathtaking view of the Graveyard.
2 Durham, North Carolina
Durham, North Carolina, is one of the fastest growing cities in America. With the Eno River flowing through town and pristine mountain streams and crystal clear lakes a short drive away, obviously many people are moving to the area for the fishing.
Local guide and outfitter Gary Ribet describes the whole region as a great Southeast kayak fishing destination. “There are too many options to focus on just one river or lake,” he explains. Ribet recommends the Eno River for largemouth bass in the fall. White and black crappie school up in the spring providing fast action and great table fare.
For a unique challenge, target Roanoke bass that love the clear, rocky shallows. Summer is a great time to get out of the city and head to the mountains of Stokes County north of Durham. Smallmouth bass are the star of the seven major rivers running through the rural county. Summer fish can be fooled with soft-plastics and topwater poppers. Accessing any of these rivers is made easy via a wide network of state and local parks. Shuttles run most of the routes so a kayak angler can just float and fish.
3 Panama City Beach, Florida
White sand beaches and emerald green water make Panama City Beach the picture of a perfect shoreline. A few miles away, expansive wetlands creep with redfish, seat trout and flounder.
Captain Linda Cavitt patrols the waters on a standup paddleboard. “The SUP has a shallow draft for skinny water and it’s easy to beach launch for nearshore fishing,” she explains. A SUP also offers a stable platform to stand and fish, helpful for sight-casting to cobia or redfish.
To fish the gulf, Cavitt launches from the west end of the beach to avoid boat traffic. Inshore expeditions start from any of the many kayak launches. “Get a map of local launches online or at a local outfitter,” Cavitt recommends, “look for bayous draining on the low tide.”
Offshore, Cavitt chases schools of bait and diving birds with a cigar minnow rigged on a wire leader. “That’s all you need to get started,” she says. Panama City is a famous tourist trap, so accommodations are varied and plentiful. Offseason is the best time to visit for cool deals and hot fishing.
4 Space Coast, Florida
The east coast of Florida is perfect for astronauts and anglers. The wide, flat, marshy coast offers fewer things for space shuttles to hit and plenty of places for fishermen to hit. Dee Kaminski guides clients to trophy redfish, tarpon, snook and sea trout on Mosquito Lagoon.
“Best season is when you want to fish,” Kaminski half-jokes. In fact, each season features a star. Catch tailing reds and trout sunning in sand holes during winter. Fall features big snook on shallow flats, deep canals and around docks. A medium-heavy spinning outfit spooled with 10-pound braid is the weapon of choice for throwing topwater lures and working weedless jigs.
The Space Coast gets its name from Kennedy Space Center. Anglers can watch rockets launch and watch tarpon launch out of the water.
5 Pompano Beach, Florida
Where the Gulf Stream rushes into the east coast of Florida, kayak anglers can paddle out to meet sailfish, tuna, wahoo and other denizens of the deep. The stream can flow up to three knots and the wind blows 15 knots on a calm day. But phenomenal fishing awaits anglers who can beat the conditions.
Slow troll live goggle eyes for dolphin, wahoo, sails and tuna. Or stop on a reef and vertical jig snapper, amberjack and grouper. Launch at 16th Street or 2nd Street. Best season is May to September.
Great fishing brings hundreds of anglers to Pompano from across the Southeast US and farther afield for the Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament series. And don’t miss the Fishing Hall of Fame in nearby Ft. Lauderdale.
6 Florida Keys
For inshore anglers, three species represent the ultimate achievement: tarpon, bonefish and permit. All three swim the clear-blue water of Florida’s Keys. Alex Tejeda guides anglers to bucket-list fish on this limestone archipelago that separates the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
Kayak launches sprinkle the islands, and Tejeda recommends Bahia Honda State Park for access to the Gulf and Atlantic. He suggests fishing the bottom of the tide as water and fish flood the flats. “Don’t be afraid of sharks,” he says. The predators are a sign of a healthy reef system. “Target fish often follow the sharks onto the flats,” Tejeda adds. Look for waking fish or shadows moving across broken bottom.
Anglers with crabs will have the most success. If you’re bait fishing, use a small blue crab on a 2/0 circle hook. Fly guys like a Merkin crab for permit and bones. Tarpon will eat a big streamer or a cockroach fly. The Keys were developed as a sportfishing heaven, and everything from hotels to restaurants and shops has a fishy feel.
The Florida Keys offers some of the best kayak fishing in the Southeast US—and anywhere. | Feature photo: Alex Tejeda