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 Middle America 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 6 Top Southeast Fishing Hotspots.]
7 Top Middle America Hotspots
1 White River, Arkansas
Arkansas’s White River holds rainbow, cut-throat and brook trout, but it is the big brown trout that draw fly anglers from around the world. Damon Bungard slips away from the office to chase trophy browns in the tailwaters of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam.
Bungard says the fish bite year round, but low water is best to sight cast to big, brown shadows hiding in the grass. When the water is high, Bungard drifts nymphs with a 5wt fly rod. An angler can drift up to 18 miles, or paddle upstream to the dam and work his way back to camp. “Don’t overlook side channels,” Bungard stresses, “the fish like to hide from the current.” A Power-Pole Micro mounted on the back of Bungard’s Kilroy sit-inside kayak allows him to throw on the brakes when he spots a honey hole or sees a hovering fish.
Bull Shoals State Park offers tents and cabins, they even rent kayaks and offer a shuttle service for long drifts down the river.
2 Grand Isle, Louisiana
If red drum tail through your dreams, then rise and shine in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Thousands of square miles of marsh and ponds surround the thin barrier island between Caminada Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Captain Danny Wray and wife Kristina of Calm Water Charters are on the water every day looking for reds and trout. “As a starting point, launch anywhere along highway LA 1 choosing the side of the road that has the cleanest water.”
Beginners should purchase a couple dozen minnows at a local tackle shop and fish popping corks in cuts and drains where the water is flowing. More advanced anglers can target larger reds with topwater lures, spinners and soft-plastics. The world-class red fishing draws more than 700 anglers to the Ride the Bull tournament each August. The sleepy fishing village offers accommodations ranging from campsites to mom-and-pop hotels and reasonably priced rental properties.
3 Lake Michigan
Local: Chris LeMessurier
Target: Fall is the end of the tourist run and the start of the salmon run.
Launch: Any public boat ramp or park at the end of a dead end and drag over the sand to the lake.
Tactic: Trolling big-lipped, deep-diving crankbaits.
Tackle: Heavy-action conventional rod and reel with 40-pound braided line.
Tips: Use a reel with a line counter to monitor how deep the lure is swimming.
Don’t Miss: Hike up Pyramid Point Trail for a scenic overlook of the lake.
Eat: Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor. Order a cheeseburger in paradise.
4 Austin, Texas
Everything is bigger in Texas and bass are no exception. Lady Bird Lake in the heart of Austin is famous for producing many of the biggest bucketmouths. Tournament pro, Ray Martinez, has the city waters dialed in. He’s won several events on the lake.
To target Lone Star lunkers, Martinez uses a Texas rig, of course. “Creature baits work really, really well,” he says, “and don’t forget about topwater frogs.” Work the submerged grass or cast under tree branches to find big bass. According to Martinez, the lake is full of trophy largemouth, but, “Winter produces some toads,” he says. The best launch is under the I-35 bridge.
Austin is famous for its eclectic music scene and fun-loving culture. To get a unique look at night-life, Martinez suggests fishing the Congress Bridge at dusk. “You can watch the bats fly out from under the bridge,” he says. “It’s a good time to get a bite.”
5 Texas Coast
Local: Fil “Fishman” Spencer
Target: Redfish and sea trout.
Season: Year-round, best after fall cold fronts.
Launch: Public boat ramps listed on Fishing Hot Spots map.
Stay: Camp on public beaches.
Tactic: Sight-casting to tailing reds or wading large flats and casting to potholes for trout.
Tackle: Medium-action spinning rod and walk-the-dog topwater lures.
Tips: Fish a local tournament to learn the ropes. Fellow anglers are helpful and the food is always good.
Don’t Miss: Take a day to hit area ponds and lakes for Texas’ famous largemouth bass.
Eat: Oceans of Seafood in Port Aransas. Choose your fish and shellfish off the boat for the chef.
6 Helfin, Alabama
According to local bass pro Tim Perkins, Helfin, Alabama, is the heart of the Heart of Dixie. The small seat of Cleburne County offers a central base for fishing world famous lakes and rivers of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The bass rich Big Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa rivers carry trophy largemouth, red eye and Alabama spotted bass past the town. The two systems offer anglers the option of fishing slow-moving lowland water or faster mountain flows. According to the U.S. Department of Interior, the Tallapoosa systems have the cleanest water on the East Coast.
To spark a bite from explosive river bass, Perkins throws a 3/8-ounce spinners in white and chartreuse. “I cast upstream and rip the spinner blade back,” Perkins says, “the fish are so aggressive, this is the best way to target a trophy.” In between bass bites, anglers will take in history that has been abandoned on the side of the river. From single-lane iron bridges to Native American fishtraps, a paddle down the river is a trip through time.
Today, the Tallapoosas are mostly populated by bass anglers looking for trophies off the beaten path. Perkins recommends launching anywhere along the 40-mile-long Lloyd Owens Canoe Trail. A few miles from Helfin, Lake Wedowee produces more top-50 bass than the famous Lake Gunterville in the center of the state.
For information on accommodations and attractions, visit the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce website.
7 Tongue River Reservoir, Montana
Say Montana, and people think mountains. It’s easy to forget the state has miles of open prairie. The 12-mile-long Tongue River Reservoir is a wet slash in the Big Sky state. New York transplant Lisa Densmore Ballard is an award-winning outdoor writer who fishes the reservoir for bass, crappie, walleye and pike. In fact, the lake has produced State Record pike, black crappie, rock bass and northern bullhead.
Densmore Ballard focuses on fly fishing with a 5wt or 6wt rod and black wooly bugger flies around submerged wood. “The water is murky so dark-colored lures get the most attention,” she explains.
Densmore Ballard has made many family memories camping at Tongue River State Park. “Be sure to get a site with its own kayak launch,” she recommends. Densmore Ballard also recommends bringing all food (except a few fish meals) since the isolated campground is nowhere near the trappings of civilization.
Big brown trout draw anglers to the White River, in Arkansas, kayak anglers included. | Feature photo: Damon Bungard