Kayak fishing in the United States is a nationwide phenomenon with dedicated anglers in every corner of the country. We asked experts in every state if they had one day to fish, where would they go, when, what would they target and how would they fish? The responses uncover the top fishing grounds of the best anglers. Whether you’re traveling through Okefenokee, Coeur d’Alene, Messalonskee, Pascagoula, Big Tallapoosa or Little Tallapoosa, you’ll know where to catch the best fishing.
The United States of Fishing, Part I
Guide: Tim Perkins, Wilderness Systems pro staff
Hot spot: Coosa, Big Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa rivers for trophy red eye and Alabama bass.
Season: Fall as the fish feed heavily before winter migration. Wait for three days of steady weather and water levels a little lower than average.
Tactic: Paddle up river quietly to make a natural presentation. Cast spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and Red Line Lures upstream to rocks, wood or current seams.
Guide: Rudy Tsukada, Hobie brand ambassador
Hot spot: Homer Spit for king salmon and halibut
Season: Halibut from May to September, salmon in September and October. The spit creates a barrier protecting one side of the peninsula from the wind.
Tactic: The go-to bait is herring but spoons, flies and hoochies mimic smaller baitfish. In 20 to 50 feet of water, troll the herring to spin behind a flasher or dodger and eight to 16-ounce weight. For halibut, use a similar rig without the flasher and lower the bait near the bottom in 80 to 250 feet.
Guide: Brett Lee, Owner Kayak Obsessions Bait and Tackle
Hot spot: Lake Ouachita for largemouth, striped bass and hybrids
Season: In summer we endure very warm weather producing epic days.
Tactic: We mostly fish plastics and crankbaits, jigs and topwater lures. We also troll deep-diving crankbaits for hybrid bass and striped bass. Lake Ouachita is 4,000 acres, 975 miles of shore and over 200 islands so there is a lot of water to cover. Use tactics that allow you to move fast and make a lot of casts.
Guide: Bryce Gibbs, 59 tournament wins, Arizona Kayak Anglers Angler of the Year
Hot spot: Roosevelt Lake for smallmouth and largemouth bass
Season: Spring when bass move into the trees to spawn. Water clarity can be over 10 feet.
Tactics: Weightless Texas-rigged Senko fished through the brush.
On a cold, rainy morning, I was fishing a tournament at Saguaro Lake. I had one game plan for the day, throw a Jackhammer in a 100-yard-long stretch of shoreline. The rain wouldn’t let up and my rain gear failed. Ripping that Jackhammer through the grass, I felt a big thump and reeled in a 22.5-inch, eight-pound bass to fill my limit. I was shaking from excitement as well as the cold.
A few hours and a few fish later, I felt another big thump. I set the hook and a huge bass jolted to the surface and jumped into the air. The fish ran under my kayak and pulled me around until I scooped another eight-pound bass into my net. It was raining and cold, but the tournament was one of the best fishing days of my life.
Guide: Kevin Hofer, Kayak Angler contributor
Hot spot: Clear Lake is not only a bass fisherman’s paradise, the lake hosts carp, crappie and is home to the biggest catfish derby west of the Mississippi.
Season: Late spring and early summer. The water level is high enough to enter canals and the air temperatures are cool.
Tactic: Throw a Lucky Craft Ghost Minnow LV500 around the schools of shad. Senkos and spinnerbaits produce, but bass crush the lipless crankbait. I cast the crankbait into shallow water and then burn it back. In deep water, I yo-yo the lure off steep drops. Spread a little shad-scent Smelly Jelly on the lure.
My addiction to lipless crankbaits began during a fishing tournament in late spring. I paddled into a narrow canal and found the bass had a big school of shad cornered in a dead end. I positioned my kayak as far as possible from the school and whipped the Lucky Craft over and over to consistently pick off nice bass.
Guide: Lindsie Garcia, tournament angler, Dynamic Lures pro
Hot spot: Spinney Mountain Reservoir for trophy trout and pike.
Season: Spring before the weeds take over. Late fall as the weeds die off. Best weather is overcast and a little breezy.
Tactic: I troll a Dynamic Lures HD Trout at two to three miles per hour while watching my side-scan sonar to locate differences in bottom composition. I match the lure to the water depth. I also cast green pumpkin or white tube jigs to trout cruising the edge of the weedline.
Guide: Dennis Suler, outdoor writer
Hot spot: Niantic for false albacore, striped bass, bluefish, summer flounder and large thresher sharks. Use the Pleasure Beach public boat launch as a starting point.
Tactic: Trolling tube and worm jigs along nearshore structure for striped bass.
Guide: Joe Hosler
Hot spot: Lewes Harbor Canal for striped bass, bluefish and flounder
Season: Spring or fall. Early morning, incoming tide
Tactic: Jigging soft plastics
On a late spring afternoon I was driving through a small coastal town and saw birds diving in the marsh. Luckily, I had been fishing earlier that morning and still had my kayak in the back of the truck. I followed the birds and found a place to launch my kayak. I hit the water and caught striped bass and blues on every cast. I had the fish all to myself.
Guide: Alex Tejeda, pro guide Bonecollectorkayakfishing.com
Hot spot: Miami for bonefish, tarpon and permit
Season: With water temperatures over 70 degrees and air under 90, spring is the best season. Focus on channel edges through the high tide. Stay on the move, tarpon, bonefish and permit are always searching for a meal.
Tactic: Sleep in and start the day with a hearty breakfast. Launch at Hobie Beach and look for broken bottom flats mixed with hard marbled bottom and patches of grass. Bonefish are suckers for a live shrimp. Permit like a small, live crab. Tarpon will fall for a live shrimp or crab.
Miami is a melting pot of Latin-American food, art, music and culture. The sunny metropolis, home to more than 2.7 million people, hosts world-class offshore, inshore and freshwater fishing. With the signature high-rise skyline looming in the background and Brickell City in the foreground, Miami’s metro area may not seem like an obvious place to catch snook, bonefish, tarpon, permit and other inshore trophies, but hot summers and mild winters make fishing as diverse as the city’s culture.
Guide: Chris Funk, Jackson Kayak pro staff, Kayak Angler contributor
Hot spot: Okefenokee Swamp for big bowfin
Season: Fall or spring to avoid summer’s yellow flies. Look for bowfin in deep holes with slow current and an average water level.
Tactic: Flipping Texas-rigged worms into holes in lily pad fields. Dragging a white spinnerbait down deeper runs. Working a black and blue buzzbait around wood along the bank.
Several of my friends and Jackson Kayak teammates were having a very good trip to the swamp. Around lunch time, we were fishing a spillway that must have been a spawning area for bowfin. The rest of the day, six anglers were side by side catching fish as fast as we could cast. It was the single greatest day of fishing I have ever experienced.
Guide: Nick Wakida, Hobie Pro
Hot spot: South side of Maui for Ono (wahoo)
Season: October to January
Tactic: Trolling live bait with 5/0 hooks on single strand wire. Pull two baits, one on the surface and one weighted to swim 40 feet down. Fish water from 130 to 150 feet deep.
It was another ideal day of kayak fishing and the conditions were almost too nice. I was running the 150-foot depth when I hooked a big shark that dragged me offshore until I cut it free. I was making my way back in when I took another strike. My line was screaming and next thing I know my spool is half gone. I fought the fish for 20 minutes before I put my gaff in it. The wahoo was heavy and long.
As I was pulling it over my lap the fish kicked and I caught the trailer hook in my wrist. The front hook was still in the corner of the fish’s mouth. Then the huge wahoo slipped off the other side of the kayak. I had to make a quick decision, so I grabbed the hook, looked the other way and ripped the barb back out. Blood was gushing from my wrist, but I got the fish secured. The blood stopped after about 20 minutes and the 70-pound ono was my personal best. The trip was a roller coaster of emotions but a day I will never forget.
Guide: David Feucht, brand manager NRS
Hot spot: Lake Coeur d’Alene for largemouth, smallmouth bass, northern pike
Season: Spring through fall
Tactic: In the spring, I fish quickly and cover as much water as possible with swimbaits, bladed jigs, jerkbaits, and crankbaits. Summertime is topwater season and can produce some true giants. Or finesse fish in deeper water for trophy smallmouth.
On my most epic day, I was fishing in a backwater flooded slough. In the protected water, I was shielded from other boats fishing the main tributary. I caught several five- to seven-pound largemouth while bass boat after bass boat whizzed past me.
Guide: Trevor James, Pro Guide, Wet n Wild Outfitters
Hot spot: Fox Chain of Lakes for smallmouth bass
Season: Early spring when the bug hatches produce the biggest smallies of the year.
Tactic: Find current just off a long straight or deep hole. Finesse tactics working 1/4 ounce Jade’s Jigs Ned rig tipped with a Z-Man TicklerZ. In spring, the rivers are blown out and I want the bait to sit slam down. I work the lure with a pause, twitch, twitch then repeat. If the bite is difficult, I lengthen the pause up to 45 seconds.
I wake up early and stop on the way to the fishing hole for a donut and coffee. I enjoy breakfast while putting on my Simms waders and rigging up rods for the day. After I meet my clients, we jump in our kayaks and head to the riffles where I teach a youngster how to catch his or her first fish.
Guide: Kyle Hammond, Indiana Kayak Fishing Journal, Old Town Kayaks pro staff
Hot spot: Mississinewa and Salamonie Reservoirs for black and white crappie
Season: October and November during the fall lake drawdown. Falling water levels and cooling temperatures trigger the fish to move shallow and feed heavily.
Tactic: A run and gun approach is best using a small slip bobber and a two-inch crappie tube on a 1/16 ounce jighead. Quickly cover as much timber as possible to find areas holding large numbers of fish.
Guide: Andy Whitcomb
Hot spot: Spirit Lake for muskie and pike
Season: Spring or fall are best. Avoid summer when boat traffic and algae blooms can hinder fishing.
Tactic: Average depth is only 10 feet with a good mix of weeds, sand, gravel and boulders. While covering water by casting a swimbait, I’ll drift a nightcrawler-tipped crappie jig under a bobber to catch yellow perch for bait. I drop anchor, attach a wire leader and focus on fish with teeth like muskie and pike. Early in the day, I’ll start with topwater, a spinnerbait or bladed jig. Later, my go-to pike lure is a Lil’ Cleo.
Guide: Marco Munoz, Angler of the Year for Air Capital Kayak Anglers 2015, 2017 and 2019
Hot spot: Bone Creek Reservoir for largemouth bass
Season: Early October to December.
Tactic: The lake is littered with dead standing timber and healthy vegetation that makes the water clear. I don’t use any electronics, so I focus on structure I can see below the surface such as lay downs, standing timber, rocky shoreline, reeds and vegetation. My go-to lures are a frog, Chatterbait or jig with crawfish trailer. My favorite technique is slamming my jig through heavy wooded lay downs.
Hot spot: Dale Hollow Lake for smallmouth and largemouth bass
Season: Late fall and winter, I love the cloudy, nasty days as cold fronts come through when the smallmouth feed. Smallmouth love to feed when it snows and I always find fish in the shade, even in the winter.
Tactic: A world class smallmouth fishery, the lake produced the 11-pound, 15-ounce World Record caught by David L. Hayes in 1955. There have been numerous nine- and 10-pound smallmouth caught over the years. Look for cover like black shale, deep grass, gravel and standing timber. Clear water makes finesse fishing super popular. Light fishing line and deep structure are best. In the winter, try a swimbait, Alabama rigs, Silver Buddy or Float N’ Fly.
Set out for adventure with our guide to America’s hottest hot spots. | Feature photo: David Feucht