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Where to Fish in May

Find the best spots to find your favorite species as the weather gets warmer and seasons begin to pick up around North America and the Caribbean.

Updated:

April 13, 2021
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The Salt Water Sportsman editors list the best two locations to go in May for your favorite saltwater species, plus notes for each location about why the bite there is hot.

Pacific Blue Marlin

Pacific blue marlin
Pacific blue marlin Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Hawaii

Second choice: Panama

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The deep, cobalt waters off Kona and neighboring Hawaiian islands host some of the world’s best blue marlin fishing this time of year. Expect 300- to 500-pounders to be plentiful and aggressive, and be ready for a larger blue, perhaps even a grander, to pop up behind the spread. In Panama, the fishing slows down a bit in early May, but it bounces back quickly as June approaches.

Atlantic Blue Marlin

Atlantic blue marlin
Atlantic blue marlin Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Dominican Republic

Second choice: Turks and Caicos

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The blue marlin bite goes from good to great in Dominican waters this month as fish in the 150-to-250-pound range become more abundant to the delight of fly and light-tackle anglers, and the bite expands from Punta Cana and La Romana all the way to La Mona Passage. In Turks and Caicos, larger fish start to show up steadily off Providenciales, Turks and Caicos islands.

Black Marlin

black marlin
Black marlin Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Panama

Second choice: Australia

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Gold Coast’s renowned juvenile blacks fishery nearshore becomes the main event in Australian waters, but fishing off Port Stephens comes to life this month, offering another reliable option. In Panama, black marlin fishing remains productive throughout the 70-mile stretch between the gulfs of Panama and Chiriqui. Trolling liveys along the color change is a good bet, but underwater pinnacles in the region also yield many blacks.

White Marlin

White marlin
White marlin Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Dominican Republic

Second choice: North Carolina

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The DR’s offshore fishing outlook in May may be headlined by blue marlin, but whites are as plentiful or even more so. Look for them off the northeast end of the island, and be ready for double- and triple-headers when the bite heats up. May is also when whites start showing up off the North Carolina coast as packs of migrating fish ride the Gulf Stream northward.

Atlantic Sailfish

Atlantic sailfish

Atlantic Sailfish

Atlantic sailfish Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Florida

Second choice: Mexico

Florida’s east coast overtakes Mexico’s Yucatan as the top spot for Atlantic sailfish this month. From Key West up to Stuart, now is a great time to raise multiple fish with kite baits and trolling spreads, often along or close to the edge of the reef, as a southeasterly breeze sets in. With sails continuing their migration, the action off Isla Mujeres and Cancun dwindles, but enough fish remain to provide plenty of sport.

Pacific Sailfish

Pacific sailfish
Pacific sailfish Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Guatemala

Second choice: Costa Rica

With Guatemala sailfish action still at its prime, the fleets out of Iztapa and neighboring Puerto Quetzal keep their dance cards full this month, helping many fly and light-tackle anglers achieve personal bests. In Costa Rica, the drier weather up north, combined with a marked uptick in sails, makes fishing off Flamingo and Tamarindo an excellent proposition this time of year.

Striped Marlin

striped marlin
Striped marlin Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Mexico

Second choice: Ecuador

Game boats and pangas—with their baitwells loaded with live caballitos and sardines—scan the surface for finning striped marlin off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Some crews cast a livey at fish swimming on top, while others troll the baits past them, and both tactics pay off. Off the Ecuador coast, the bountiful fishing grounds near the Galapagos continue to yield double-digit release days this month.

Wahoo

Wahoo
Wahoo Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Bermuda

Second choice: Mexico

Boats fishing Challenger and Argus, Bermuda’s fabled offshore banks, enjoy a welcome jump on their catch ratio. Slow-trolling live speedos is the surefire tactic, but pulling the classic Ilander-ballyhoo combos at higher speeds also produces. On Mexico’s Pacific coast, the same offshore banks that produce big yellowfin tuna catches yield good numbers of ‘hoos to boats making the run from Cabo and other Baja resort towns.

Yellowfin Tuna

yellowfin tuna
Yellowfin tuna Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Hawaii

Second choice: Mexico

This time of year, waters surrounding Kona and other Hawaiian islands are teeming with ahi (the local name for yellowfin tuna) in May, a big draw for both anglers and hungry marlin on the prowl. The fabled tuna grounds off the Baja coast are also flush with fish, and primed to reward anglers with good catches and the occasional trophy tuna, which could surpass 300 pounds.

Blackfin Tuna

blackfin tuna
Blackfin tuna Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Florida

Second choice: Bermuda

It’s hard to beat the Florida Keys for blackfins this time of year. The humps off Islamorada and Marathon yield plenty, as does the end of the Bar off Key West. And don’t discard the option of chumming some up around shrimp boats in the Gulf. Calm seas should make it easier. Bermuda’s offshore banks are another great alternative for plump blackfins, and some could weigh as much as 30 pounds.

Bonefish

bonefish

Bonefish

Bonefish Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Bahamas

Second choice: Belize

There’s no better time of year to stalk bones on the expansive flats of the Bahamas, where large schools roam—often shallow enough to expose their dorsals and backs—in search of forage, treating anglers to exciting sight-fishing with superb chances for success. In Belize, expect a similar favorable situation, but with a litlle more wind and fish averaging a couple of pounds less.

Snook

snook
Snook Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Florida

Second choice: Mexico

The season closes again in Florida, but responsible catch-and-release is both allowed and productive this month, with lots of linesiders, including some big ones, waiting in ambush around mangrove-island roots and points, dock and pier pilings, bridges, passes and inlets, and adjacent beaches. In the Yucatan, the mangrove lagoons to the north and south of the peninsula also host plenty of hungry snook.

Tarpon

Tarpon

Tarpon

Tarpon Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Florida

Second choice: Mexico

It’s peak time for tarpon in the Sunshine State, where the annual migration is well underway along both coasts, affording anglers numerous chances to partake of the amazing action along the way. Look to the Keys and various stretches of the Gulf coast for the best sight-casting opportunities. In Yucatan waters, look for juveniles flooding  the backcountry and larger tarpon cruising open water.

Permit

Permit

Permit

Permit Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Belize

Second choice: Mexico

Belize flats and shoals continue to offer the best chances to connect with the sickle-tailed phantoms. Plenty of sunshine makes spotting fish easier, and a steady breeze should help conceal anglers closing in. The Yucatan bays of Ascension, Espiritu Santo and Chetumal are also home to large permit populations and offer fishing comparable to that in Belize this month.

Red Drum

red drum
Red Drum Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Louisiana

Second choice: Florida

When it comes to reds, fertile marshes and coastal waters keep Louisiana atop the totem pole. Try stalking fish in small bays and duck ponds, and the bayous leading to them. Spots where forage is evident, whether cocahoes (mud minnows), jumping shrimp, swimming crabs or other visible prey, are most likely to attract fish. In Florida, now is a good time to look for reds on the grass flats, and in potholes and troughs.

Striped Bass

striped bass
Striped bass Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: New York

Second choice: New Jersey

As things begin to warm up in the Northeast, stripers transition to open water to track down forage. Some take to the shallow flats and sod banks in major bays, some move out to patrol the beaches along the New York and New Jersey coasts, and others, instead of focusing on schooling baitfish, turn their attention to lady crabs inside Long Island Sound, all of which provide excellent sight-fishing opportunities.

Swordfish

swordfish

Swordfish

Swordfish Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Florida

Second choice: Cayman Islands

The broadbill bite in South Florida is strong and consistent this time of year, and dead baits and sewn belly strips fished at night with Cyalume sticks and strobes increasingly give way to daytime live-baiting. With tricks learned from South Florida captains, their counterparts in the Caymans have been tapping into the swordfish fishery in their local waters. Hotspots include the Shelf and South Sound near Seven Mile Beach.

King Mackerel

king mackerel
King mackerel Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: North Carolina

Second choice: Louisiana

While some kings stick around in Florida waters, the majority move west into the Gulf of Mexico or north up the Eastern Seaboard. North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where baitfish abound this time of year, is a reliable staging area to intercept the big macks on the Atlantic Coast. Louisiana’s nearshore oil rigs and the mouths of major passes are the top options in the Gulf.

Bluefish

Bluefish
Bluefish Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: New York

Second choice: New Jersey

Large schools of ferocious blues make their way up the ­Atlantic Coast this time of year, looking for food and wreaking havoc along the way. The leaders usually make it to New York and New Jersey shores in May, and they won’t be hard to find. Locating aggregations of baitfish along the beaches and around inlets is the ticket. Wherever forage is plentiful and easy, bluefish are bound to show up.

Dolphin

mahimahi
Dolphin Illustration by Keilani Rodriguez

First choice: Florida

Second choice: Bahamas

Southeasterly winds increasingly become the norm in South Florida, creating weed lines and pushing them close to shore. That, in turn, draws and holds more dolphin within a few miles of major inlets, putting the bright acrobats in many anglers’ crosshairs. In the Bahamas, dolphin also find plenty of flotsam to their liking. Run-and-gun tactics combined with trolling or drifting baits near debris pay off.

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