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Top Fishing Destinations Coast to Coast

Four top road trip destinations that offer the best fishing for five different species.

June 18, 2021
Yellowfin tuna being reeled in
Yellowfin tuna is one of the many options available to anglers willing to expand their horizons. Jason Stemple

Mid-Atlantic Whites

  • Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Target Species: White marlin
  • Season: July through September
White marlin jumping out of the water
During the summer, Virginia Beach offers terrific action with white marlin. Jason Stemple

Each summer, hordes of billfish migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, and Virginia Beach is right in the middle of the action. A fixture on Rudee Inlet, Capt. Jimmy Bayne has fished tournaments and hosted anglers on his 58-foot Paul Mann, Sniper, for decades. He says white marlin go in a feeding frenzy in late summer before migrating to their winter grounds.

Map of Mid-Atlantic fisheries
Virginia Beach is a ­perfect destination for traveling big-game anglers. Tim Barker

Bayne studies satellite water-temperature images, looking for warm-water eddies spinning off the Gulf Stream prior to starting the 50-mile run to the fishing grounds before sunrise. When he finds blue water between 76 and 78 degrees, along with circling birds, he slows the boat to 6.5 knots, deploys two squid daisy chains and two 20-bait dredges rigged with fresh ballyhoo or split-tail mullet, and adds an Ilander-and-ballyhoo in the center. “The Ilander draws in white marlin and gives me something to feed a blue, if one shows up,” he explains.

Blue marlin brought boatside
Blue marlin also show up. Ric Burnley

Bayne says Virginia Beach is a perfect destination for traveling big-game anglers. The city offers a variety of accommodation and entertainment choices, and is located smack in the middle of marlin country. Rudee Inlet is easy to navigate, and a free launch ramp at Owl Creek provides access to the inlet.

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Targeting tuna off Venice
Oil rigs off Venice produce great yellowfin tuna fishing. Jason Stemple

Cajun Tuna

  • Location: Venice, Louisiana
  • Target Species: Yellowfin tuna
  • Season: Spring through Winter

Perhaps best known for its world-class redfishing, Venice, Louisiana, is also ground zero for yellowfin tuna fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, which Capt. Kevin Beach of Mexican Gulf Fishing Company says is nothing short of spectacular when the water and weather conditions are right.

A typical day starts at first light, catching bait. Then Beach heads out to where his intel tells him he’ll find current upwellings with the desired temperature and clear water. “Clear water is key,” he says, explaining he would rather fish clear, green water than murky blue. Once Beach finds promising water, he slow-trolls three live baits, staggered at 50, 100 and 150 feet behind the boat, keeping a rod-and-reel combo ready to lob a livey away from the boat when he hooks up, a good way to get a doubleheader.

Fishing map for tuna off Venice, Louisiana
Venice, Louisiana, is ground zero for yellowfin tuna fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Tim Barker

Yellowfin tuna lead the parade of gamefish that hunt around or between offshore structure. Other species he encounters with regularity include wahoo, white and blue marlin, sailfish and more. “With any luck, we get our tuna in the morning, and spend the rest of the day targeting marlin and dropping for swords,” he says.

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Large tuna jumping out of the water
Plenty of 40- to 80-pounders are found off Venice. Jason Stemple

For offshore anglers hoping to explore Venice waters on their own, Beach has some advice: “Don’t try to run out without radar.” The mouth of the Mississippi River is often shrouded in fog, and marine traffic of all sorts is pretty heavy in the channel at all hours. You’ll often be dodging ships and floating logs, but they’re the only hurdles between you and some of the best offshore fishing you’ll experience.

Striped bass caught in Boston Harbor
Warm water, rocky lairs and forage draw stripers to Boston Harbor in summer. Eric Kulin

Boston Bass

  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Target Species: Striped bass
  • Season: Summer

For anglers chasing extra-large striped bass, there is no better destination than the rich, rocky waters of Boston Harbor, where from mid-June through August, Capt. Brian Coombs pays undivided attention to trophy stripers, which he says have enjoyed a recent resurgence in Massachusetts waters. “We are lucky to have a very healthy population of striped bass.”

Striped bass fishing map of Boston
Boston Harbor is a reliable place to find striped bass all summer. Tim Barker

After procuring the necessary supply of live bunker, Coombs fishes the schools of menhaden holding around structure or along channel edges. “I look for the darkest schools,” he says, explaining the blue-black knot of menhaden indicates striped bass are herding bait. Then he cases out the bait pods with side-imaging sonar. Once he finds one hosting striped bass, he drops a live menhaden on a three-way rig just outside or below the school. After he lands a fish, he simply returns to the same bunker school and repeats the process.

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When stripers are feeding aggressively, Coombs switches to large topwater lures and soft-plastics. “The bass will spray through schools of bunker,” he says. Coombs positions the boat as far as possible from the school and makes a long cast to avoid spooking the fish. He changes treble hooks for heavy-duty single hooks to survive the hard pull of a 50-pound striper.

Trophy striped bass caught off Boston
Trophy stripers have enjoyed a recent resurgence. Eric Kulin

Boston Harbor is a reliable place to find striped bass all summer, with many 50-pounders in the mix. But Coombs says visiting anglers need to exercise caution. “There are only two public boat ramps, and they can get crowded.” On the water, he stresses the value of accurate charts and an attentive skipper. “Depth can go from 60 feet to just two in a matter of a few yards.” But the boulders and underwater cliffs that make navigation challenging also make Boston Harbor one of the best striped bass destinations on the entire Northeast coast.

Shark caught off of San Diego
Shark fishing off San Diego is top-notch. Capt. Jack Sprengel

SoCal Sharkin’

  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Target Species: Mako sharks
  • Season: Summer

Sharks demand a healthy respect from anglers, but they also provide plenty of excitement. And off San Diego, that excitement goes up a notch because makos—known for their ferocity and incorporating aerial displays into their battle plan—are the sought-after target.

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After chasing the man in the gray suit for over 20 years, Capt. Conway Bowman has turned shark fishing into a science. While beautiful weather and sandy beaches attract visitors to the Southern California coast, Bowman says deep canyons only a few miles from shore bring in the sharks.

Map of shark fishing in Southern California
Off San Diego, the excitement goes up a notch ­because makos are the sought-after target. Tim Barker

He notes the fish move inshore on a rising tide and slide offshore with the outgoing. When he finds bait and birds, what he calls “sharky conditions,” Bowman establishes a slick of tuna chum and waits. “Big, aggressive, alpha predators with an appetite are perfect candidates for light tackle or fly-fishing,” he says. “But I never know if my next shark is going to be 80 pounds or 400.”

When he spots a big shadow swimming up the chum slick, Bowman casts a big tube fly ahead of it. To get the shark’s attention, he strips the fly to tease the predator and provoke a strike. “A 400-pound shark will rise like a trout on a dry fly,” he says.

Mako shark on the boat
Makos are abundant and many make ideal light-tackle targets. Capt. Jack Sprengel

After hooking a mako, Bowman recommends letting the shark finish its initial blistering run and aerial antics. “That’s when I turn the boat and work toward the shark, letting the angler put the brakes on with heavy drag pressure,” he says, and then he settles in for the fight, which could take 30 minutes or three hours.

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For do-it-yourselfers hoping to test their skills against a big shark, San Diego has a free launch ramp with a full-service outfitter. The run to the fishing grounds is short, and the weather is almost always perfect. But Bowman warns anglers to always stay alert: “I’ve had makos jump into the boat; they are no joke.”

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