There’s more than one way to stay warm on the water this month. Jet down to the tropical paradise of Costa Rica for shots at the bruiser tarpon that roll in Rio Colorado, or don cold-weather duds and crank up huge cod from 200-foot depths off the frigid Northeast Coast. And these are just two of your options. Spring may be on its way, but until then, here’s where the February bite is going down. Be sure to check regulations before heading out.
– Joe Cermele
BEST Cape Canaveral, Florida Stout redfish hang out year-round in Florida’s Indian River and Mosquito Lagoons near Cape Canaveral. Twitchbaits and jigs will catch plenty of fish, but live or dead pinfish will score big every time.
RUNNER-UP Venice, Louisiana The backwaters surrounding this part of Cajun Country hold plenty of hard-fighting bull reds.
BEST Outer Banks, North Carolina Here’s your last chance to catch a cow striped bass off the Outer Banks of North Carolina before the fish migrate north. Trolling a Mojo or umbrella rig often draws reaction strikes from aggressive bass.
RUNNER-UP San Francisco, California West Coast stripers give anglers plenty to handle around San Francisco Bay.
BEST Key West, Florida Look for kingfish in the waters just off Key West. Trolling or live-lining freshly caught blue runners entices kings that hunt over wrecks. Adding a flashy chrome sinker to a Sabiki rig will help fill the live well with bait in a hurry.
RUNNER-UP Miami, Florida Anglers see plenty of schoolie-size kingfish with a few smokers in the mix off Miami.
BEST Fort Myers, Florida Bottom fishermen will work their arms sore cranking in the heavy red and gag grouper that hold off Fort Myers. Oily cut baits, such as bonito or mackerel, create a scent trail and draw grouper out of their protective lairs.
RUNNER-UP Naples, Florida Boats running out of Naples offer access to thick grouper populations that thrive on Gulf reefs.
BEST Cape Lookout, North Carolina Giant bluefin tuna feed heavily in the waters off Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Fishing can fire up on the spur of the moment, as captains wait for warm-water eddies to break off the Gulf Stream and move inshore.
RUNNER-UP Cape Hatteras, North Carolina The waters around Cape Hatteras also see solid bluefin action.
BEST Massachusetts/Rhode Island Bundle up and hop a party boat out of southern Massachusetts or Rhode Island to target huge Atlantic Cod over Georges Bank. Clam baits are standard, but a metal-jig-and-teaser combo fools cod as well.
RUNNER-UP Montauk, new York The waters of this New York hot spot put anglers in the thick of these cold-water brawlers.
BEST Catalina Island, California When squid move into the waters around Catalina Island, huge white seabass won’t be far behind. A sliding-sinker rig or leadhead jig baited with squid will get down to the big whites.
RUNNER-UP San Diego, California White seabass in the 50-pound range feed around the ledges off San Diego.
BEST Venezuela The shadows of huge Atlantic blue marlin can appear quickly in trolling spreads off La Guaira, Venezuela. Troll between eight and ten knots and run chugger skirts on short lines for opportunities with big blue marlin.
RUNNER-UP Mauritius Want gigantic blues? Mauritius in the Indian Ocean is a one-stop shop for fast marlin action.
BEST British Virgin Islands Barracuda Bank off the Virgin Islands holds strong numbers of monster ‘hoos. Stock up on wahoo lures, such as Braid Black Jacks or Yo-Zuri Bonitas, that can be trolled at high speeds without compromising their action.
RUNNER-UP Bahamas The ledges around San Salvador Island and the Bahamas can produce trophy-size wahoo.
BEST Guatemala It’s prime time to tussle with world-class Pacific sailfish off Iztapa, Guatemala. Fly fishermen should consider using tube flies, which slip over the leader and hook shank and can be changed quickly and rigged with practically any hook.
RUNNER-UP Mexico Aggressive Atlantic sailfish prowl off Isla Mujeres, Cancun and Cozumel in search of feeding opportunities.
BEST Costa Rica Massive tarpon roll in the mouths of Rio Colorado and Rio Parismina in Costa Rica. Keep it simple and try some classic tarpon fly patterns, such as cockroaches, in purple, yellow, red and pink-and show up with a big reel and plenty of line.
RUNNER-UP Nicaragua The Rio San Juan plays host to some exciting tarpon fishing for fly and spinning anglers alike.
All illustrations: florida department of conservation, by Diane Peebles, except: bluefin tuna: Emily Damstra
striped bass and cod: Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries; white seabass: Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation