2022’s Best and Worst States for Fishing

Fishing guide with a young woman fly fishing for trout

America is hooked on fishing — interest has been bubbling amongst hobbyists across the U.S., even beyond the pandemic as a way of “social fishtancing.”

So, which states are full of hungry fish or will leave you floundering for a bite?

To mark National Hunting and Fishing Day on Sept. 24, Lawn Love ranked 2022’s Best and Worst States for Fishing. 

We compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on community interest, access to gear and bait shops, license affordability, and proximity to water sources among 22 total metrics. 

See if your state sank or swam in our ranking and analysis below, and find a couple of fishing destinations to add to your bucket list while you’re at it. 

In this article

State rankings

See how each state fared in our ranking:

The upshot

Atlantic anglers

Drop your line in Florida, the “Fishing Capital of the World” and our No. 1 state for fishing. 

The Sunshine State doles out more than 720,000 non-resident fishing licenses, tags, permits, and stamps — the most in the nation. While tourists typically flock to Orlando and Miami, the state has plenty of shorelines (No. 2), piers (No. 1), and fishing guides (No. 1) for fishing tourists to spread out on the water. 

Further up the coast, the Carolinas stand as top angling destinations of their own, with plenty of piers, fishing charters, and catfish clubs in each state. South Carolina (No. 9) also hosts the most Bassmaster tournaments (tied with Florida), while North Carolina (No. 10) impresses in other fishing contests (No. 2) and fish species (No. 5). 

Meanwhile, Massachusetts (No. 33) drags along in our ranking, despite being a water-abundant and seafood-loving state. Fishing, crabbing, and lobstering may be popular industries along the Gulf of Maine, but the Bay State was weighed down by the lack of fishing interest amongst residents and tourists.

Local tips:

  • The Florida Keys, Florida: Island-hop in “Fisherman’s Paradise,” the Florida Keys, for some of the best saltwater fishing. For a unique underwater excursion, book a summer trip to go scalloping along the Gulf Coast. 
  • Clarendon County, South Carolina: Celebrate spring in The Palmetto State with the Clarendon County Striped Bass Festival. Each April, local flowers bloom and tourists and residents ring in the spring season with a parade, a pageant, and, of course, a fishing tournament. 
  • Outer Banks, North Carolina: The Outer Banks is not just a great spot for a beach vacation; it also has exceptional ocean angling. Embrace your competitive side by participating in the annual Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament.

Big states = big fishing

The nation’s largest states are brimming with fishing spots. Alaska didn’t have to fish hard for the silver trophy. Our largest state by land area impresses in the Access category (No. 1), with nearly 34,000 miles of shoreline from which to cast your line. 

Everything’s bigger in Texas (No. 5), and that includes fishing. Our second-largest state by land area has bountiful angling Access (No. 11) but primarily floated to the top because of its passionate fishing Community (No. 2) and the most fishing contests in the nation. Across the state, Texas keeps Community Fishing Lakes stocked with fish so anglers don’t have to travel far for a decent catch. 

Fishing is more than a hobby in our fourth-largest state by land area, Montana (No. 3). Big Sky Country has a big love for fishing: Nearly half of the state’s population aged 16-plus are licensed anglers. Additionally, this state has issued the second-largest number of non-resident fishing licenses, permits, tags, and stamps, proving to be a popular tourist destination for anglers. 

Unfortunately, smaller states with lower populations and fewer fishing options like Vermont (No. 40), New Hampshire (No. 41), and Connecticut (No. 47) sank to the depths of our ranking alongside the District of Columbia (No. 51).

Local tips: 

  • Anchorage, Alaska: Win a gold nugget by reeling in the largest King Salmon at the Slam’n Salm’n King Derby, Anchorage’s biggest salmon derby. 
  • Mesquite, Texas: Do you love beer and fishing? Get the best of both worlds at the Texas Fly Fishing and Brew Festival. Gather alongside fishing guides, experts, and enthusiasts; attend fishing lectures; and try the best local brews at this family- and beginner-friendly event. 
  • Montana: Make a treasured memory in The Treasure State by attending the annual Fly Fishing and Outdoors Festival in Ennis. Need a break from the water? Attend the Montana Fishing Film Festival in Missoula to meet fellow fishing enthusiasts, and watch some realistic Rocky Mountain fish wrangling.

Great (Lakes) fishing

Fishing in the Great Lakes is the reel deal: All eight Great Lakes states landed in the top half of our ranking, with four reaching the top 10. 

It’s no shocker that Minnesota (aka the Land of 10,000 Lakes) made it to No. 4. A large variety of fish, an avid angling community, and numerous fish tourism destinations like fishing lodges brought this state up in the ranking. Similar rankings gave Wisconsin (No. 6) and Michigan (No. 7) a boost, while fishing competitions and Affordability brought New York to No. 8.

The Great Lakes State, Michigan, stands out as the wateriest state, with 41.5% of the state covered by water — even more than Hawaii. 

Local tips:

  • Bay Port, Michigan: For over four decades, the Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival has been feeding residents and tourists freshly caught mullet, fried into a delicious fish sandwich (and they offer perch sandwiches now, too). 

Cast-down casting

Low scores across the board sent Southwestern states Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico nosediving in our ranking. 

That’s not to say you’re guaranteed to have a bad time fishing in these states. There are still rivers, lakes, and streams where you could snag a decent catch — just not as many fishing spots available compared to the other coastal or lake-filled states.

Pro tip:

  • Some fish species can be contaminated by mercury levels, especially in Nevada near mining sites, so be sure to check local fish consumption advisories before deciding to cook your day’s catch.

Expert take

Whether you’re figuring out how to set up a fishing pole for the first time or looking to break your personal fishing record, there’s always more to learn about getting fish to bite. 

We reached out to some experts for their best fishing advice; find out what they had to say below.

  1. When is the best time of year to go fishing?
  2. What is the best weather for fishing?
  3. What are the pros and cons of fishing in freshwater vs. saltwater? 
  4. What are your top three tips to get fish biting?
  5. What are the best fishing methods (bait fishing, fly-fishing, trolling, etc.) and why?
  6. What are your top 3-5 fishing essentials? Any gear beginners and pros should have in their tackle box?
  7. What’s the most important piece of advice for fishing beginners?
Mark H. Carr
Professor, Institute of Marine Sciences
Russell A. Wright
Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, School of fisheries, aquaculture & aquatic sciences
Mark H. Carr
Professor, Institute of Marine Sciences
University of California-Santa Cruz

When is the best time of year to go fishing?

There are fishing opportunities year-round in Monterey Bay and surrounding waters. Check the annual fishing regulations for actual seasons and bag and size limits.

In general, salmon, white seabass, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, cabezon, and other ground fish can be caught in spring through summer and early fall. Albacore, bonito, and bluefin tuna make transient appearances in summer and fall. The season for Dungeness crab runs from November to June typically, and rock crab can typically be caught year-round.

Don’t forget about the small but tasty mackerel, anchovies, sand dabs, and sardines that can be caught year-round, as well. Surf perch and striped bass are sought after all year from shore, but the fishing for perch tends to be better in the winter, whereas the large striped bass visit the area in spring and summer.

What is the best weather for fishing?

Ocean fishing in Central California is highly dependent on the wind and swell. Monterey Bay doesn’t offer much protection from the wind, so it is best to time any trips on the ocean with small swell and light winds. Groundfish species often stop biting when there is a big swell, so not only is it a less pleasant boating experience but the fishing isn’t as good, either.

What are the pros and cons of fishing in freshwater vs. saltwater?

Neither freshwater nor saltwater fishing in the area is better than the other. There are some great freshwater fisheries in the Monterey Bay Area for bass, crappie, carp, catfish, and steelhead.

The ocean offers a diverse array of large, delicious fish that the freshwater fisheries can’t compete with, but a relaxing day fishing at a lake or river from shore or boat can’t be beat.

What are your top three tips to get fish biting?

  • Be willing to mix things up. When the fish aren’t biting, don’t keep doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. Try something new: a new location, a new bait, a new depth, a new speed, etc.
  • Talk with your fellow fishers. Local knowledge is hard to come by and is very valuable, so share info and learn from others.
  • Do your research. Before a day on the water, read and watch everything you can find about the area or the target species. Be prepared with the right tackle. Often it is just one little trick that makes a great day.

What are the best fishing methods (bait fishing, fly-fishing, trolling, etc.) and why?

There are opportunities for all types of fishing in the Monterey Bay Area. The style of fishing depends on personal preference and on the target species. While hooking a salmon on a fly rod at the surface would be incredible, it would take years to make that happen, so it’s not really practical.

I personally prefer using artificial baits, either jigging or trolling, because I like the challenge, but I am not opposed to bait, which is typically the easiest way to catch fish.

Squid, anchovies, sardines and smelt are the most common baits used.

What are your top 3-5 fishing essentials? Any gear beginners and pros should have in their tackle box?

  1. Fishing regulations: Know them, and carry them with you. You can also download them to your phone. The radio is filled with people asking for size and bag limits when they should know this information to avoid hefty fines from the game warden.

    Examples of key things to know:

    • Bag limit
    • Size limit
    • Season
    • Prohibited species and how to identify them
    • Barbless hook requirement
    • Allowed number of hooks
    • Allowed number of rods per person
    • Marine-protected area (MPA) coordinates and restrictions
  2. Fishing license
  3. Safety gear: For boaters, the U.S. Coast Guard requires certain safety gear depending on the size and type of the watercraft being used (for example, vessel registration, PFDs, flares, horn, and fire extinguishers).

    Once all of that is looked after, having the appropriate gear for the target species is key. For most species caught from a boat a basic boat rod with 20-30 pound test will work.

  4. When fishing in deep water (greater than 70 feet), have a descender device handy. Descenders can be purchased to release unwanted fish back to depth, but a simple hook tied upside-down works well, too (check out videos online for demonstrations).
  5. Be sure to have a gaff or net available to bring in the big one. Salmon cannot be gaffed, only netted.

What’s your most important piece of advice for fishing beginners?

  1. Patience is the most important part of fishing, and presentation is everything.
  2. Stay alert and watch your surroundings carefully for clues to where the fish might be.
  3. Ask yourself a lot of questions:
    • Are other boats catching fish?
    • What are they using?
    • Are there feeding birds or piles of bait around?
    • What color and temperature is the water?
    • Is my bait in good shape?
    • Is my hook fouled with seaweed?
    • Is one rod fishing better than another? Why?
Russell A. Wright
Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, School of fisheries, aquaculture & aquatic sciences
Auburn University

When is the best time of year to go fishing?

Like most things, the real answer is “it depends”. It depends on the type of fishing and the species of fish.

For example, there are fall runs and summer runs for Steelhead Trout. In ponds here in the south, the best time to fish for Redear Sunfish is early spring and then late spring for Bluegill.

Generally, the best fishing for Largemouth Bass here in the south is late March through early May. Fishing then picks up again in late September through October. The angler needs to know their target fish in order to decide the best fishing season.

What is the best weather for fishing?

For freshwater fishing, I find that cool, cloudy days produce the best fishing. Partly because the fish are nearer to the surface and partly because I am more comfortable.

A comfortable angler is more likely to be patient!

What are the pros and cons of fishing in freshwater vs. saltwater?

One could write a whole thesis on this question!

The biggest advantage of freshwater fishing is accessibility. Ponds and streams are usually readily available and one can often fish them easily from shore. Even fairly large lakes and reservoirs can be fished using relatively inexpensive small boats.

Freshwater is also easier on equipment. In saltwater, everything has to be washed after the trip to prevent corrosion.

The downside of freshwater fishing is less spectacular diversity of dramatic large gamefish, whereas you really never know what you might catch fishing in the ocean.

What are your top three tips to get fish biting?

1. Try natural bait. Sorry, but sometimes they just won’t take a lure.

2. Switch lures or baits after giving it sufficient effort.

3. Switch presentation. Mostly slow down the presentation.

What are the best fishing methods (bait fishing, fly-fishing, trolling, etc.) and why?

Ok, I refuse to give a straight answer on this. There is no “best” fishing method. It depends entirely on your target fish species, the system you are fishing in, and perhaps most importantly, what method you enjoy most.

What are your top 3-5 fishing essentials? Any gear beginners and pros should have in their tackle box?

1. A pair of locking hemostats – great for hook removing

2. A multi-tool with a small Phillips head and straight screwdriver for reel repair, boat motor work.

3. A couple of ziplock bags – just in case you need to keep something dry

4. A can of reel and line lubricant – cleans and protects the reel and releases tension and memory in monofilament line.

5. A roll of duct tape – too many uses to list!

What’s the most important piece of advice for fishing beginners?

I’m going to give 2… First, find a local expert to go with you and show you the ropes. Many of us learned to fish from a family member but that isn’t always possible. A patient teacher is important for first time anglers or for experienced anglers that are trying a new area, a new method, or targeting a new fish.

Second, while fishing, be patient. The point of fishing needs to at least be in part, to slow down and experience the activity and the world around you. Don’t be so focused on catching the first, most, or biggest fish.

Fishing by the numbers

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Behind the ranking

For each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, we gathered publicly available data on the factors listed in the table below. 

We then grouped those factors into four categories: Community, Access, Affordability, and Supplies.

Next, we calculated weighted scores for each state in each category. 

Finally, we averaged the scores for each state across all categories. 

The state that earned the highest average score was ranked “Best” (No. 1), while the state with the lowest was ranked “Worst” (No. 51). (Note: The “Worst” among individual factors may not be 51 due to ties among states.)

Sources 

All About Fishing, AllTrails, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dicks Sporting Goods, F&S Stores, Fishing Duo, Fishing Status, Marinas.com, NOAA, REI, Scheels, Target, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, USGS, Walmart, and World Population Review

Final thoughts: Bucket-list bites

Fishing can be a relaxing way to pass the time, especially if you’re isolated and surrounded by nature. 

Challenge yourself by signing up for a tournament, learning a new technique, or going after a different fish species. There are also fishing museums and festivals to explore and learn more about the sport. 

Ready for a fishcation? Cast your net toward some more fishing destinations below:

Branson, Missouri

Dive into centuries of reeling in Missouri’s “entertainment capital” at the History of Fishing Museum. Here, you can admire 40,000 pieces of antique fishing gear collected by a local husband-wife duo. Afterward, go hiking in the Ozarks or fish all night long at Table Rock Lake.

Doswell, Virginia

This small town just outside Richmond hosts the annual Virginia Fly Fishing & Wine Festival. The fest features classes and lectures for beginners and experienced anglers, casting demonstrations, and many local vendors including some of the finest Virginia wineries. 

Manchester, Vermont

Explore the American Museum of Fly Fishing. This collection features more than 22,000 flies and thousands of rods and reels, alongside fishing-themed art and media exhibits. Experienced fly fishers flock to nearby Battenkill River to reel in some tasty trout. 

Port Clinton, Ohio

Along the shore of Lake Erie, the “Walleye Capital of the World” reels in the New Year in a fishy way. Forget the Times Square ball drop: In their New Year’s Eve celebration, they drop a 600-pound walleye at the stroke of midnight. 

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.