2021’s Best and Worst States for Fishing

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Fishing guide with a young woman fly fishing for trout

Grab some chums and head out on the water because National Hunting and Fishing Day, Sept. 25, is fast approaching. Celebrate at one of the nation’s countless lakes, rivers, and shores, where you can snag your next big catch. 

But take heed: Where you end up floating may make or break the line on your excursion. Is your state making waves in the fishing world? 

Lawn Love ranked every state in the U.S. to determine 2021’s Best and Worst States for Fishing. We looked for states with high levels of community interest in the sport, an abundance of water sources, easy access to gear, and affordable fishing licenses.

Use our rankings, in-depth analysis, and expert tips to get the most out of your next fishing trip.

In this article

  1. State rankings
  2. Results in depth
  3. Expert take
  4. Fishing by the numbers
  5. Methodology
  6. Final thoughts: Reel in your bucket list

State rankings

See how each state fared in our ranking:

Infographic showing the best and worst stated for fishing, a ranking based on access to fishing locations, availability of gear, cost of a fishing license, and more
Note: All 50 states were ranked for Shoreline Mileage. Due to a significant number of ties, however, the lowest-ranking position for this metric is 31.

Results in depth

Alaska is King (Salmon) 

King Salmon reigns supreme: Alaska came in first place overall and the Community rank. 

Little farming occurs in Alaska due to the state’s cold climate, so fishing has become a cultural staple for both sustenance and recreation. Fishing is also a major industry for jobs and economic activity in our northernmost state. 

Alaska’s geography boasts a variety of options for fishing, such as saltwater, freshwater, fly fishing, and ice fishing. There are more than 600 species of fish to catch and millions — yes, millions — of lakes to explore, making this state a true fishcation destination.

While Alaska is our No. 1 state for fishing, it comes at a cost. Of all 50 states, Alaska charges the highest price for fishing licenses per holder — not to mention the travel expense. 

Pro tip: The best time to test Alaska’s fishing waters is during summer. This is at the tail end of king salmon season and the peak time for catching Pink, Red, Silver, and Chum Salmon.

Other winter waterlands

Gear up for the weather — cold climates dominate our top three. After Alaska (No. 1) comes the Great Lakes State, Michigan, followed by Maine in third. 

Michigan’s performance is no surprise — after all, the state’s name derives from the Ojibwe word Michigama, meaning “large lake.” Surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan boasts the longest freshwater coastline in the world. And with nearly 65,000 lakes and ponds, the state easily earned first place in the Access category.

Maine boasts thousands of miles of ocean and tidal coastline, as well as thousands of lakes, ponds, and rivers to cast a line into. Lobstering and groundfishing contribute largely to Maine’s economy, and sport fishing is a major tourist attraction. Maine also offers plenty of waterways to fish in, placing fourth in the Access rank. 

Pro tip: Top places to fish in Michigan include Saginaw Bay, Union Lake (one of the deepest lakes in Michigan), and 275,000-acre Lake St. Clair

In Maine, Cobbosseecontee Lake is a favorite spot for bass fishing and is home to the Ladies Delight Light, Maine’s only active inland-waters lighthouse. 

Affordable angling

Looking for a cheaper fishing destination? Rhode Island (No. 4) and Hawaii (No. 6) are top states that won’t break the bank. 

Hawaii placed first in the Cost rank — so while you might hurt your wallet getting there, you won’t be robbed collecting all the necessary permits and licenses. Rhode Island also ranked high (No. 4) in this category. 

Rhode Island, also known as the Ocean State, has many bays and inlets to fish from. In fact, 14% of the state’s total area is made up of coastal shorelines, which is why this state came in second for Access. 

Hawaii boasts plenty of opportunities for shoreline and deep-sea fishing, as well as plenty of other tourist attractions for family members who might not be as interested in heading out on the water. 

Pro tip: In Rhode Island, check out Ninigret Pond in Charlestown and fish in the largest coastal salt pond the state has to offer. 

Favorite fishing spots in Hawaii include Keahou Harbor and Kailua Kona Fishing Pier

Tackle the subtropics

Between Rhode Island and Hawaii in our ranking falls subtropical Florida (No. 5), the self-proclaimed “Fishing Capital of the World” and a tourist destination where fishing is a billion-dollar industry. Rev up your engines because the state is also the leading seller of powerboats. 

Florida fell behind other states in Cost (No. 27) and Supplies (No. 39), meaning it’s a bit pricier to get your fishing permits. Bait and tackle shops also are lacking throughout the state. 

Pro tip: Look but don’t reel by Florida’s coral reefs, where the delicate but important ecosystem is threatened by overfishing. Instead, opt for Key West, or “Fisherman’s Paradise.” Here you can expect to find plentiful fish swimming through the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. 

Dried up in the desert

It may seem obvious, but desert states like Nevada (No. 50), Arizona (No. 49), and New Mexico (No. 48) should not be your first-choice fishing destinations. 

Even though Nevada is the driest state, it does have quite a few lakes for fishing, and Arizona and New Mexico both have numerous rivers you could fish from, as well. 

However, these three states placed at or near the bottom of our Community and Access rankings, meaning locals in these states aren’t as interested in the sport, likely due to the comparative lack of fishing spots. 

Arizona and Nevada also fell close to the bottom of the Cost ranking, so you’d pay more to access limited angling options.

Expert take

Not happy with the size of your most recent catch? We sought an expert angle on how to get fish biting and other important considerations when out on the water. Check out the pros’ answers 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

infographic offering statistics, numbers and facts about fishing

Methodology

We ranked every state from best to worst (1-50) based on their overall scores (out of 100 points), averaged across the weighted metrics listed below. 

Community

  • Fishing Licenses Issues per Capita (Weight: 3)
  • Number of Fishing Competitions (Weight: 1)
  • Number of Fishing Charters and Guides (Weight: 1)

Access

  • Coastal or Landlocked Status (1 = Coastal, 0 = Landlocked) (Weight: 2)
  • Percentage of State Covered by Water (Weight: 3)
  • Shoreline Mileage (Weight: 2)
  • Marinas per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 2) 
  • Number of Fishing Trails (Weight: 1)

Cost

  • Cost of Fishing Licenses, Tags, Permits, and Stamps per License Holder (Weight: 3)

Supplies

  • Fishing-Gear Stores per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 2)
  • Bait and Tackle Shops per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 1)

Sources

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Field & Stream, and Scheels

Final thoughts: Reel in your bucket list

Whether you’re an amateur angler or a pro with the pole, there are plenty of fish in the sea ready to be reeled in. 

Don’t have a fishing bucket list of your own? Here are more spots to inspire your next fishcation:

  • Alaska (No. 1): If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a Kenai king salmon in the Kenai Peninsula
  • Idaho (No. 34): Check out Salmon River — it’s all in the name.
  • Louisiana (No. 9): Down in the Mississippi Delta, you can catch some gator speckled trout and bull redfish.
  • Maryland (No. 14): Home of the blue crab, Chesapeake Bay is also a great spot to snag some striped bass and flounder.
  • Massachusetts (No. 8): Martha’s Vineyard is not only a trendy vacation spot, but it’s also a great place to hire a charter boat to scope out your dinner. Albacore, anyone? 
  • New York (No. 20): Try to spot Champy while catching a variety of freshwater fish in Lake Champlain, including (but definitely not limited to) pike, bullhead, perch, trout, and catfish. 
  • North Carolina (No. 13): The Outer Banks is a beautiful destination for some shoreside or deep-sea fishing. 
  • Wyoming (No. 33): Scope out the Yellowstone wildlife by Snake River while you reel in some cutthroat trout.
  • Texas (No. 30): Head over to Lake Fork to catch some Largemouth and White Bass. 

Eco tip: If you’re fishing in the ocean, be aware of which species are threatened by overfishing, and carefully throw them back. Some of the most vulnerable species right now include:

  • Sharks
  • Bluefin tuna
  • Monkfish
  • Atlantic halibut

Fishing is a great way to get outdoors and spend time with family and friends while staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, so gear up for National Hunting and Fishing Day on Sept. 25. Remember to be safe, and stay prepared — you never know what might be lurking under the surface.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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