When you visit a destination for the purposes of fishing or hunting, it goes without saying that the local watering hole is a must-stop at some point in the trip. Rounds are bought, fish photos shared, tattoos are bragged about and friendships are forged. But the best bars for anglers and hunters won’t have posters at the bus station or billboards on the highway. They won’t be sending you e-mails or posting on your Facebook feed. They’re the hidden gems that only the locals know about, and they’re trying to keep it that way. These dive bars are the places where the bartender always knows what lure they’re hitting and the clientele is comprised of guides and fly-shop owners enjoying a brew after a long day’s work.
“Hey barroom, hey tavern: I find hope in all the souls you gather,” The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn croons. We agree.
Whether you’re a fishermen, hunter or all-around outdoorsman, these are the best bars to belly up to after a long day on the water or in the field. Have one on us. (Not really).
The Season: Fall, winter
The Fun: In my native upstate New York, there’s some amazing whitetail territory that gets far too little attention (although the hunters aren’t complaining). There is more room to roam for bucks in the Adirondack Park than there is in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, the Grand Canyon and the Great Smokies, combined. It’s the largest park in the lower 48 states, so wary bucks have places to hide and years to grow. Plus, because it’s not a national park (a common misconception), there’s no fee to enter. In the summer and fall, the ponds have beautiful native brook trout that the state works hard to protect. The Fulton Chain of Lakes in Old Forge is a series of manmade lakes that is home to largemouth bass, pike, pickerel, muskie, perch and salmon.
The Atmosphere: Less than an hour away from the park, the Breakaway is located on Route 12 in Paris, and it’s so small you might mistake it for a trailer. If you can imagine every fishing lure that three generations of your family ever owned, lost or stashed in an attic all hanging from the ceiling, you’re already picturing the Breakaway. Fishermen bring in ancient lures and can trade them for a free beer. This might not be the place to bring a date, as panties and undergarments adorn the racks of the mounted bucks as well. We’re not sure what the ladies got for trading those in, or what they wore home.
The Food: This isn’t a bar for foodies. The grub is fried and cheap. If there’s not a hair or a hook in it, consider yourself lucky.
The Season: Summer, fall
The Fun: Gloucester is a fishing town if ever there was one. Commercial anglers make their living here every day, bringing fresh seafood to the docks. Recreational anglers board headboats for cod and haddock and surfcasters toe their way along the rocky beaches of Massachusetts’ North Shore. The Perfect Storm was filmed here more than a decade ago. There’s no town more soaked in sweat, salt, stripers and swordfish than Gloucester. It’s pronounced, Glahstah… by the locals.
The Atmosphere: Don’t ask the bartender if they accept credit cards, for starters. There’s a poster on the wall featuring the guys from Deadliest Catch, which filmed a show in Gloucester, and it’s signed by the whole cast. Don’t bring up the controversy over changing fishing regulations and whatever you do, don’t express any political opinions. If you follow these simple rules, you will mingle with the saltiest fishermen in Gloucester, and if you play your cards right, they’ll even buy you a beer. Pratty’s is located right along the state fishing pier, so you can even walk along the docks and examine the day’s local catch.
The Food: The wings are a can’t-miss option.
The Season: Fall
The Fun: Striper fishing, from the surf. There is no town more iconic for striper-addicted surfcasters than Montauk, New York. No piece of land on the East Coast stretches as far out to sea as Montauk, and therefore it offers land-bound fishermen the best access to the spring and fall migrations of striped bass. Headboats ferry anglers out during the summer months for bottom fish, and the annual shark tournament, which is in its 27th year and takes place in June, is always a big draw.
The Atmosphere: You can get lost ogling the picture-covered walls that paint the story of the fishing town’s history. Black-and-white images of the glory days of striper fishing are both beautiful and sad, in the sense that insufficient regulations eventually led to the stocks crashing. If you’ve never seen a shoulder mount of a billfish, you’ll get your chance here. The table beneath the billfish is my favorite spot to sit. The drinks are as strong as the fishermen that buy them. You’re as likely to see Grundens here as you are camo at the Breakaway. Bartenders are ornery… but in a nice way. You’ll be the only one without a fishing-related tattoo and scars from hooks and braided line on your hands if don’t have either. Fishermen in Montauk are either holding a rod at the beach, coffee at the tackle shop or a beer at the bar, and if they’re at the bar, they’re at Shagwong.
The Food: The burgers are legendary.
The Season: Winter
The Fun: Fishing. There are few places in the world where you’ll have an opportunity to catch as many different species of fish in a one-mile radius as you will in Islamorada. Let’s not forget, too, it’s one of the most beautiful locations on earth. From mangrove snapper to swordfish, Islmorada is one of the pristine fishing destinations for any saltwater angler.
The Atmosphere: I once saw a band comprised entirely of fishing guides and one marine artist run through a rendition of Jerry Jeff Walker’s L.A. Freeway. They played it perfectly. That’s a lie, I’ve seen them play it four times. The best bonefish guide is also an amazing ukulele player. They’ve had E-Street Band saxophone player Clarence Clemons sit in on occasion (rest his soul). He couldn’t during the nights I spent there, but he did wind up fishing with us (myself and the band of guides). The lead singer and songwriter refurbishes a Bertram in his free time. Let’s just say it’s the kind of place where you can find as much fun, trouble, music and fishing stories as you’d ever want. All the locals are sunburnt, jovial and fresh off the water. You can walk the docks and look for snook out back, where visitors park their boats. The planks are thin and wobbly, so it’s best to try it before the next round. If the bongo player asks to borrow your Jeep to pack his kit after the final song, let him, and tell him I said “Hi.”
The Food: The conch fritters, of course. You’re in the Keys.
The Season: Fall
The Fun: Fishing, hunting. Georgetown, South Carolina is an oft-overlooked gem on the Southeast Coast. The town offers great opportunities for both fishing and hunting. Tommy Scarborough guides his clients to enormous redfish in the fall, and takes them on incredible duck hunts in the winter. The fall provides your best shot at big redfish moving into skinny water. If you’re lucky and time it right, you might even get a cast-and-blast session in.
The Atmosphere: When you can only access a bar by boat, you can be pretty damn sure that most of the inhabitants are fishermen. The place is tiny, but that’s alright, because fishermen come and go, tying up their boats only for a quick drink or meal, eager to get back to the fish. After one stop, the bartender will know you by name, provided your name is “honey,” or “sweetheart.” It’s South Carolina, after all.
The Food: Tommy Scarborough, a Georgetown lifer and guide, swears by the fresh tuna. Tommy doesn’t lie.
The Season: Summer
The Fun: Offshore fishing. There is no better place to launch your boat from than the Outer Banks in North Carolina if you’re hoping to find big pelagic species on the rich grounds of the outer Atlantic. There is a reason the OBX is known as the offshore capital of the world. On your way down to Hatteras, don’t miss Hurricane Mo’s. The name says it all: these people are not strangers to strong storms, but they’re proud of their beautiful barrier-island home. In 2013 a local radio station asked voters to choose the best lunch and best happy hour in the region, and Mo’s brought home both honors. The bar isn’t far from the beach and features a beautiful view in the summer.
The Atmosphere: I once met a man in Mo’s who, after a short conversation, offered to show me his home, his dock where he caught redfish, introduced me to his wife and offered me his couch for the night. That’s the kind of place this bar, and this town is.
The Food: The fried, softshell crab Po’ Boy Sandwich. Don’t ask, just eat.
The Season: Summer, Fall
The Fun: Fishing. Outdoor Life Magazine once named Ennis, Montana as one of the 35 best towns for outdoorsmen to live in. Visit, and you’ll quickly understand why. The town is located in proximity to some of Montana’s best Blue Ribbon trout rivers. The Madison River flows along its easternmost boundary. If you’re visiting Ennis, you’d better like fishing though, because there’s not much else to do. Luckily, for slow days when the rainbows are wary, there is one amazing bar.
The Atmosphere: Visit in the winter and you’ll see Christmas lights adorning the small bar that might be mistaken for a log cabin if not for the sign out front. When you step inside, you’ll half-feel like a cowboy. There’s Big Sky Brewery beer on tap, and the tap sports a model of a rainbow trout. Ordering a beer and a shot when it’s lunchtime (on the East Coast) won’t raise an eyebrow. If you were wondering what the roughly 46 inhabitants of the small, beautiful town were doing last night, you’ll hear all about it from the bartender and grumbling-but-friendly locals.
The Food: The best food is next door, at Restvedt Meats. When Fly Rod & Reel editor Greg Thomas tells you it’s the best Buffalo jerkey around, you believe him.
The Season: Winter
The Fun: Hunting. When driving through Virginia City, be ready to hit the brakes for mule deer, antelope and whitetails that might very well outnumber the population of human beings in the town. There’s more wildlife here than you can shake a shotgun at and the area offers some of the best public hunting land in the west.
The Atmosphere: The elk, moose and buffalo mounts in the bar will make you want to guzzle your draft and get back into the field (don’t do that). The town is famous for its popularity during the gold rush more than 150 years ago, but hunters still spill in by the millions for the libations and atmosphere.
The Food: The true measure of a dive bar: Music, not menus. The Pioneer Bar features live music more often than not, but the calories all come from a can or a bottle. Right next door you can grab a trout Po’ Boy at the Virginia City Café, made with fresh Montana trout (stockers, don’t worry).
The Season: Summer
The Fun: Fishing. If there’s a location that can compete with the iconic scenery of Montana, it’s Sun Valley, Idaho. The Silver Creek that runs through the town is one of the most legendary bodies of trout water in existence. Mention the name of the creek to anyone that’s ever worn waders, and they’ll silently nod, even if they’ve never been.
The Atmosphere: I asked the famous, incredible, legendary fishing editor and writer Jerry Gibbs where I should go when visiting the fabled town of Ketchum. His e-mail reply came in two words: “The Casino.” A little Googling later I was flipping quarters, attempting to hit an empty beer glass behind the bar, in a game created by bored locals. If you hit the glass, you get a shot of vodka on the house. If you missed, you bought a round. Sobriety was not an option. I couldn’t even afford the cheap house vodka, but the crowd didn’t mind, after hearing my plight as a starving fishing writer, they included me on their tab. Leaving was not an option either: it was 21 below zero in Sun Valley. Hemingway lived and died and is buried in Ketchum, and he didn’t choose the town arbitrarily. It is as beautiful a place as its name suggests, and the locals, while rough around the edges, are always up for another flip of the quarter.
The Food: Locals might bring a loaf of bread and share it, but that’s the best you’re going to get.
Photo via Tripadvisor
The Season: Fall
The Fun: Fishing for steelhead. Seattle is home to three amazing things: world-famous coffee, the best grunge rock bands to ever pick up a pick, and the nation’s best steelhead rivers. The Seahawks and Mariners remain on the cusp of greatness. You won’t find more steelhead-obsessed fly fishermen congregated in one city anywhere else in the country. The plethora of great rivers ensures that these amazing and beautiful fish will return in force every year.
The Atmosphere: The Steelhead Diner is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a fine restaurant in downtown Seattle that is totally devoted to the fish that the city’s fishermen are obsessed with. Rumor has it that the owner, when he opened the restaurant, loved the fish but had never actually caught one. The walls are adorned with photos of flies, fish and rivers. This is the only establishment that is far above the dive-bar status, but how could we not include a restaurant named after such a fabled fish? They even list entrées on their menu under the heading: “Field & Stream.”
The Food: Crispy Idaho Stream Raised Catfish Tacos. Yep.
The Season: Summer, Fall
The Fun: The AuSable River is one of the best trout fishing destinations in the Midwest. Steelhead, lake trout and bass are all plentiful on the river as well. James Spica, a Michigan native, editor of Michigan Trout Magazine and avid hunter and fly fishermen, wasn’t hesitant when asked about his favorite fishing-and-hunting hangout in his neck of the woods.
The Atmosphere: The bar opened the day after prohibition ended in 1933. That’s how eager they were to share a brew with the locals. Legend has it that famed boxer, Jack Dempsey, was a regular. The bar boasts that it is the “meeting place of the north,” and since it has survived since 1933 in the same location, we’re betting they have the right to brag.
The Food: They’re most famous for their “Spikeburger,” which they claim has a third of a pound of beef between the buns.
Photo via Michigan Live
The Season: Fall, Spring
The Fun: Oregon’s state website lists 60 highly productive fishable locations all within an hour’s drive of Portland. Whether you’re chasing salmon, steelhead, smallmouth or sturgeon, this is an area rich with fish. The Clackamas River is the closest and perhaps the most famous, but it is far from the only one. These rivers run full of salmon, steelhead and trout, especially in the spring and fall.
The Atmosphere: At Deschutes Brewery, they take beer seriously. The local brewery has won several local and some national awards for their crafted brews. However, all the praise hasn’t made them forget where they came from. They recently held an event featuring local musicians to raise money for the Deschutes River Conservancy, an organization that works to preserve the river and its watershed. They’re beer-makers with a conscience and a cause. You can see the brewery right at work through glass walls and their awards adorn the rest to remind you to savor what you’re sipping.
The Food: Buffalo Meatloaf. What else?
What’s your favorite local haunt to visit after a day on the water or in the field? Share yours with us in the comments!