Every once in a while, I'll stop and daydream about one day taking the fishing trip of a lifetime. Maybe I'll head to Brazil for peacock bass. Or to Christmas Island for a bonefish. Or maybe I'll visit New Zealand to fling a few mouse flies at the legendary trout down under. Or even find my way to Africa to do battle with a tigerfish.
But then reality strikes and remember I don’t have an unlimited supply of cash.
But that's ok, because on the North American continent, there is more than enough exotic adventure awaiting the adventurous angler. Adventure that can be found in spades on one of the following 10 bucket-list fishing excursions.
1. Alaska Salmon, Trout and More: In the eyes of many anglers, there’s no place on earth that can equal the majestic beauty of Alaska, not to mention the sheer variety of fish that anglers can seek to do battle with. From the big king salmon of late spring and early summer to the sockeyes of mid-summer to the silvers of early fall, the world's best salmon fishing is found in the 49th state. Add in 30-inch leopard spotted rainbow trout along with grayling and Arctic char – not to mention some serious northern pike fishing in places – and Alaska gets top billing for any North American bucket list of fishing trips.
2. Montana Trout: The Big Sky State is the hotbed of western trout fishing in the U.S. thanks to its endless miles of quick flowing freestone rivers, a number of epic spring creeks and a world-class tailwater or two. From wild rainbows that inhale dry flies to big browns that like to smash streamers to cutthroats that will devour hopper patterns, there's much to like about this massive Rocky Mountain state. Add in the chance for a bull trout and there's little doubt that Montana is the ultimate Grade-A bucket-list trip for anyone interested in trout.
3. Florida Keys Tarpon: From the mainland south of Homestead to Islamorada and on down U.S. 1 to Key West, the Florida Keys seem like one island and saltwater flat after another. With countless miles of beautiful turquoise water, sandy flats, mangroves, sea grasses and plenty of triple-digit tarpon, this is one of the great saltwater fishing destinations in the world. Especially if you hook up with Megalops atlanticus and spend upwards of an hour bowing to the king of the Atlantic.
4. Texas Bass: Florida has an argument for having the best overall bass fishing in the country. And the action is pretty good in Alabama and New York too. Add in the huge largemouth and spotted bass found in certain fisheries across California and they get a nod. And there’s Mexico, an enchanted land of sunshine and lunker largemouth on beautiful lakes like El Salto. But as good as those waters can be, it's hard to beat the bass fishing action in the state of Texas. From Amistad, Alan Henry and O.H. Ivie in the west to Lake Fork, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn in the east, there are dozens of headline-grabbing bass waters in the Lone Star State. And in many of them, there's a real chance to hook up with a double-digit giant, something evidenced by the 566 fish weighing 13 pounds or more – from 66 public water bodies and more than a dozen private lakes, no less – that have been entered into the state's ShareLunker program. But even if you don't hook a ShareLunker, almost every bass lake in the state has plenty of 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-pound lunkers. What's not to like about that?
5. Wisconsin Muskies: They are big. They are mean. They won't quit fighting. And they are hard to catch to the tune one for every 50 hours of fishing for them. But that doesn't mean that muskellunge – or muskies, for short – aren't there because the state fish of Wisconsin are found swimming in good numbers in 660 lakes and 48 rivers, streams and flowages. Difficult or not, if you do hook up with a huge muskie, it's a fight that you'll never forget. Especially if you hook up with a line shredding, lure mauling, rod breaking mega muskie like the current world record from Wisconsin, a 69-pound, 11-ounce behemoth.
6. Beaver Island Carp: If you didn't know any better, you'd probably swear that you're fishing on a remarkably clear tropical saltwater flat somewhere in the Caribbean. But the fleece that you're wearing will quickly remind you that you're wading a flat on the northern end of Lake Michigan near Beaver Island, not somewhere in the Bahamas or Belize. But pay no attention to the shiver you might feel on a cool spring, summer or early autumn day. Because that chill will soon be gone as you cast to, hook and do lengthy battle with a behemoth carp – a golden bonefish as some have dubbed them – that can weigh upwards of 30 pounds or more.
7. Pacific Northwest Steelhead: As one of the top sport fish in North America, steelhead – or anadromous rainbow trout – inspire an almost cult-like following by Pacific Northwest steelheaders looking for another fix of the potion that writer Chris Santella has described as the "tug is the drug." And when those steelhead anglers find it in the form of another smashing take of a huge sea-going chrome rainbow, the experience will leave them shaking with giddiness. And the willingness to be sleep deprived for days, to hike into rugged remote canyons and to wrestle with terrible weather conditions, all on the off-chance that they can experience the wonderful feeling of catching a steelhead all over again.
8. New England Stripers: While Atlantic Ocean striper numbers have dwindled somewhat, there are still a fair number of migrating stripers that move south along the New England coastline each fall. While the migration starts in earnest to the north and continues on down the Eastern seaboard, there may be no better spot in the world to sample the collision of big stripers and vast schools of baitfish than Montauk on the eastern end of Long Island. Catch an early autumn blitz here on a sunny September day – the kind of blitz that causes acres of saltwater to boil with feeding stripers – and you'll go to your grave remembering it all.
9. San Diego Sharks: Shortfin makos might not get the headlines that their great white, hammerhead or bull shark cousins do. But they should. Because they are a great adversary and then some along the Pacific coast near San Diego. Conway Bowman, a longtime World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel television show personality, actually targets West Coast makos with beefy fly rods. And why not? When you can make a 30- to 40-foot cast, watch a shark eat your fly, see it take off on a mad run of a couple of hundred yards and then catapult wildly into the air, what's not to like about that? Jaws indeed.
10. Biloxi Marsh Redfish: How good is the fishing for huge bull redfish – or red drum – that fin in mere inches of the clear wintertime saltwater found in Biloxi Marsh near New Orleans? "This place is insane," said Bowman, mentioned above. Indeed it was since one of Bowman's first experiences in the saltwater marshes near the Big Easy produced multiple fish over 20 pounds and an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) 20-pound-tippet-class world record red that weighed in at more than 41-pounds. "It's the best sight-casting I've pretty much ever done and I guess I've fished for just about everything." With that kind of action – not to mention a steaming bowl of crawfish etouffee waiting in the wings on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter – what are you waiting for?