Anglers can choose from a multitude of destinations to catch a variety of freshwater and salty species all across the South, but a few places habitually stand out as worthy of a road trip.
Toledo Bend Largemouth Bass
A lunker lake for decades, Toledo Bend comprises more than 181,000 acres of the Sabine River on the Louisiana-Texas border.
“Toledo Bend is a great bass lake. It has tons of habitat diversity,” says four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam. “Few lakes in the country produce as many 10-pound bass as Toledo Bend.”
Both Texas and Louisiana heavily stock the lake with Florida-strain bass. Like many lakes, the best trophy bass fishing occurs in early spring, but the Bend can deliver lunkers at any time. In fact, Eric Weems caught the lake record, a 15.32 pounder, in July 2000 while fishing a jig and craw in Six-Mile Creek.
“Toledo Bend has become one of those destination places for people who want to catch a 10-pound bass,” says Darold Gleason with South Toledo Bend Guide Services. “February to May is the best time to fish Toledo Bend, but on any cast, someone might catch the bass of a lifetime.”
For booking trips, call Gleason at 337-397-8860.
Norfolk Lake Striped Bass
In the Ozark Mountains near Mountain Home, Arkansas, Norfork Lake runs about 47 miles along the North Fork of the White River. The lake plunges to more than 200 feet deep, making for outstanding conditions for giant striped bass and hybrids. Anglers frequently catch fish in the 20- to 40-pound range, with some topping 50 pounds.
During the summer many anglers fish clear waters at night with jerkbaits, large swimbaits or walk-the-dog topwaters. In the daylight, troll live shad through the depths.
“Stripers move up shallow at night to feed on shad,” says Steve Olomon with Steve’s Guide Service. “Shad move up on the banks at night. It’s a little tougher to catch stripers on artificial baits, but I like the challenge. We want to put the bait close to the shoreline, but not on it.”
For booking trips, contact Olomon at 870-421-5142 or see fishingwithsteve.com. Also call Tom Reynolds with STR Outfitters at 877-246-4896 or see stroutfitters.com. For lodging, visit Mockingbird Bay Resort.
Mississippi Coast Speckled Trout
Separated from the Gulf of Mexico by several barrier islands, Mississippi Sound spreads along the entire Magnolia State coastline. In the summer, big speckled trout spawn in the salty sound.
Numerous artificial reefs placed by the state offer excellent places to look for trout. Some reefs sit very close to the beaches, making them easy to access in kayaks. Many trout run in the 4- to 7-pound range with some bigger ones.
“For big trout, I like throwing topwater baits,” says Ronnie Daniels of Fisher-Man Guide Services. “Topwater baits have larger profiles. Throwing topwater baits is not only a very effective way to fish for big trout, but, in my opinion, the most enjoyable way. Topwater fishing is the only form of fishing where missing a fish is just as exciting as catching one!”
For booking trips, call 228-323-1115 or visit msfisherman.com. For reef information, visit dmr.ms.gov/artificial-reef.
Alabama River Crappie
The Alabama River flows more than 300 miles through the Cotton State. The entire system consistently produces many 1 1/2- to 2-pound-class crappie, with some topping three pounds, but the best fishing usually occurs near the state capital.
Dams divide the system into three main pools. Near Montgomery many people fish Swift Creek or Cooters Pond. People also fish the main channels and backwaters with spider rigs.
“The Alabama system is a river, but it’s also a series of lakes with a lot of tributaries and backwaters,” says Gerald Overstreet, Jr., a local guide. “Swift Creek is a big creek with a lot of deep water. Some places drop more than 25 feet deep with flats off the channel that run 6 to 12 feet deep.”
For booking trips, contact Overstreet at 251-589-3225.
Peach State Trout
Fannin County bills itself as the “Trout Capital of Georgia,” which makes sense considering it’s located entirely within the Chattahoochee National Forest, which offers anglers more than 1,300 miles of trout streams. Streams at upper elevations contain mostly brook trout.
The Toccoa River flows near the town of Blue Ridge. One of the best places to find trophy trout, Noontootla Creek begins high in the national forest and flows into the Toccoa River. The system can produce brown and rainbow trout exceeding 15 pounds.
“The Toccoa River has a lot of trout,” says local trout expert Bill Oyster. “Noontootla Creek has some of the biggest brown trout I’ve ever seen. It’s a completely wild fishery.”
On Noontootla Creek, anglers can find both public and managed private waters. About 2.5 miles of the creek flows through Noontootla Creek Farms, one of the premier private trophy trout destinations in Georgia.
For information on Noontootla Creek Farms, visit ncfga.net. For area information visit blueridgemountains.com.
Florida Panhandle Tripletail and Sharks
Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” attracts numerous summer visitors, and many come with fins. Each summer, tarpon and sharks migrate along the Florida Panhandle.
When not boating tarpon or sharks, anglers can look for another migrant—tripletail. About 23 miles east of Port St. Joe, the Apalachicola River delta feeds a huge estuary full of floating debris. Tripletail like to hang around floating objects in Indian Pass and throughout the system, making them excellent targets for sight fishing.
“The Apalachicola River delta is kind of like the Mississippi River delta, with a lot of oyster bars and creeks,” says Dan Van Treese with Perfect Cast Charters. “A bunch of finger streams dump into the bay. When we’re out fishing or running, we keep our eyes open for tripletails. If we see one, we’ll go after it.”
For the best success, drift a cork dangling a live shrimp close to structure holding a tripletail. Some tripletails exceed 35 pounds.
For booking trips, call Van Treese at 850-227-5149 or visit perfectcastcharters.com. For area information, visit visitgulf.com.