The 10 Best State Parks for Fishing in the USA
1 RANGELEY LAKE STATE PARK, MAINE Site of the Northeast’s last great trout rush, Rangeley Lake drew throngs of anglers...
1 RANGELEY LAKE STATE PARK, MAINE
Site of the Northeast’s last great trout rush, Rangeley Lake drew throngs of anglers in the 1880s, each with the realistic hope of catching 12-pound brook trout. Today, the 12-pounders are gone, but so are the throngs. And there’s no need to rush to Rangeley. Instead, take a leisurely drive along the back roads of Maine’s remote western mountains. Then camp on the south shore of a 10-square-mile lake that still offers fishing bliss, but of a quieter sort.
The Fishing: Fall and spring are prime as 5- to 6-pound landlocked salmon and brook trout topping 3 pounds move to shallow water and feed aggressively. Slow-troll streamer flies, sewn bait, and Mooselook Wobblers. Hit the Rangeley River and other tributaries for landlocks in fall, as well as South Bog Stream for native brookies year-round.
Park Specs & Contacts: 869 acres; 50 campsites (no hookups); nearby private camping; boat launch. 207-864-3858; www.state.me.us/cgi-bin/doc/parks/find_one_name.pl?park_id=25
2 GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK, VIRGINIA
Between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the spine of the Alleghenies, cold mountain creeks thread the oak and hickory hills of this secluded park in southwest Virginia, providing some of the state’s best trout fishing. Hike the Appalachian Trail to Big Wilson Creek, then leave the trail behind to find a quiet stretch along any of the park’s 10-plus miles of first-rate waters. And with a little luck and a sharp eye, you might spy one of the park’s wild horses.
The Fishing: Bring single-hook inline spinners along with the usual assortment of mountain-stream flies, and start at the lower portion of Big Wilson for stocked browns up to 19 inches. Then move up-river or ply Little Wilson, Cabin, or Mill Creeks as well as Quebec and Wilburn Branches for abundant wild rainbows, with more native brookies as you climb. Special regs apply. Grayson Highlands also lies adjacent to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, with many more miles of productive trout waters.
Park Specs & Contacts: 4,822 acres; 165 campsites (43 with hookups); hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. 276-579-7092; www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/graysonh.htm
3 FAVER-DYKES STATE PARK, FLORIDA
Put in on lazy Pellicer Creek, then paddle upriver through pine flat woods to cast for largemouth bass and bream. Or turn downriver toward the salt marshes to hook reds, trout, and snook. In either direction, this fishing is good enough to raise your heart rate, but the serene landscape will lower it again.
The Fishing: Work the bridge pilings upriver for largemouths in the 3- to 5-pound range, with a few 7-plus-pounders. Downriver, Pellicer Flats is the hotspot for reds and flounder throughout the year, trout during the cooler months, and snook during the warmer months. Bring cut mullet, live shrimp, plastic grubs, and bright plugs.
Park Specs & Contacts: 6,000 acres; 130 campsites (30 with hookups); fishing dock; canoe launch and rentals. 904-794-0997; www.floridastateparks.org/faver-dykes
4 ZIPPEL BAY STATE PARK, MINNESOTA
If Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods is well known, this park on its south shore is not. Camp in a quiet aspen grove, at the edge of one of the continent’s best wall-eye, pike, and smallmouth fisheries. If this isn’t secluded enough for you, motor 20 miles offshore to more prime fishing water at 700-acre Garden Island.
The Fishing: Deep jigging and trolling will score on walleyes in the summer, but as the weather cools, Zippel Bay heats up with hungry walleyes and northern pike moving toward shallow shorelines, as well as smallmouths feeding over rock reefs. After a long winter, the pike and walleye action is at its best from late May through June.
Park Specs & Contacts: 3,000 acres; 57 campsites (no hookups); rustic camp that accommodates 40; marina. 218-783-6252; www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/zippel_bay
5 GLEN ELDER STATE PARK, KANSAS
Bring a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen, because you won’t find a shade tree at Glen Elder. What you will discover is the vast Kansas prairie, 12,500-acre Waconda Lake, and a long list of opportunities. Walleyes, white bass, stripers, smallmouths, crappies, and catfish are on the list. In the fall, you can add pheasants, doves, whitetails, and water-fowl to the mix.
The Fishing: White bass top the list this month with a furious shad bite, especially at night with a Shad Rap or soft jerkbaits. Fall brings better mixed-bag fishing. Spring is a spawning bonanza: Troll Rapalas below the dam for walleyes; hit the North and South Fork of the Solomon River above the dam for whites; and dunk cut shad along the causeway riprap for big, hungry cats.
Park Specs & Contacts: 13,200 acres; 420 campsites (120 with hookups); six boat ramps; marina; rental boats. 785-545-3345; www.glenelder.com/ge_state_park.htm
6 MATAGORDA ISLAND STATE PARK, TEXAS
Step off the ferry from Port O’Connor and onto a seemingly forgotten barrier island, where the wildlife vastly outnumbers the visitors. Don’t forget the supplies. On Matagorda Island, there’s no electricity, no drinking water, and no concessions–just primitive camping and fabulous saltwater fishing. Ply the surf, or better yet, bring a canoe or kayak (both are allowed on the ferry for a fee) or launch your own boat from the mainland to better explore and fish the shallow marshes, bays, inlet flats, and open Gulf waters surrounding the island.
The Fishing: Tarpon are busting anchovies in the surf right now and will continue into the fall. Toss anything silver into the rolling melee. Throughout the year, both in the surf and in the bays and flats, reds and trout are the bread and butter. A live shrimp beneath a popping cork scores well, as does mullet, plastic grubs and jerkbaits, and topwater plugs.
Park Specs & Contacts: 7,325 acres (adjacent to 36,568-acre Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area); over 200 campsites, mostly primitive. 361-983-2215; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/matagisl
7 YAMPA RIVER STATE PARK, COLORADO
Camp on the edge of the Continental Divide, where the Rockies drop into no-man’s-land and the rivers run toward the Pacific–and where you’ve got 172 miles of fishing nirvana at your fingertips. From Hayden to Dinosaur National Monument, this park provides 13 public-access sites on the Yampa River, all perfect opportunities to explore one of the most unchanged river systems in the West.
The Fishing: Float the Yampa River for pike topping 20 pounds and a shot at the next state-record smallmouth. Cast Bunny Leech flies, surface plugs, and spoons for pike and smallies, and toss a Rapala to the mouths of any and all feeder creeks for bonus brown trout up to 7 pounds. The river has been known to get bony in midsummer, but even then you can wade-fish or pick your way downriver in an inflatable craft.
Park Specs & Contacts: 4,000-plus acres; total of more than 130 campsites (35 with hookups) at the Colorado State Park Headquarters near Hayden, on Elk-head Reservoir (itself a good warmwater fishery), and at several of the access sites. 970-276-2061; www.yampavalley.info/recreation0039.asp
8 ALAMO LAKE STATE PARK, ARIZONA
Skip the travel alarm. Here, the braying of wild burros will likely wake you early enough to max out your time on the water. Billed as one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets, 2,000-acre Alamo Lake is among the state’s premier bass and crappie waters, yet it remains one of its quietest, set in a remote and starkly beautiful desert-mountain landscape.
The Fishing: With high water temps, now’s the time to plan your trip, not take it. Bass fishing picks up in the fall with a good shad bite. The best action is from mid-February to early May. Work rock ledges with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and weedless jigs with a 3-inch plastic curly tail for a chance at a 9-pound bass. Or slow-troll woody cover with a roadrunner jig tipped with a live minnow for crappies.
Park Specs & Contacts: 3,500 acres; 250 campsites (100 with hookups); boat launch. 928-669-2088; www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/alamo.html
9 HEYBURN STATE PARK, IDAHO
Relax beneath 400-year-old ponderosa pines, in the same shade that once cooled Indians, trappers, and more recently, fellow visitors to the Pacific Northwest’s oldest state park. When you’re ready, hit one of the state’s best fishing lakes. Coeur d’Alene offers bass, pike, and salmon.
The Fishing: Work the south-end weedbeds for largemouths up to 6 pounds; the rock reefs for smallies up to 4. In spring, pike will slam Dardevle spoons and smelt in the shallow bays. On the main lake, troll for kokanee salmon. Or switch to a streamer fly or threaded herring behind a dodger or flasher for landlocked chinooks pushing 12 pounds.
Park Specs & Contacts: 7,838 acres; 132 campsites on three campgrounds; two rental cabins; marina; rental boats. 208-686-1308; www.idahoparks.org/parks/heyburn.html
10 JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK, CALIFORNIA
Lower 48 steelhead and salmon anglers are used to combat fishing. But not on the country’s largest undammed Wild and Scenic river, which bisects this 10,000-acre park. While folks clamor on the nearby Klamath, the Smith River offers comparatively peaceful fishing, jaw-dropping scenery, and banks lined with the world’s tallest trees.
The Fishing: Cast in-line spinners, spoons, and flies to coastal cutthroats until the first big chinook salmon arrive in October. Then back-bounce bait, back-troll Flatfish, or cast large in-line spinners for 10- to 50-pound kings. The Smith’s celebrated steelhead run peaks from late November to the end of March.
Park Specs & Contacts: 10,000 acres; 106 campsites (no hookups). 707-464-6101 ext. 5112; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_ id=413