Photo by Dusan Smetana
Looking ahead, the question on everyone’s lips is: Where will I hunt and fish? Here are the newest, most improved, and up-and-coming hunting and fishing hotspots for every state–the vast majority open to the public.
by Michael R. Shea
Photo by Barry & Cathy Beck
1. Connecticut: Zone 11, Whitetails
With crossbows newly legal in archery season, the deer-rich southwest suburbs are primed to produce big bucks for hunters willing to ring doorbells.
2. Runner-Up: Eastern Long Island Sound
Black sea bass catch is way up.
3. Delaware: Nanticoke River, Grass Carp and Snakeheads
As invasive-fish numbers have spiked, a new bowfishing season opens–with no limits or closed dates.
4. Runner-Up: Midlands WMA
Better habitat points to more big bucks.
5. Maine: Region B, Turkeys
Bird densities are soaring in the heart of Region B, which has 22 WMAs, and this year residents and nonresidents can shoot four turkeys (spring and fall, up from two) for just $20.
6. Runner-Up: Aroostook River
New access at Forbes Pit enables easy day floats for brook trout.
7. Maryland: Upper Chesapeake Bay, Striped Bass
In the 57 years of state surveys, 2011 saw the fourth-best spring spawn. Members of that bumper crop should now be at or over the 18-inch minimum.
8. Runner-Up: Mount Nebo WMA
Better grouse and woodcock habitat.
9. Massachusetts: Oak Bluffs Fishing Pier, Striped Bass
The largest sportfishing pier in the state will open on Martha’s Vineyard this spring, allowing foot anglers to push 300 feet out.
10. Runner-Up: Burrage Pond WMA
Better water levels will pull more ducks.
11. New Jersey: Lenape Farms, Whitetails
This new 5,000-acre state acquisition used to be a private high-fence hunting club. The fence is now mostly down, but deer numbers are still up.
12. Runner-Up: Del-Jersey-Land Reef
A sunken ship teems with fish, 28.5 miles southeast of Cape May.
13. New Hampshire: Lake Umbagog NWR, Moose
Its 4,000 acres of prime moose habitat will open to hunters this fall.
14. Runner-Up: Nash Stream Forest
Healthier habitat means bigger trout.
15. New York: Lake Champlain, Salmon and Trout
With tributaries containing fish-killing sea lampreys now treated, biologists expect a surge in big trout and salmon this year.
16. Runner-Up: Wilson Hill WMA
More water, more waterfowl.
17. Pennsylvania: Big Spring Creek, Trout
On the heels of a $587,000 habitat project, a 2013 study showed that Big Spring now has the highest combined biomass of wild browns and rainbows in the commonwealth.
18. Runners-Up: WMUs 2C and 4B
More black bears, expanded seasons.
19. Rhode island: Rodman’s Hollow, Whitetails
Shoot a deer, or eight, on Block Island. A state lottery now allows limited public hunting to control the estimated 80 to 100 whitetails per square mile.
20. Runner-Up: Brenton Reef
More big stripers.
21. Vermont: Battenkill River, Brown Trout
A 2012 study found all-time-high numbers of juvenile wild browns, which biologists say will be 14- and 15-inch fish this year.
22. Runner-Up: Green Mountains
Longer season for abundant black bears.
23. West Virginia: Charleston-Beckley Corridor, Black Bears
This 60-mile north-south stretch between the capital and Beckley now boasts the highest bear densities in the state, and there’s plenty of public land to hunt.
24. Runner-Up: Ohio River
Aggressive stocking yields big blue catfish.
Maps by Haisam Hussein
by Steven Hill
Photo by Lance Krueger
25. Illinois: Jim Edgar Panther Creek Fish and Wildlife Area, Whitetails
Antler restrictions and major habitat projects have made this 16,000-acre parcel a top bet for a public-land trophy.
26. Runner-Up: Des Plaines River
Dam removals boost channel catfish, pike, and more.
27. Indiana: Austin Bottoms Conservation Area, Mixed Bag
The state just opened these 2,400 acres of protected Muscatatuck River bottomland to deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting and plans to open more.
28. Runner-Up: Eagle Creek Reservoir
New stocking procedures yield more walleyes.
29. Iowa: Mississippi River Pools 12-19, Walleyes
A slot limit imposed in 2004 is paying off with trophy-size walleyes, including 10-plus-pounders.
30. Runner-Up: St. Mary’s Island WMA
New grasses hold more pheasants.
31. Kansas: Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, Ducks
Eradicating cattails and seeding millet and duck cover on this 19,000-acre wetland has produced the best hunting in years.
32. Runner-Up: La Cygne Reservoir
The power-plant cooling lake grows heavyweight largemouths.
33.Kentucky: Lake Cumberland, Bass and Trout
Rising water that’s flooding new growth has set the stage for a bass boom above the dam, while cooler tailwaters should vastly improve trout fishing below.
34. Runner-Up: Land Between the Lakes NRA
Better habitat for big bucks.
35. Michigan: Upper Peninsula GEMS, Grouse
Nine U.P. state forests, from Drummond Island to Houghton County, will become ruffed grouse “gems” under a new Grouse Enhanced Management System.
36. Runner-Up: Little Bay de Noc
Invasive round gobies are making hungry smallmouths fat.
37. Minnesota: Lake Christina, Ducks
A $2.3 million habitat restoration project has this legendary duck stopover ready to rebound.
38. Runner-Up: Red River
Dam project boosts big channel cats and sturgeon.
39. Missouri: Lake Taneycomo, Brown Trout
Thanks to aggressive stocking, 76 percent of brown trout caught exceeded 13 inches and 35 percent exceeded 16 in a 2013 creel survey. Many will reach 20 inches soon.
40. Runner-Up: Duck Creek Conservation Area
Wetland renovations promise excellent waterfowling.
41. Nebraska: Pine Ridge WMAs, Turkeys
In partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation, the state is enhancing 14,000 acres of habitat at Gilbert-Baker, Ponderosa, Chadron Creek Ranch, Bordeaux Creek, and Metcalf WMAs. Expect more birds, better hunting.
42. Runners-Up: Lake Wanahoo and Ed Zorinsky Reservoir
Nebraska’s best emerging mixed-creel fisheries, mainly for bass and bluegills.
43. North Dakota: Lake Sakakawea, Pike and Walleyes
Pike are booming thanks to the massive 2009 spawn, and better forage is producing trophy walleyes.
44. Runner-Up: Missouri River
Hot late goose hunting below Garrison Dam.
45. Ohio: Lake Erie, Walleyes
The huge hatch of 2003 has matured, creating lots of 14-plus-pounders and prime conditions for a new state record.
46. Runner-Up: Tranquility Wildlife Area
Public hunting in a red-hot trophy whitetail county.
47. South Dakota: James River Corridor, Pheasants
As part of a water-quality enhancement initiative, farmers have enrolled 85,000 acres of private land in CRP, all open to hunting via the state’s Walk-In Area Program.
48. Runner-Up: Lake Oahe
Lots of 10- to 20-pound pike.
49. Wisconsin: Cities and Suburbs, Whitetails
A new law prohibits banning archery hunting within city limits. This, plus the recent legalization of crossbows for bow season, will transform Wisconsin backyard hunts.
50. Runner-Up: Driftless Area
New public access to world-class trout fishing.
by Will Brantley
Photo by Rick Adair
51. Alabama: Alabama and Tombigbee River Systems, Crappies
Fish from the banner crappie spawn of 2010 have matured to slab size, many topping 15 inches.
52. Runner-Up: Southwest Alabama
A brand-new February deer season will hit the heart of the very late rut in this region of the state.
53. Arkansas: Eastern Arkansas, Specklebellies
Aerial surveys and harvest data show a shift in wintering areas from the Gulf Coast to the Delta rice country, boosting harvests in eastern Arkansas.
54. Runner-Up: Bull Shoals Reservoir
High water has three species of bass booming.
55. Florida: Tampa Bay WMAs, Wild Hogs
Swine are swarming public parcels inland from Tampa. Hunters killed about three times more hogs on Green Swamp WMA last year than on any other in Florida.
56. Runner-Up: Forgotten Coast
Redfish, speckled trout, and flounder numbers worth remembering.
57. Georgia: Satilla River, Bream
High waters led to excellent survival and growth but poor catch rates last season–setting the stage for a banner bluegill and redbreast sunfish season.
58. Runners-Up: Albany Nursery, Elmodel, and Chickasawhatchee WMAs
Habitat work will boost bobwhite quail.
59. Louisiana: Mississippi Alluvial Valley, Woodcock
As more farms enroll in the Wetlands Reserve Program, eastern Louisiana is becoming a timberdoodle haven, with lots of WMAs like Dewey Wills and Sherburne providing plenty of access.
60. Runner-Up: Lake Pontchartrain
New artificial reefs make easy pickings for redfish, flounder, and speckled trout.
61. Mississippi: Neshoba, Bill Waller, and Calling Panther Lakes, Bass
After 10 years of improvements, these state lakes are now producing giant first-generation largemouths. We’re talking bass in the teens.
62. Runners-Up: Stoneville and Canemount WMAs
These and other Delta WMAs are primed to produce huge bucks.
63. North Carolina: Lake Mattamuskeet, Swans
Hunting success rates are soaring for tundra swans in the Tar Heel State, where some 70,000 birds winter. The area surrounding this lake in Hyde County holds the biggest numbers.
64. Runner-Up: Roanoke River
Biologists are shocking up huge cow stripers.
65. Oklahoma: Cedar Lake, Bass
Recently renovated by the U.S. Forest Service, this 78-acre lake is now pumping out huge Florida-strain largemouths, including two state-record bass between March 2012 and March 2013.
66. Runner-Up: Cross Timbers WMA
This 8,135-acre, newly acquired parcel is managed for big whitetail bucks.
67. South Carolina: Coastal WMAs, Ducks
Intensive management has paid off with highly successful lottery hunts at select WMAs along South Carolina’s coast, like 12,000-acre Bear Island, where last year’s hunters averaged four birds per hunt.
68. Runner-Up: Lower Saluda River
Cold water and liberal stocking is yielding 20-inch trout.
69. Tennessee: Center Hill Lake, Muskies
Native muskellunge are making a comeback in much of the state but especially in the headwaters of Center Hill Lake, thanks to prime forage and habitat, plus a 50-inch minimum-size limit.
70. Runner-Up: Bear Hollow WMA
Aggressive management has produced lots of gobblers.
71. Texas: Trans-Pecos, Mule Deer
Muley populations here are responding well to habitat improvements, and managers plan to offer more permits and extended seasons.
72. Runner-Up: Guadalupe River
Stricter regs will result in more trophy rainbow trout.
73. Virginia: Piedmont Region, Turkeys
Thanks to consecutive banner hatches, turkey numbers appear to be up by an astounding 25 percent, making this top region even better.
74. Runner-Up: South Holston Lake
Keeper walleyes (18 inches or better) now make up almost half of this lake’s catch.
by David Draper
Photo by Mark Raycroft
75. Alaska: Mat-Su Valley, Moose
Moose numbers are rebounding from a brutal 2011-12 winter. Add a mild winter, and 2014 could be a banner year in the valley.
76. Runner-Up: Chena Slough
Restoration projects will revive the urban grayling fishery.
77. Arizona: Yuma, Doves
Changing farm practices on the Colorado floodplain combined with ideal roosting cover have created a dove mecca here. Bag limit could rise to 15.
78. Runner-Up: Canyon Creek
Brown trout are responding to improved spawning habitat.
79. California: San Francisco Bay, Ducks
Tens of thousands of acres of sterile salt flats have been transformed into fertile wetlands–opening hunting areas that hadn’t been accessible in more than 100 years.
80. Runner-Up: Upper Klamath River
Downstream quota could send more salmon upstream.
81. Colorado: Upper Arkansas River, Trout
Once a Superfund cleanup site, 102 miles of the reborn river was recently designated a Gold Medal trout fishery.
82. Runners-Up: Routt and Grand Counties
Pine beetles improved elk habitat.
83. Hawaii: Big Island, Bowfishing
Incredible inshore bowfishing is taking off on shallow reefs for parrot fish, unicorn fish, and other tropical species.
84. Runner-Up: Lana’i Island
Guaranteed bow tags for burgeoning axis deer.
85. Idaho: Southeastern Idaho, Pheasants
A 2,700-acre Pheasants Forever acquisition now connects Camas NWR and Mud Lake WMA, creating a contiguous 21,000 acres of managed pheasant habitat.
86. Runner-Up: Boise River
Redband trout rebound.
87. Montana: Blackfoot River, Cutthroat Trout
Twenty-five-year conservation project hits milestone: Native westslope cutts are now 10 times more abundant than when improvements began.
88. Runner-Up: Region 4
More cow elk, more tags.
89. Nevada: Lake Tahoe, Trout
Drought is emptying Nevada’s lakes, leaving fisheries managers with some 400,000 fingerling trout and few places to put them. Comparatively deep Lake Tahoe will likely receive a bulk of the stockings.
90. Runner-Up: Selenite Range
Chukar numbers have nearly doubled.
91. New Mexico: Quemado Lake, Tiger Muskies
Quemado, first stocked a decade ago, now holds an age class of tiger muskies capable of setting a new state record.
92. Runner-Up: Gila National Forest
Turkeys are weathering the drought better here.
93. Oregon: Columbia River, Chinook Salmon
Habitat enhancement, dam overspill, and La Niña should create exceptional smolt survival rates. The projected result is a record run of 1.6 million kings up the Columbia River this fall.
94. Runners-Up: Curry, Jackson, and Josephine Counties
Forest grouse and mountain quail numbers are well up.
95. Utah: Huntington North Reservoir, Wipers
Hybrid bass were stocked here in 2009 to control Utah chubs, and they’ve been gorging since. Expect to hear rumors of 10-pound wipers soon.
96. Runner-Up: Great Salt Lake
Far better access to great waterfowl hunting.
97. Washington: Kittitas County, Elk
With the Yakima and Colockum elk herds well above management objectives, state officials are handing out additional tags–and three-quarters of this county is public land.
98. Runner-Up: Potholes Reservoir
Panfish thriving in newly flooded habitat.
99. Wyoming: Laramie Plains Lakes, Rainbow Trout
Fast-growing rainbows are being saved from the threat of winterkill by aerators installed in waters such as Meeboer Lake. Surviving fish could top the 6-pound mark.
100. Runner-Up: Bighorn Mountains
Limited licenses and few predators mean big bulls.