Fishing Paradise

Four hot winter angling escapes.

Field & Stream Online Editors

If the wind and snow have got you down, here's a sunny thought: There's world-class fishing available at this very moment where the air is warm, the sand is white, and the fish are big. Some destinations are exotic with price tags to match, but others are closer to home and won't break your budget. Maybe it's time to take the winter fishing vacation you deserve. Here are our top four places to fish right now.

Yucatan, Mexico Bonefish, permit, snook, tarpon

You'll find water blue enough to match the sky and sand as white as the snow you've left behind. Even better, Mexico's Yucatan coast south of Cancun is arguably the world's best inshore light-tackle destination for a combination of bonefish, permit, snook, and tarpon. It's only about a four-hour flight from New York City, and because Cancun is a major resort area, airfares tend to be reasonable. Daytime highs in February average from 70 to 85 degrees, so roll up your shirtsleeves and start casting.

The best fishing starts at Boca Paila, a lodge about 75 miles south of Cancun, and extends down through Ascencion Bay and Espiritu Santo Bay toward the Belizean border. The entire area is remote and lightly fished, and bonefish are in exceptionally good supply. On my last trip through Ascencion Bay, I landed 20 bonefish from 2 to 5 pounds before lunch. For a change of pace I spent the afternoon fishing for big barracuda on the flats.

Permit, too, are common, and this may be the world's easiest place to take one on a fly rod. Most fish weigh between 2 and 8 pounds, but 20-pounders are a daily possibility. Snook here are the real sleepers, plentiful but relatively unmolested by the bonefish crowd. You can often sight-cast flies or plugs to hordes of snook located in the backs of many bays and lagoons.

When you tire of all this largesse, just kick back under a coconut palm with a fresh-lime margarita, wondering if there's a blizzard back home. Other first-rate area lodges include Casa Blanca and Playa Blanca. They're all served by major sporting-travel agents (see sidebar).

Lake Fork, Texas Trophy bass

Located southwest of Dallas, Lake Fork is well known for its trophy largemouths, and February may be the best time to catch double-digit fish. Thirteen of Texas' 50 biggest bass were taken in that month, and nine of them from this reservoir. Statistically, this is your best month for a trophy.

The weather in mid-February is cool-daytime highs average about 60 degrees-but at least you won't be shoveling snow. The big bass are trying to get warm, too, and are in prespawn mode, staging along the edges of warmer flats. The north and west ends of the reservoir are shallower and warm up earlier and can thus be more productive. Channel edges, secondary points, and structure near spawning flats are keys to finding fish. Local anglers favor jigs, lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and soft-plastic lizards fished on heavy baitcasting gear with 20- to 25-pound-test line. Getting to Lake Fork is easy and fairly inexpensive with lots of flights to Dallas¿¿¿Fort Worth from just about anywhere. The area abounds with marinas and motels. Local bass fishing guides, essential for first-timers, charge around $300 for a full day of fishing. You'll find extensive information at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us. For a listing of area motels and guides, check out www.ets-systems.com/index.htm.

Chile and ArgentinaTrout

If it's winter where you are, it's summer or early autumn in South America. Just that simple observation ought to raise your pulse rate on a snowy day, especially considering that some of the world's best trout fishing is found on both sides of the Andes in southern Chile and Argentina. This is not a budget trip, especially because the gateway cities of Santiago (Chile) or Buenos Aires (Argentina) are a very long flightt from just about anywhere. Lodge prices range from $2,500 up to $7,000 or more for a week's guided fishing (airfare not included). What may surprise some is that this fishing is enormously popular despite the cost. The best lodges will already have waiting lists for prime-time bookings.

The best-known Argentine trout fishing centers around Bariloche and San Martin and rivers such as the Malleo, Chimehuin, and Coll¿¿n Cura. Foremost among the lodges is the Estancia Arroyo Verde, lying along 11 miles of the fabled Traful River, with outstanding fishing, food, and wine for about $600 a day. It's important to realize that, with one exception, South American trout fishing doesn't offer large numbers of double-digit fish. What it does supply is exceptional fishing for rainbows and browns in the 18- to 24-inch class, and perhaps an occasional shot at a 30-inch, 10-pound fish. That the fishing takes place in the lovely Andean foothills is a huge plus.

The notable exceptions to the size equation are the sea-run brown trout of Tierra del Fuego, which frequently top 20 pounds. These are unusually strong fish, trout that would pull the socks off most other salmon or steelhead in a tug-of-war. It is also some of the remotest fishing in existence-quite literally at the end of the earth-served by some of the most deluxe fishing lodges.

Kau Tapen Lodge (www.kautapen.com) is the flagship here on the Rio Grande, where the best weeks yield 400 to 600 big sea-runs to just eight to 12 rods. In general, from Christmas to late March is prime time. The Rio Grande is about a four-hour flight south from Buenos Aires. Rates at Kau Tapen-if you can get in-are currently $7,195 per person, based on double occupancy. Pricey? Yes. Good? Actually, it's out of this world.

** North Florida** Bass

Those bucket-bellied largemouths for which Florida is famous are in prespawn mode now, and some will be bedding by the end of February. Not only does this mean that the fishing can be very good, but it's also prime time for a trophy.

There are three basic ways to get in on the action, depending on your budget. No matter how you go, keep in mind that airfares to Florida cities like Jacksonville or Orlando are generally cheap.

The first option is Bienville Plantation (386-397-1989; www.bienville.com) in White Springs west of Jacksonville, a private retreat catering to sportsmen who like to be pampered. Bienville is home to some of the best phosphate-pit lakes in the state. These types of lakes in north Florida tend to be exceptionally fertile, growing lots of big fish. Lodging and guided fishing packages are available starting at $570 a day. In my own experience, this place runs like a Swiss watch.

Two cheaper alternatives require that you do some of the work, but this can be as easy as picking a lake, booking an independent guide in advance, flying to a nearby city, and staying in a chain motel. Your biggest expense will be guided fishing, for which you'll pay about $300 a day. To spend even less money, stay at one of the many fish camps common to Florida's major bass lakes, and rent a small boat. Top lakes include Lake George, west of Ocala; Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir, near Fellsmere and west of Vero Beach; West Lake Tohopekaliga, near Kissimmee; and Rodman Reservoir, east of Gainesville. Start your research with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (850-488-0520; www.floridaconservation.org/fishing), which offers plenty of useful details on the region's bass fishing.