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Cast A Line In The Parks


Yellowstone’s Gibbon River is a reliable draw for fly fishermen / Patrick Cone

When I was seven my father bought me a kit to tie my own flies, not so much as a hobby but more that he didn’t want to buy them. But, we spent a many hours tying the right patterns, and making up wild and outlandish concoctions that might still attract the wily trout. Fortunately, one of Utah’s wild rivers was just a few steps out the back door for some “product testing.” Flowing waters have always been a background in my life of adventure and exploration.

Since that time, I’ve always had a fishing pole handy, usually something small, collapsible, and portable. It didn’t take up much room in my gear when I traveled, and you never know when the deep pool, perfect ripple, or fish-dimpled lake will beckon. It’s a great way to get outside. If you haul in a lunker, that’s just a bonus. And, if not, that’s why it’s called fishing, not catching. Our memory is seared with the ones we almost landed. Photographs show that ones we actually did. These are moments frozen in time of you, a pole, and the waters.

There are plenty of fish stories in our national parks, from Grand Canyon rainbows to the bonefish of the Everglades flats. To ensure a sustainable environment, rangers find a balance between fishermen and fish in the parks, and regulations vary from park to park, though in most parks a state license is required in order to fish within the park. There are some exceptions. Yellowstone National park only requires a park fishing permit, and no permit is necessary in Glacier to fish.

There are restrictions, of course, in limits, locations, and seasons, and regulations are enforced and fines are levied. It’s best to check local park regulations before casting that line.

Here’s a quick look at some of the many fishing opportunities in the National Park System:

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park has freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities. You can catch brook and brown trout, salmon, perch, and bass (small and largemouth) in freshwater lakes, and will need a license. Mt. Desert Island’s ponds and lakes are a good place to get lucky. Saltwater species such as bluefish, mackerel, and striped bass can be taken along the rugged coastline, and no license is needed. You’ll enjoy the solitude, trails, scenery, and landscapes while you try to fool our finned friends.

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Downtown Miami is the backdrop when you fish on Biscayne Bay. Anglers catch permit, bonefish, snook, and tarpon. Don a snorkel and try your hand at spearfishing, or go after lobster, shrimp, and blue and stone crabs. The mangrove forests create a great nursery for hundreds of species of fish. You’ll need to have, or rent, a boat to get on the water, but there are plenty of outfitters to help you with gear.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Water covers a full third of the Everglades, which means great fishing. You’ll need separate licenses for freshwater and saltwater fishing, but there are backwaters, marshes, and tidal flats waiting for a line. You might hook a fighting largemouth bass, snook, redfish, or tarpon. It’s a watery wilderness just a dozen miles from Florida’s bustling cities.

Tranquility and a catch landed in Quartz Lake, Glacier National Park/NPS, Jacob W. Frank

Glacier National Park, Montana

For angles, Glacier is heaven. The streams, lakes, and rivers are loaded with trout, including the colorful bull and Dolly Varden varieties. The mountain peaks, glaciers, and forests are a big part of the experience too. You may be lucky enough to see an eagle snatch a fish, or watch a bear amble along a beach. All waters are closed to motorized watercraft and boats brought in by trailer. There are strict limits on some species, while others are catch-and-release.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

If you’re a fly fisherman, then Great Smoky Mountains is for you. There are hundreds of miles of streams, creeks, and rivers to fish, teeming with trout and smallmouth bass. It’s one of the last places to catch a wild brook trout. There are many tucked-away waters amidst the fog-shrouded valleys, so find a local guide to show you perfect places to dip a line. Make sure you have a state fishing license along with you as well.

Isle Royale National Park

Lake Superior and the inland lakes make Isle Royale a popular fishing spot. You’ll need a Michigan fishing license, though those 17-years-old and younger do not need one. There are some huge lake trout lurking in the depths waiting for you.

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, Alaska

This Alaskan park is for the adventurous fishermen. With a season from May through October, head to Lake Clark for the salmon runs during July and August. You might hook chinook, Coho, humpback, or sockeye, along with the arctic char and grayling. Trout species include Lake, rainbows, and Dolly Varden. And, keep an eye behind you for hungry bears.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic is well-known as a salmon fishery, with thousands of miles of waterways, and 73 miles of Pacific coastline. You might also hook steelhead trout, saltwater perch, and Pacific cod, as well as rainbow and cutthroat trout in freshwater.

From fresh catch to a fresh dinner is possible in park waters where catch-and-release isn’t required/Patrick Cone

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Head to Padre Island for deep sea and inshore fishing. Head into the Gulf by boat for marlin, sailfish, and tuna. Inshore options include fishing for redfish, flounder, and trout near this barrier island.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain is a mountain paradise, with high country lakes, rushing rivers, and meandering meadow streams. Look for the native greenback cutthroat and Colorado River trout, as well as brown and brook trout. You’ll need a valid Colorado fishing license, only artificial lures and flies may be used, and many areas are catch-and-release.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Brook trout attract fishermen to the 70 streams in Shenandoah, headwaters of the Potomac, Rappahannock, and James rivers. It’s artificial lures or flies only, and many areas are catch-and-release, so check the park regulations.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs in northern Minnesota is an obvious destination for fishermen seeking northern pike, walleyes, muskies, small and largemouth bass, as well as perch and bluegills. There are also some monster brook trout, if you can find them. The area is covered by big, and small, lakes, and you’ll need a non-motorized boat such as a canoe to get out on these waters.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Anglers in Yellowstone can land the wily cutthroat trout here, among the nation’s premiere environmental areas. You can fish large rivers, small streams, alpine lakes, or even the outflow from geothermal areas. It’s a unique experience. Take a walk down the Firehole River with your pole, as bison, elk, and bears wander around. Fly fishing is the predominant sport in Yellowstone, and while a state license isn’t required, a park permit is.

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National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide