7 Best National Parks for Fishing

A man fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park / Flickr

Whether you call it a sport or a hobby, fishing is an extremely popular activity in the U.S. and around the world. Some people set out in search of the Big One (or at least a big story) with expensive rods and reels and ocean-worthy speedboats. For others, all that’s required is a basic rod, a little bit of bait, and a couple of feet of shoreline or riverbank. Whether you see it as a sport that you sink your life savings into or a childhood pastime for which you never lost interest, fishing is all about the experience of nature and water and the thrill of the hunt.

America's national parks are great places to venture with rod and reel in hand. The fishing opportunities in these places are diverse. Depending on the national park, a fishing excursion can mean casting in the ocean surf, running a surface lure along the lakeshore, watching a bobber in the backwaters of the bayou, or mastering the art of fly-fishing while standing hip-deep in a cool stream.

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Yellowstone National Park

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With several large lakes, dozens of smaller ones, and miles upon miles of streams and rivers, Yellowstone National Park has plenty of worthwhile fishing options. The most sought-after catch in this famous park is the cutthroat trout (shown here). Since tens of thousands of fishing permits are issued each year, rod-toting visitors won't be alone in their quest for trout, but those in search of solitude can visit some of the more remote sections of stream inside the park. Like hiking, fishing anywhere that is off the beaten path in Yellowstone will be a relatively quiet, isolated experience. Though standard artificial lures and casting rods are useable in the park, the name of the game in Yellowstone is fly-fishing. The insect-heavy riverbanks provide perfect conditions for trout to thrive. Fly-fishers can go it alone or connect with a guide company that offers fly-fishing experiences inside the park. Guides can provide quick access to the best streams and reduce the likelihood of encountering grizzly bears, the park's most prolific nonhuman fish-seekers.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another fly-fishing haven. Hundreds of miles of fishable waterways wind through the mountain forests, which stretch from North Carolina to Tennessee. Remote coldwater streams teem with trout, while larger streams are dominated by other species, such as smallmouth bass. Fishing is permitted year-round in the park (for anyone with a valid license from the state that they are fishing in). As with other parks on this list, some of the best fishing can be found in the less-visited corners of Great Smoky. These forest-shrouded headwaters can be best fished with a local guide. Some outfitters will even give novice fly-fishers a crash course in casting before they head out to hunt for trout. A handful of great fishing spots are accessible by trail. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of those places where reeling in your catch is only part of the experience of a fishing trip. The natural scenes that can be enjoyed streamside are as much a part of fishing here as the excitement that comes from having an oversized trout on the other side of your line.

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Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park lies in one of the most legendary fishing states in the nation. Montana is heaven for trout hunters, and Glacier teems with opportunities to cast for this prized coldwater fish. Adjacent lands like the Great Bear National Wilderness offer even more miles of fishable waterways. From postcard-perfect streams to hidden backcountry lakes with mirrorlike surfaces, there are plenty of opportunities to cast inside this national park. As with many national park fishing spots, the actual act of getting a fish to take the bait is only part of the experience. At Glacier, the beautiful mountains and backcountry surroundings make a trip seem worthwhile even for unlucky anglers who don't land a single trout during their stay.

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Voyageurs National Park

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Voyageurs National Park sits in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. This is an obvious destination for fish-seekers because it is covered by lakes. Unlike many of the other fish-heavy parks in this list, however, fishing in Voyageurs requires a boat. The park has four larger lakes (the biggest, Rainy Lake, has more than 900 miles of shoreline) and innumerable smaller bodies of water. The fish population in these lakes is quite diverse, with northern pike, walleyes, muskies, small and largemouth bass, and “pan-fish” (like perch and bluegills) found in most lakes. Travel here does not require a powerful motorboat, or even any sort of propeller power at all. Canoes are a popular nonmotorized form of transportation and can be used to traverse the various lakes. Even the frigid winter can't stop anglers at Voyageurs, where ice fishing is a popular activity during the short days of the coldest season.

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Olympic National Park

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Trout and bass might be the top targets for fishermen visiting national parks with their rod and reel, but at Olympic National Park, most avid anglers are intent on hooking salmon. However, these long-distance-traveling fish, with their distinctly shaped mouths, are not the only species that will take a baited hook. With over 3,000 miles of streams, numerous freshwater lakes, and 73 miles of Pacific Coast shoreline, Olympic has an abundance of fishing options. Saltwater perch and Pacific cod are ocean-going species that are on the menu for those who want to try their luck in the Pacific. A special card is needed for catching salmon and steelhead trout, which populate the streams and lakes in Olympic's interior. Other trout species, such as rainbow and cutthroat, are found in streams throughout the park and are a favorite target for fly-fishers.

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Everglades National Park

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One-third of Southern Florida's Everglades National Park is covered by water, meaning that there are excellent opportunities for fishing. Unlike most parks, which offer only freshwater fishing, Everglades gives visitors a chance to cast in both fresh and saltwater (though people should be aware that a different license is required for saltwater fishing). Largemouth bass, famous amongst fishermen because of their fight and the way they snap up surface lures, are found in the rivers and feeder streams that run through the park. Adventurous anglers can paddle into these backwaters in the hope of hooking a largemouth. Snook inhabit the mangrove swamps of the Everglades, lurking under roots or patrolling river mouths for prey. Many experienced anglers come to the Glades specifically to hunt for these fish. Other easier-to-catch species, like sea trout, swim in schools, providing a great cast-to-catch ratio for anyone who is lucky enough to land on a school. And of course, larger ocean fish like tarpon sit in the open sea farther offshore.

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Acadia National Park

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Maine's Acadia National Park is another National Park Service-run park that has both freshwater and saltwater fishing options. In the summer, salmon and trout congregate in freshwater lakes, as do largemouth and smallmouth bass. The ponds and lakes on Mount Desert Island are home to sizable populations of fish. A license is required for freshwater fishing, but not for fishing on the ocean. Saltwater species like mackerel, bluefish and striped bass are found in the coastal waters of the Atlantic. The rugged Maine coastline is one of Acadia's best traits. While it does not make fishing easy (casting is difficult from the sometimes slippery, craggy rocks), it certainly adds to the overall experience of fishing in this section of Maine.

National parks are a great choice for fishing. Of course, the bonus is the miles of trails, uninterrupted natural scenery, and each park's trademark landscapes or headlining natural feature. In short, these are great places for nature lovers and scenery seekers who want to fish amongst some of the most beautiful landscapes and waterways in the nation.