Top 5 Saltwater Fishing Destinations

Conventional Fishing expert Christian Nelson shares his five favorite saltwater fishing destinations across the country, from California to Louisiana.

The author stands on a boat and holds a mahi-mahi.

Photo by Christian Nelson

Whether you’re craving the rush of pitching baits at tailing redfish in a saltwater bayou or the thrill of hanging a mahi with no land in sight, the waters surrounding the United States have something for everyone. With thousands of charters running every day, it can seem daunting to choose where you want to go for your next saltwater fishing escape. It doesn’t have to be tough though! I personally believe there are two or three places that every angler should knock off the bucket list. These locations are not only the pinnacle of what saltwater fishing can be, they’re also all within the United States, which makes them pretty achievable destinations! I think that all anglers spend a lot of time dreaming of that perfect day on the water, catching fish as fast as we can cast a line, and knocking off some bucket list fish along the way. These destinations all promise to deliver that dream.

Islamorada, Florida

An image taken at sunset with the sun just dipping below the horizon. Palm trees and a dock are silhouetted.

Photo by Catherine

You can’t talk about saltwater fishing destinations without talking about Islamorada. This village encompasses six of the Florida Keys, all known for their coral reefs and breathtaking views. Beyond this though, Islamorada is most commonly known as a major hub of world-class sportfishing. Islamorada draws anglers from all over the world who visit for the chance at landing a tarpon, billfish, or bonefish. Boasting a very “beachy” laidback atmosphere, an overwhelming amount of historical attractions, and fishing opportunities that just can’t be beaten, I had to put Islamorada at the top of the list.

The species you can target here are virtually endless. Some anglers’ favorites include tarpon, permit, bonefish, redfish, snook, shark, sailfish, mahi-mahi, wahoo, backfin tuna, hogfish, and several species of snapper. Words can’t quite describe just how action-packed the fishing is here. And with +150 charter boats running out of Islamorada, it’s easy to get on the water. This location is great all around and suits a family vacation just as well as it suits a solo bucket list trip.

Venice, Louisiana

The author holds up a large redfish at night. The photo is taken with flash which reflects off the fish's scales.

Photo courtesy of Christian Nelson

So maybe cruising the deep blue for pelagics just isn’t your idea of a perfect fishing vacation. No worries, there are plenty of other ways to scratch that itch for a big fish! Venice, LA is the most action-packed premier spot in the United Stated for redfish. Widely known as The Redfish Capital of the World, Venice promises to deliver nonstop catches, as well as some monster bull reds. The mouth of the Mississippi River flooding out into the Gulf of Mexico creates a unique environment that redfish absolutely thrive in, and it makes for some epic days of fishing.

This location does not offer quite the variety of fishing possibilities that Islamorada boasts, but it does offer a great experience. With tons of lodges and charter boats available, as well as some great vacation destinations like New Orleans just a skip and a hop away, Venice is situated in a great spot for a nice fishing escape.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of wrestling a monster bull red on spinning gear, this is the place. It’s also very popular among fly fishermen, but conventional artificial presentations dominate this area. A simple spinning rod and an artificial lure get you a long way here. This is one of those places where you’re going to have to leave them biting every single day, and I think it’s an experience every angler should have.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

A wooden staircase leading up to the beach in Cape Cod. A seagull stands on the handrail. Coastal grasses line each side of the stairs.

Photo by M Zefzaf

Cape Cod is known for its wahoo, swordfish, bluefish, giant bluefin tuna and as the name suggests, cod. It’s a location that has held a fantastic reputation as a fishing area for quite some time, and for good reason. The shape of the land creates a unique environment perfect for anglers where there are sheltered conditions and regularly flat seas throughout the year.

Among the species you knock off the bucket list year is the striped bass. The action for these highly sought-after game fish increases in May and June. If you’re looking to take the family and do something besides fishing, there are sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, a water park, and shopping plazas with niche gift stores that make it a fun and friendly attraction for the whole family. This area has been producing quality fish year in and year out for quite some time, and it’s sure to leave you with a few more epic pictures holding some awesome fish.

San Diego, California

A view going straight through a pier into the ocean, taken from under the pier. It seems to be sunrise or sunset because the blue is very pale and tinted orange.

La Jolla, San Diego. Photo by Michael Shannon

With a huge variety of fish, including some true, massive trophies, San Diego is another excellent spot for anglers to explore in the hopes of catching something epic. San Diego has among the most productive waters you’ll find and presents anglers with a myriad of species to chase in the Pacific’s warm waters, including spotted bay bass, albacore, mahi, halibut, rockfish, giant tuna, perch, corbina, and bonefish. San Diego has some of the most exciting waters for catching tuna as well, which include yellowfin tuna and world-class bluefin tuna.

This made my list of top saltwater fishing destinations for several reasons, one of those being the area itself. San Diego has a great climate and tons of attractions not too far off, including some great pier fishing opportunities, which really means that a trip here can be whatever you make it. Maybe your dream vacation begins with catching some trophy fish and ends with you driving up to Northern California to see the Giant Sequoias for the first time. It truly is a trip that you can customize until it perfectly suits you, and because of that, I think everyone should fish it at least once, even if just off one of the local fishing piers!

Panama City Beach, Florida

A sunrise or sunset on Panama City Beach. A patch of coastal grass is in the foreground, and a broken pier is silhouetted in the background.

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Last but certainly not least, I had to throw in one more place in Florida that I feel makes an awesome trip for any angler. Located on Florida’s Forgotten Coast, Panama City has some of the most crystal clear inshore waters you’ll find. These provide anglers abundant access to redfish, flounder, tarpon, and speckled trout. If you’re wanting more of an offshore experience, no worries, Panama City Beach boasts an awesome reputation for deep-sea fishing as well, including king mackerel, blue marlin, tuna, red snapper, cobia, and a plethora of others.

This is a dream getaway for fishermen and is just as great for a family getaway. With crystal clear beaches lined with white sand, paired with tons of activities, restaurants, and accommodations, this is one of the best places on the list to make your trip into a true fishing vacation. I’ve been several times, and the fishing is as great as the atmosphere here. Whether you’re looking for a diehard week of sportfishing, or a week of fishing and vacationing with the family, this destination has everything to suit your needs. My personal favorite thing to do here is some nearshore kayak fishing since there are tons of pelagics here, as well as an abundance of public reefs. There are also tons of places inshore that are productive for a variety of different species, so the opportunity to experiment and fish solo is there as well, which is always a plus!

When you decide you want to make a saltwater trip, it can be extremely intimidating to pick exactly where you want to go, and for good reason. There are countless cities on the coast of the United States, all seeming to be great places to fish, and singling out a destination can feel like an overwhelming task. This can be even more overwhelming if you’re planning on a DIY trip to one of these locations which are becoming super popular, especially kayak fishing.

The author stands on a boat and holds a mahi-mahi.

Photo by Christian Nelson

Some favorite lures to catch a broad variety of inshore and offshore species would be something like Berkley’s Gulp Swimming Mullet on 1/8oz jig head. This is a great bait because it works great fishing inshore, it can be trolled effectively, and it can be jigged on nearshore reefs with success. I try to keep my box stocked with baits that are versatile and can meet the needs of any situation I find myself needing them for. Saltwater fishing is exciting because you never know what is going to happen, or what you’re going to catch or see. Having versatile baits can be the determining factor on whether or not you have a good day. Check out my article on saltwater lures for more ideas, and for some more in-depth lure recommendations for your DIY trip, send me or another Fishing expert a message!

Hopefully, this list contains an option that sounds like it’d be perfect for you! In my opinion, these are the top “must-go” saltwater fishing destinations in the country, so no matter which one you may choose, you’re guaranteed to get some tight lines and come home with some epic fish pics and some fresh fish for dinner!

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Written By
Christian Nelson
Christian Nelson
Conventional Fishing Expert
I have been fishing for pleasure for over 10 years, fishing tournaments and doing some guiding as a side gig along the way. ​ I have caught 50+ species of fish, from rainbow trout to giant sharks, and from bass to monster bull redfish. ​ I have a wide array of knowledge to put you on fish, no matter...
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