10 Top Places to Catch a Great Variety of Game Fish

These destinations produce a great variety of angling opportunities to catch many species from shallows inshore to deep, blue water offshore.

It seems a good bet that many anglers appreciate as I do catching a variety of species during a fishing outing. The idea that you can’t quite be sure what you’ve got bending your rod has great appeal. This list offers 10 spots where you’re likely to experience that very scenario.

NOTE: This is not a listing of the best 10 fishing vacation locations in the world but rather 10 of the best spots; the order as they appear in the list is arbitrary.

NORTHERN AUSTRALIA

Best fishing vacation Northern Territory Australia barramundi

NORTHERN AUSTRALIA

.Doug Olander

What Aussies refer to as “the Top End” really describes the eastern half of northernmost Australia — the Northern Territory and uppermost Queensland (where the famed Cape York Peninsula extends nearly to New Guinea). It’s fair to say the fishing sizzles like the equatorial sun. a stone’s throw north. This photo was taken during a brief but ferocious bite from small barramundi along one of Cape York’s endless, pristine beaches.

Best fishing vacation Northern Territory Australia queenfish
.Doug Olander

Nearshore light-tackle action can be almost non-stop from gamesters such as queenfish (pictured), barramundi, longfin tuna, giant trevally, golden trevally, saratoga (colorful arawana look-alike), red bass (nearshore reef snapper on steroids), mangrove jacks (basically gray snapper), narrowbarred Spanish mackerel, coral trout and many more species.

Best fishing vacation Northern Territory Australia crocodile eating king threadfin
.Doug Olander

More relevant reading online can be found on the Fitzmaurice and Johnson rivers. You can get more information and find plenty of Top End sport-fishing operations simply by googling "fishing australia's top end." Just don't plan to do a lot of wade fishing, you Texans, or you might very well meet up with a big "saltie" like the one here, munching on a king threadfin on a Cape York mud flat.

THE BAHAMAS

Best fishing vacation the Bahamas Chub Cay
.Doug Olander

A number of areas in the Bahamas offer immediate access to three distinct habitats (and their fisheries): expansive, crystalline flats; extensive coral reefs; and deep, blue water. One of several areas where you can fish all three areas in a day is Chub Cay.

Best fishing vacation the Bahamas bonefish
.Doug Olander

For a variety fan, the opportunities may be orgasmic. One day you can concentrate on bonefish and permit.

Best fishing vacation the Bahamas yellowed grouper
.Doug Olander

The next day: mutton snapper, grouper (like the yellowedge shown here), various jack species and more on the reefs in the morning, and in the afternoon offshore, dolphin (mahi), schoolie yellowfin and blackfin tuna and wahoo (remember we're talking at least fairly light-tackle fishing; targeting marlin will be a different plan).

SOUTHEAST ALASKA

Best fishing vacation Southeast Alaska Sitka salmon
.Doug Olander

Think "Alaska" and you probably think "salmon" like this Sitka brace held by Sport Fishing's senior managing editor, Stephanie Pancratz, and publisher, Dave Morel.

Best fishing vacation Southeast Alaska Sitka cabezon
.Scott Salyers

Of course, that’s hardly the end of the story. In addition to halibut, the variety of species that a real light-line enthusiast with spinning or baitcast gear and, say, 10- to 15-pound braid, can enjoy may seen almost endless. Pictured here is a hard-fighting cabezon, one of the largest of the sculpin family.

Best fishing vacation Southeast Alaska Sitka yellowed rockfish
.Doug Olander

Using only metal ("speed") jigs and lead-head jigs/plastic tails in 50 to 150 feet over rock and intermittent sand, in one day an angler could very possibly land salmon (coho or chinook — or both), small halibut, lingcod, kelp greenling, cabezon and a variety of colorful (and oh-so tasty) rockfishes including yelloweye (shown here), vermilion, china, copper, quillback, black, yellowtail, blue, canary and still others.

Best fishing vacation Southeast Alaska Sitka lingcod
.Doug Olander

Despite the variety, this amazingly fun fishery is only rarely tapped. Most anglers seldom vary from trolling heavier rods for salmon or dropping 80-pound braid and two-pound rigs for halibut. That’s great sport, of course, but they’re missing out on the light-line option. Hook a decent-sized lingcod on a light spinning outfit, as Penn’s Hunter Cole did in this photo, and you’ll have a fight on your hands.

VENICE, LOUISIANA

Best fishing vacation Venice, Louisiana, redfish
.Doug Olander

Venice makes a lot of various lists in Sport Fishing's "Top Places in the World" project, and here's another. To start with, light-line (and fly) enthusiasts will find bull redfish in the marshes and ponds as well as all around the (Mississippi River) delta.

Best fishing vacation Venice, Louisiana, red snapper
.Doug Olander

But wait ... there's more! Such as: speckled trout galore plus jacks, flounder and black drum and out in the delta and beyond, cobia, king mackerel, red snapper (many of braggin' sized proportions like this one in the hands of Sport Fishing's Scott Salyers), gray snapper, amberjack, almaco jack, scamp and gag grouper, tripletail and other species.

Best fishing vacation Venice, Louisiana, yellowfin tuna
.Doug Olander

Though an overused term, it is indeed a potpourri in this area of the northern Gulf of Mexico, whether you fish strictly offshore or both shallow and outside. Lots of excellent skiff guides offshore inshore fishing and a number of charters run daily to the deep reefs and — for yellowfin and billfish — to the blue-water rigs (like that visible in far lower right of this photo).

CUBA

Best fishing vacation Cuba flats fishing
.Paul Sharman (paulsharmanoutdoors.com)

Cuba’s renowned sport fishing requires inclusion in this list. I’ve never been there, nor have most Americans; those who have fished there have done so mostly after some circuitous, back-door routing to circumvent the reality that our government continues to make it illegal for U.S. tourists to simply visit this country 90 miles from our shores. Eventually, with any luck, that policy will change and open up Cuba again. When it does, grab your tackle and head south.

Best fishing vacation Cuba tarpon
.Paul Sharman (paulsharmanoutdoors.com)

Reports suggest fabulous flats fishing and, as noted for the Bahamas, reefs and blue water await. It's worth noting that Cuba is one of the top destinations for the number of inshore slams (bones, permit, tarpon) awarded by the International Game Fish Association.

ANDAMAN ISLANDS

Best fishing vacation Andaman Islands green jobfish
.Doug Olander

It’s a mighty long trip to get here, but it’s also sure to qualify as one of those trips-of-a-lifetime for any angler. Though the Andamans belong to India, they’re located between that country and Thailand but much closer to the latter, in the southern Bay of Bengal. I’ve fished beneath the only active volcano in southeast Asia, Barren Island, that rises behind this angler holding a brute of green jobfish.

Best fishing vacation Andaman Islands dogtooth tuna
.John Pearce

Light-tackle ops are unlimited in these waters where anything less than 50- to 80-pound may leave you crying. This is a land of big, mean fish — during a visit here, I caught giant trevally, dogtooth tuna (one of which is shown), green and rose jobfish, red bass (snapper), various groupers, emperors and other nearshore gamesters.

Best fishing vacation Andaman Islands wahoo
.Doug Olander

A city block off the shoreline of steep-sided islands, we enjoyed repeated multiple hookups of yellowfin and wahoo. A number of operators offer fishing here; Google "fishing Andaman Islands." Note that for a good part of the year, it's pretty blowy here; February and March usually offer good weather.

ISLAMORADA, FLORIDA KEYS

Best fishing vacation Islamorada, Florida Keys, blacktip shark
.Doug Olander

Islamorada, Florida, is hardly a well-kept secret, and with excellent reason. It has the most amazing diversity to offer anglers.

Islamorada Fishing Itinerary Day 1: Grab your fly and light spin rods and hang on as a guide zips you north over Florida Bay's shallow waters to Snake Bite and various banks and channels to the south and west of Flamingo where you'll catch redfish, trout, sharks (blacktips, lemons, bulls), jack crevalle and more.

Best fishing vacation Islamorada, Florida Keys, bonefish
.Jason Arnold (jasonarnoldphoto.com)

Islamorada Fishing Itinerary Day 2: Same tackle — head west and south into crystal-clear pure-sand flats to find some of the Keys' biggest (and wariest) bonefish tailing. Look for permit as well, then add a tarpon for a flats slam.

Best fishing vacation Islamorada, Florida Keys, black grouper and mutton snapper
.Doug Olander

Islamorada Fishing Itinerary Day 3: Take your assorted jigs and jigging tackle on a reef trip (but don't hesitate to drop live baits) for big black grouper, mutton snapper both pictured here, plus flag yellowtail snapper, cero and king mackerel, cobia at times, blackfin tuna, African pompano, and the list goes on.

Best fishing vacation Islamorada, Florida Keys, swordfish daytime
.Mike Mazur

Islamorada Fishing Itinerary Day 4: Heavy-up on the gear and go for offshore pelagics: Blue water starts about five miles from shore. In winter, sailfish can be thick. You'll find blackfin tuna at the Hump. Or head out to 1,500 feet or more and drop near bottom for swordfish or even a huge tilefish.

BIJAGOS, GUINEA-BISSAU

Best fishing vacation Bijagos, Guinea-Bissau, tarpon
.Courtesy Julien Lajournade, Voyages de Peche

Named by Sport Fishing as among 14 of the world's top spots to catch big tarpon, the waters around this small west African nation claim the all-tackle record (286 pounds, 9 ounces; Patrick Sebile was the guide). Though the tarpon at left is a monster, it's not unusual to catch them that size in these waters.

Best fishing vacation Bijagos, Guinea-Bissau, leerfish
.Courtesy Julien Lajournade, Voyages de Peche

But the South Atlantic waters here offer more than just tarpon, including cobia, jacks galore, various snapper including cubera, cobia, leerfish (like the one shown here) and more. Anglers fish both from boats and, in places, from beaches. In/around the dozens of pristine islands that comprise the Bijagos Archipelago, you can find plenty of opportunities for jigging and popping.

Best fishing vacation Bijagos, Guinea-Bissau, ladyfish
.Courtesy Julien Lajournade, Voyages de Peche

GB is one of Julien Lajournade's all-time faves, and as editor of the great French fishing-travel mag, Voyages de Peche, he knows 'em all. Lajournade recommends Ponta Anchaca Hotel for luxury or, for a more hardcore (but always fishy) experience, Acunda Camp. Pictured, tarpon-sized ladyfish command respect for their amazing acrobatics.

CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS

Best fishing vacation Cape Cod, Massachusetts, striped bass
.Courtesy Mike Hogan / Hogy Lures

When it comes to sport fishing, the Cape has something for everyone during the year. The impressive diversity of species/fisheries in the immediate waters can be largely attributed to the bottom of the cool Labrador Current coming down from the north into Cape Cod Bay, and the top of the Gulf Stream that pushes water into Nantucket and Vineyard sounds and Buzzards Bay to the south, says resident Mike Hogan of Hogy Lures.

Best fishing vacation Cape Cod, Massachusetts, bluefin tuna
.Courtesy Mike Hogan / Hogy Lures

That produces stripers, bluefish, winter flounder, cod, haddock and pollock, depending on time of year, particularly on the Cape Cod side. These waters, often just within a mile or two of the beach, have been producing some outstanding action for bluefin on poppers or, like the one shown here, caught by Sport Fishing publisher Dave Morel while trolling.

Best fishing vacation Cape Cod, Massachusetts, boat angler
.Courtesy Mike Hogan / Hogy Lures

In the summer, anglers head offshore on the south side of the cape for a whole array of warmwater pelagics. Bottom fishers can try for sea bass, tautog, porgy and fluke. Shark enthusiasts can often find makos around. And in fall, you’ll find excellent shoals of false albacore and bonito.

CATALINA ISLAND, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Best fishing vacation Catalina Island, Southern California, aerial
.Courtesy Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce

Home of the legendary Avalon Tuna Club and considered by many the birthplace of big-game fishing, Santa Catalina Island is surrounded by light-tackle opportunities — both inshore and offshore. Southern California's offshore waters come alive with blue-water game fish in summer and early fall. — Jim Hendricks, Sport Fishing Pacific Coast Editor

Best fishing vacation Catalina Island, Southern California, deep sea fishing
.Jim Hendricks

The moorings and protected anchorages on the front side of the island of Catalina — located about 26 miles from the coast — serve as a light-tackle staging point. From here, anglers pursue dorado, striped marlin (to 200 pounds) and two species of tuna — bluefin and yellowfin. Light-tackle enthusiasts venture out with as little as 12-pound-test gear. — Jim Hendricks, Sport Fishing Pacific Coast Editor

Best fishing vacation Catalina Island, Southern California, kelp calico bass
.Jim Hendricks

There's a chance you might find a finning swordfish. Mako sharks ranging from under 100 pounds to granders also prowl offshore, and the smaller models serve as a prime light-tackle quarry. Along the shores of Catalina you'll find kelp (calico) bass, like this one caught just off the island. — Jim Hendricks, Sport Fishing Pacific Coast Editor

Best fishing vacation Catalina Island, Southern California, halibut
.Jim Hendricks

Other kelp-bed game fish here include California halibut (shown here), white sea bass (croakers reaching 60 pounds or more) and California yellowtail (amberjacks weighing as much as 40 pounds) as well as a host of bottom species such as vermillion rockfish and lingcod. Thick kelp beds, rocky structure and powerful fish pose big challenges for light-tackle anglers, but that make success all the more sweet. — Jim Hendricks, Sport Fishing Pacific Coast Editor