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5 Drivable Fishing Destinations

Where to go for a great angling getaway without needing air travel.

October 19, 2020
Key West aerial photo
Key West might feel like the end of the Earth, but for many Florida anglers, at least, it’s a reasonable drive for some spectacular fishing. Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau

Many people aren’t yet ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in airport lines and then spend hours in the confines of a plane, which leaves just one option for anglers Jonesing for a hot and potentially exotic bite: Fuel up the truck and start driving, with or without the boat and trailer.

As more and more anglers hit the freeways in their quest for fishing freedom, choosing the best port within a reasonable driving distance has become a common conundrum. Of course, what constitutes a “reasonable” distance must be left to the driver.

We assessed a number of wintertime hot spots accessible by road, and landed on these five top fishing destinations that offer both inshore and offshore options.

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Sailfish jumping out of the water in the Keys
Sailfish are a prime target for winter anglers in the Florida Keys. Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau

The Florida Keys

You knew the Keys would be on any self-respecting angler’s drive-to list, right? Truth be told, the Keys features awesome fishing pretty much 24-7, but time your visit and choose your captain to enjoy the types of fishing you love most while scratching multiple challenges off your bucket list.

Top Ports

  • Islamorada: Drive for about an hour and a half south of Miami, and you’ll find that Islamorada consists of four islands, lays claim to the title “sport fishing capitol of the world,” and is home to the world-famous Bud ‘N Mary’s Marina.
  • Key West: About two hours farther down the road from Islamorada, the very last populated island in the Keys, Key West, requires no introduction. Let’s just say that if you can’t catch fish here, it’s time to take up golf.

Top Captains and Specialties

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  • Brian Cone, Islamorada, mahi-mahi run-and-gun — 305-481-7689
  • Nick Stanczyk, Islamorada, daytime swordfish — 305-481-0366
  • Ted Benbow, Islamorada, sight-fishing bonefish on the flats — 305-393-0363
  • Lenny Leonard, Key West, permit on the flats — 305-304-0154
  • Mike Wienhofer, Key West, groupers and snappers in the Gulf — 305-395-3474
  • R.T. Trosset, Key West, sailfish, blackfin tuna and other pelagics — 305-797-5693
  • Nate Wheeler, Summerland Key (25 miles east of Key West), sharks on light tackle — 305-394-2177

Seasonal Species

  • Warm months: bonefish, grouper, mahi-mahi, permit, snook, tarpon,
  • Cool months: cobia, mackerel, sailfish, wahoo
  • Year-round: blackfin tuna, redfish, sharks, snappers, swordfish
Tripletail caught in the Gulf
Anglers can sightfish for tripletail along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Doug Olander

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast

With mile upon mile of Biloxi Marsh in one direction and multiple deep-water oil rigs in another, the Mississippi coast provides wonderfully diverse fishing opportunities. Although this is a relatively small stretch of shoreline, you’ll find multiple jumping-off points, with guides working the waters year-round.

Top Ports

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  • Biloxi: Biloxi usually gets top billing in this neck of the woods, with the largest selection of charters of any port in the state.
  • Gulfport/Long Beach: About 15 miles west of Biloxi, Gulfport and Long Beach both support multiple charter operations.
  • Pass Christian/Bay Saint Louis: Head another 15 miles along the coast and Pass Christian offers closer access to the endless marshes of Mississippi and Louisiana, where reds and specks rule.
Redfish caught in Mississippi
Redfish are a year-round target for coastal Mississippi anglers. Doug Olander

Top Captains and Specialties

  • Bryan Cuevas, Biloxi, inshore and offshore red snapper, and fishing the marshes — 228-861-4627
  • Joe Allen, Biloxi, offshore yellowfin tuna at the oil rigs — 228-324-8862
  • Sonny Schinder, Bay St. Louis, inshore and marsh reds and specks — 228-342-2295

Seasonal Species

  • Warm months: cobia, grouper, king mackerel, red snapper, tarpon, yellowfin tuna, tripletail, flounder
  • Cool months: flounder, sheepshead
  • Year-round: black drum, redfish, speckled trout
Kingfish caught off the Carolina coast
Carolina anglers can catch king mackerel pretty much year-round. Chris Woodward

Read Next: Five Hotspots for Winter Redfish

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North Carolina’s Crystal Coast

The southern portion of the Outer Banks, ranging from Cape Lookout to Topsail Beach, the Crystal Coast has always been more of a drive-to destination than a fly-in sort of place, since the nearest major airport lies nearly three hours away in Raleigh-Durham. The Crystal Coast also has always ranked high on an angler’s list of must-go places, with inshore and offshore opportunities galore — plus the unusual potential of once-in-a-lifetime fish, when it comes to the winter giant bluefin tuna fishery.

Top Ports

  • Morehead City/Atlantic Beach: At the northern end of the Crystal Coast, boats leave through the Beaufort Inlet for intense offshore action, especially along the edge of the Continental Shelf at the famed Big Rock. Many anglers also make this a destination for catching false albacore on the fly in late fall, when the waters are often literally churning with breaking fish as far as the eye can see.
  • Bogue Inlet: About 20 miles south of Morehead, Bogue Inlet might require a longer run to the offshore grounds but it also means easy access to endless inshore waterways peppered with countless marsh islands and sand bars.
Multiple fish are available off the Crystal Coast
Wahoo, marlin, tuna and mahi give offshore anglers plenty of quarry to choose from off the Crystal Coast. Inshore fisheries for speckled trout and redfish also flourish in the marshes here. Doug Olander

Top Captains and Specialties

  • Dale Britt, Morehead City, billfish and winter bluefin — 252-725-5375
  • Stephen Draughon, Morehead City, offshore pelagics and winter bluefin — 252-247-5617
  • Sarah Gardner, Harker’s Island (just east of Morehead), false albacore and inshore fly fishing (spring and fall) — 252-982-6330
  • Gary Dubiel, Oriental (just north of Morehead across the Neuse River), false albacore and trophy redfish on fly — 252-249-1520

Seasonal Species

  • Warm months: blue and white marlin, mahi-mahi, sailfish, Spanish mackerel, wahoo
  • Cool months: bluefin tuna, false albacore
  • Year-round: blackfin and yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, grouper, king mackerel, redfish, speckled trout
Headboat leaving port
A headboat leaves port for a trip offshore. Courtesy San Diego.org

San Diego, California

West Coast anglers looking for a hot bite this winter can hit the road and head for San Diego, where both the bay and ocean have some serious draws. You might be tempted by a multiday voyage to Mexican waters for tunas, perhaps those mystical West Coast bonefish have you contemplating a road trip, or you might even set your sights on San Diego just for the halibut.

Top Ports

  • San Diego Bay: Used by bay guides and as home port for oceanic adventures, San Diego Bay features a large charter fleet consisting of everything from bay boats to 100-foot-plus, long-range sportfishing vessels with private staterooms and WiFi.
  • Mission Bay: Just north of San Diego Bay, Mission Bay offers many private charters for nearshore and offshore fishing, as well as a number of longer-range sportfishers.
San Diego bonefish
A surprise to many anglers: San Diego does host a fishery for bonefish. Jim Hendricks

Top Captains and Specialties

  • Bill Cavanaugh, San Diego, long-range multiday trips for assorted pelagics — 619-224-4088
  • Bill Schaefer, San Diego, bay fishing for spotted and calico bass, halibut, and bonefish — 858-277-8087
  • Frank LoPreste, San Diego, long-range multiday trips for monster yellowfin tunas and other pelagics — 619-226-8030
  • James Nelson, San Diego, bonefish on light tackle — 619-395-0799
  • Dave Trimble, Mission Bay, fly fishing for sharks — 619-296-1120
  • Duane “Diego” Mellor, Mission Bay, private day charters for tuna, yellowtail, and especially swordfish — 619-850-7575

Seasonal Species

  • Warm months: Warm months: bluefin and yellowfin tuna, barracuda, striped marlin, swordfish, dorado (mahi-mahi)
  • Year-round: bonefish, calico bass, barred sand bass, halibut, rockfish, sharks, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna (long range), wahoo (long range)
Wahoo caught in the Gulf of Mexico
Wahoo, averaging 50 to 60 pounds, can be caught during winter in the Gulf of Mexico off Venice. Doug Olander

Venice, Louisiana

Venice has earned a reputation as one of the top fishing ports along the entire Gulf Coast, thanks to its world-class inshore redfishing and relatively close access to numerous offshore oil rigs. Drive a couple hours south from New Orleans, and the asphalt ends in this fishing mecca.

Top Ports

  • Venice: Once you’re in Venice, you stay in Venice. Fishing is rightfully the primary focus for this destination.
  • Buras: While you won’t see much development on the drive south along Hwy. 23, you will find several fishing operations in Buras — about 15 miles north of Venice — which focus primarily on marsh fishing and seasonal duck hunting.

Top Captains and Specialties

Cobia found near oil rig
Cobia can be caught around inshore rigs near Venice. Chris Woodward

Seasonal Species

  • Warmer months: blue and white marlin, cobia, king mackerel, mahi-mahi, red snapper, tripletail, swordfish
  • Cooler months: sailfish, wahoo
  • Year round: blackfin and yellowfin tuna, red snapper, redfish, speckled trout
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