The Best Winter Fishing Destinations in America

This Southeast Louisiana town is famous for its yellowfin tuna action, which in winter centers around Midnight Lump and similar offshore pinnacles, as well as around shrimp boats anchored in the Gulf. Concurrently, speckled trout wait in ambush around inshore oil rigs and the deeper oyster reefs, venturing up mud flats and protected bays to warm up during calm, sunny days. Galveston, Texas With its many channels, oyster reefs, docks, and oil rigs, Galveston Bay offers plenty of structure and forage to sustain the region’s year-round redfish, speckled trout, flounder, black drum and sheepshead populations, which also reside in neighboring Trinity, East and West bays. Speckled trout, black drum, and sheepshead are also available in the marshes. Charleston, South Carolina Offshore winter action off South Carolina’s capital city features large numbers of blackfin tuna and a solid wahoo bite, and sheepshead, triggerfish, black sea bass, amberjack, and groupers abound on the reefs. Come February, pompano start to show up along the beaches. South Padre Island, Texas Located on latitude 26, just like Miami, Florida, South Padre Island, Port Isabel and Port Mansfield, some 20 miles north, rarely experience prolonged cold weather periods, so the fishing remains hot most of the winter. Sheepshead and slot-size reds feed around various oil rigs in Mobile Bay and, along with black drum, also forage around stumps and oyster beds in the Intracoastal Waterway and Wolf and Bon Secour bays. Gag grouper and small goliath come in from the Gulf and take up temporary residence along deep mangrove shorelines and creek mouths. During the colder months, several nearshore wrecks are flush with permit, some cobia, gag and goliath groupers, and a bit farther off the coast, kingfish stage over just about any hard bottom.
Atlantic sailfish caught off Islamorada, Florida
Sailfish abound in South Florida waters during the winter.

As fall yields to winter, and colder temperatures sweep across much of the country, many anglers stow away their tackle until next spring. But a few places, blessed with mild weather and fertile waters, continue to offer hot action when the fishing elsewhere comes to a screeching halt.

If you would rather catch fish when others bundle up and find other ways to pass the time, here’s a list of twelve top cities — in no particular order — to go bend a rod during the colder months.

Key West, Florida

Head south for big king mackerel in the winter
Lots of large kingfish spend the winter near Key West, Florida.

The southernmost city in the lower 48 is the winter home for many popular species, and with daytime temperatures mostly in the 70s, anglers can comfortably troll or live-bait South Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico waters for a variety of offshore game, headlined by sailfish, blackfin tuna, trophy-size kingfish, and dolphin. Bottomfishing the area’s reefs for hefty mutton snapper, gag and black grouper is also superb during the winter months. Meanwhile, tarpon congregate heavily in the Northwest Channel, and some large specimens begin to show up in backcountry bights. In addition, lots of permit and some cobia revolve around Gulfside wrecks until late spring.

Venice, Louisiana

Yellowfin tuna caught in Venice, Louisiana
During winter, yellowfin tuna is the top offshore target in Venice, Louisiana.

Venice winter fishing is excellent, inshore and offshore. This Southeast Louisiana town is famous for its yellowfin tuna action, which in winter centers around Midnight Lump and similar offshore pinnacles, as well as around shrimp boats anchored in the Gulf. Wahoo hunt around many oil and gas platforms that time of year, and so do amberjack, which gravitate toward the structures and suspend in midwater.

Bottomfishing for red snapper in Louisiana state waters is very productive during the cold months, and so is sight-fishing for slot-size redfish in the marshes and full-grown bulls around the outer shoals. Concurrently, speckled trout wait in ambush around inshore oil rigs and the deeper oyster reefs, venturing up mud flats and protected bays to warm up during calm, sunny days.

Miami, Florida

Swordfish caught night fishing off Miami, Florida
Deep waters off Miami, Florida, offer the worl’d best swordfish action.

With 100-foot depths just one mile offshore, anglers easily troll or drift the reef line or venture slightly farther out to the color change for sailfish, abundant in South Florida waters during winter, and a mixed bag of blackfin tuna and dolphin. Various wrecks yield gag grouper and smoker kings, and consistent swordfish action rewards anglers drifting or slow-trolling deep baits along deep-water humps and pronounced ledges. Government Cut, Haulover Inlet and Bear Cut hold plenty of tarpon, which often stage along adjacent beaches as well. Bridges and docks in the Intracoastal Waterway attract lots of snook, juvenile tarpon, and some gag grouper, while Biscayne Bay offers excellent chances to tangle with seatrout, bonefish, permit, and even a few redfish.

San Diego, California

Pacific yellowtail caught off Southern California
The Pacific yellowtail bite remains hot near San Diego through the colder months.

With rockfish and lingcod fishing closed during winter, many anglers from San Diego and neighboring Southern California towns cross into nearby Mexican waters for a memorable bottomfishing extravaganza. For those looking for bluewater action, runs to famous offshore grounds south of the border — from Hurricane bank down toward Mexico’s mainland — yield wahoo and trophy yellowfin tuna during the colder months, while the California yellowtail bite is good to excellent around the Coronado Islands, and the Point Loma and La Jolla kelp beds, also inhabited by plenty of calico bass. Winter action with California halibut up to 50 pounds remains steady off Imperial Beach and Camp Pendleton marine base all season, and spotted bay bass feed aggressively on South Bay’s grass flats.

Islamorada, Florida

Atlantic sailfish ready for release
Islamorada, Florida, offers incredible sight-fishing for sailfish in late winter.

The bountiful reefs of the Upper Florida Keys are a true angler’s paradise, even in winter, with lots of gag and black grouper, and some mutton snapper happy to accept bottom baits, and kingfish and Spanish mackerel intercepting live baits and lures from the surface to the middle of the water column. Sailfish action is superb in the area this time of year, and come February many chase schooling ballyhoo over the patch reefs, in water as shallow as 30 feet.

Swordfish remain a popular target out in…

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