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Great Refuge Fishing Spots

Information iconKodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska offers world-class fishing for salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout. (Photo: USFWS)

Anglers are a secretive bunch. They’ll sooner understate the size of a fish they’ve caught than reveal their favorite fishing spot. We, in the National Wildlife Refuge System, are not secretive. We’re proud to say that more than 270 national wildlife refuges provide wonderful fishing spots for everyone. Learn about a handful of these spots from those who know them best.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

The refuge – which covers more than 240,000 acres and extends 261 river miles in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois – is an angler’s paradise. It is known for walleye, largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill, and the setting is gorgeous. “The scenic bluffs that rise alongside the river, tall crowns of the floodplain forest, and braided river channels of the Mississippi set fishing on the refuge apart from fishing in almost any other location,” says refuge ranger Katie Julian.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida

“Fishing at Ding Darling is special,” says Ken Kopperl, a New Jersey resident who has been coming to the refuge for more than two decades with his wife, Ginny. “Getting out there and catching a fish is just an extra. Sitting out in the boat watching the birds at the rookery islands and having the dolphins swim by you and having a tarpon swim under your boat is much more exciting than catching a fish. Often we have a manatee bump into our boat to figure out what we are. Add to that having your rod bent in half 20 or 30 times in an afternoon, you can’t beat the sensation of being a part of the outdoors.” Common freshwater species include largemouth bass, bluegill and gar. Saltwater species include bluefish, spotted seatrout, flounder, red drum, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bonefish and mangrove snapper.

A regular refuge visitor showing off three fish he caught
Fishing is great at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, says regular visitor Ken Kopperl. The abundant birds and lush habitat make the experience even better. (Photos: Jim Kuharich)

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska

The refuge offers top-notch fishing. It also presents angling challenges. Each body of water has its own fish ecology and regulations. Bears also can be a factor. Salmon (sockeye, coho, Chinook and chum) and trout (rainbow and Dolly Varden) are commonly fished on the Kenai River. Fly fishing is popular on the Russian River. Tip from ranger Leah Eskelin: “Follow the salmon. If you are fishing for trout, pay attention to the life cycle of the salmon and change flies to match. While salmon are actively spawning, egg patterns work best. But when salmon die and their carcasses begin to deteriorate, flesh flies are the name of the game. In the spring, before spawning salmon return to the river, young salmon are still living in the river, so alevin flies will be attractive to resident trout.”

Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington

The monument is considered one of eight Mid-Columbia River national wildlife refuges. Trophy bass can be found in side channels and along the river’s rocky shorelines. Chinook salmon return every fall by the thousands to spawn. Steelhead are found in the cold, clear water; however, all wild steelhead must be released unharmed. White sturgeon are found in the river’s deep holes. Most fishing is from motorboat. Kayak, raft or canoe trips can offer fishing, too. Bank fishing is also possible, with bass being the best bet. Tip from visitor services manager Dan Haas: “In the summer, when it’s more than a 100 degrees, the river is the focal point of life on the monument. Please stay well away from the [terrestrial] wildlife you encounter so as not to stress them.”

J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota

Fishing is permitted in 12 public areas. Northern pike and walleye are commonly caught. Tip from federal wildlife officer Tom Zick: “Fishing success is most often related to the amount of water flowing through the refuge. The Souris River is a shallow, slow-flowing river for much of the year. In the spring and fall, fish will migrate toward the water-control structures in search of food, which is concentrated at these areas due to the increase in the current of the water. Typically around these water-control structures are deeper holes in the river that have been scoured out by flowing water, and these deeper holes tend to concentrate the fish. Summer and winter fishing is very popular in these areas.”

Information iconUpper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Illinois.(Photo: Stan Bousson)