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Iconic Species Across the Nation

Information iconBrown trout. (Photo: USFWS)

National wildlife refuges provide high quality habitat for iconic gamefish across the country, whether for salmon in Alaska or for largemouth bass in the Southeast.


The refuges of the Northeast are great places for anglers seeking a break from the region’s noise and traffic. Striped bass (rockfish) can be caught at refuges from New England to Virginia: Rachel Carson in Maine, Monomoy in Massachusetts, the refuges of Long Island in New York, Blackwater in Maryland and Back Bay in Virginia. Refuges where you can fish for smallmouth bass include Wallkill River and E.B. Forsythe in New Jersey, Missisquoi in Vermont, Umbagog in New Hampshire and Moosehorn and Sunkhaze Meadows in Maine. Another highly sought species, brook trout, can be fished at and near these refuges: Moosehorn and Sunkhaze Meadows in Maine, Erie in Pennsylvania and Wertheim in New York.


The Midwest, which features the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers — and the Great Lakes — is known for northern pike, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish, brown, rainbow and brook trout and, in the big rivers, catfish. A few refuges to consider are Upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois; Seney on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and Tamarac in Minnesota. Another popular gamefish is crappie. “It may not be the most iconic species,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Dom Watts, an avid angler, “but, pound for pound, it’s a good fighter that will regularly take flies and lures.”


Few regions can boast greater fishing diversity than the Southeast. Largemouth bass, probably the most popular fish among anglers in North America, can be found at more than 65 national wildlife refuges from Arkansas to the Carolinas to Florida. Santee National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina is on the banks of Lake Marion, which is world famous for striped bass fishing and trophy-size catfish. More than 65 refuges in the Southeast also offer the chance to hook blue, channel or flathead catfish. A host of saltwater species, including red drum, snapper and snook, are available from coastal refuges.

Three different fishes in a collage
Top: Striped bass. Left: Chinook salmon. Right: Largemouth bass. (Photos: Ryan Hagerty/USFWS)

Rocky Mountain and Prairie States

The lakes, streams and other waters of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River and its tributaries offer quintessential American fishing. Fly fishing for trout and whitefish is popular in the Rockies at or near refuges like Arapaho in Colorado and Red Rock Lakes in Montana. Walleye and northern pike are highly sought at refuges across the Prairie Pothole Region like J. Clark Salyer, Upper Souris and Tewaukon in North Dakota, and Sand Lake in South Dakota. Two other scenic refuges that offer great fishing are Charles M. Russell in Montana, where paddlefish can be caught along the Missouri River, and Seedskadee in Wyoming, where trout fishing is good along the Green River. In winter, ice fishing is popular at refuges and wetland management districts across the Dakotas.


The Northwest is famous for steelhead trout fishing. Every year, people travel from all over the world to fish for these elusive and hard-fighting fish. Chinook salmon are also popular. Hanford Reach National Monument, one of eight Mid-Columbia River national wildlife refuges, includes 51 miles of free-flowing river and maintains a world-class fishery. 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.


From Texas to Arizona, the Southwest refuges have much to offer anglers. At Anahuac, McFaddin and Aransas in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico, saltwater fishing for red drum is popular. Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma and Hagerman in Texas offer freshwater refuge opportunities for largemouth bass. Trout can be found in higher elevations at refuges like Maxwell in New Mexico, and water-warm species are found at Bill Williams River and Imperial along the Colorado River in Arizona.


“Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges offer a great variety of fish, from the relatively small Arctic grayling to giant Chinook salmon that can weigh more than 70 pounds,” says wildlife biologist Dom Watts, who is based at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.9-million-acre refuge 150 miles from Anchorage offers top-notch fishing, notably for sockeye, coho, Chinook and chum salmon and rainbow and Dolly Varden trout on the Kenai River. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge offers world-class fishing for salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout. One other iconic place is the Canning River along the western boundary of Arctic National Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge, where Dolly Varden char and Arctic grayling are found. More about the state that boasts some of the best fishing in the world: “Float & Fish Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.”

Information iconDolly Varden char. (Photo: USFWS)