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Saltwater Fishing

Information iconHobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. (Photo: Jessica Richards/Student Conservation Association)

Jim Burnham of East Hartford, Connecticut, has fished for decades. He frequently visits Florida. He recently discovered the joy of saltwater fishing at Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.

Burnham likes the remote feel of the Atlantic Coast refuge and its pristine sand beach, about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach. A deep trough is a relatively easy cast from shore, and there’s no telling what he may reel in.

“When I throw my line into that azure green-blue water when the conditions are right, I never know what’s going to come out of there. I never know when I see the top of that pole go down and I get a bite. It’s just a rush: What am I gonna catch?” he says. “I think that’s the biggest draw for me, the mystery of what it could be.”

He’s landed whiting, bluefish, Atlantic croaker and pompano.

“I’ve had a spinner shark troll my line and give me the biggest thrill of my life,” he says. He’s even heard tell of tarpon – silvery four-to-eight-feet-long fish – being caught from shore. “Not that you catch and keep tarpon. You’ve got to let them go. But what a thrill to see these huge creatures.”

And then there are the sea turtles that nest on beaches at several Florida national wildlife refuges, including Hobe Sound Refuge.

“It’s their home. It’s their place. I sort of feel like I’m infringing on their thing, but I know they come up mostly at night,” he says. “Just the knowledge that they’re using this area as a nesting area, that’s like the icing on the cake.”

A collage of photos with people crabbing and fishing on the shore
Clockwise from top left: Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. (Photos: USFWS)

About a thousand miles north, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia features Atlantic Ocean surf fishing outside life-guarded beach areas.

“In the summer, it’s better to hike away from the crowds who will be enjoying sunbathing, surfing, etc.,” says refuge ranger Aubrey Hall. Fishing away from bathers makes for a better, safer experience. “Learning to read waves is key, since fish tend to congregate in the sloughs between the shifting sandbars,” says Hall. “Waves break on the sandbars, so casting your line where the water is calmer will put your bait in a slough.”

The most common fish caught year-round at Chincoteague Refuge are striped bass and drumfish.

Other Beautiful Settings

Hobe Sound and Chincoteague are just two places within the National Wildlife Refuge System where you can fish in the sea. Here are a few other national wildlife refuges and marine national monuments that offer challenging saltwater fishing and shellfish harvesting:

Anahuac, McFaddin and Texas Point National Wildlife Refuges

These Texas Chenier Plain refuges along the Gulf of Mexico east of Houston offer opportunities to harvest red drum, flounder, alligator gar, blue catfish and blue crab.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

The Maine coastal refuge has nine designated fishing access sites from Kittery north to Scarborough.

Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

The northern California refuge offers fishing in the bay and tidal sloughs. Fish commonly caught: sharks, rays, jack smelt, greenling, starry flounder, English sole and halibut.

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

At the refuge east of New Orleans, Louisiana, fishing is popular along bayous, ponds, marshes and the lakeshore. Crabbing and crawfishing are available, too. Lake Ponchartrain, an estuary, favors marine and freshwater species, depending on wind and weather. The lake, marshes and bayous can yield bass, speckled trout, redfish, catfish, bream, sac-a-lait and pogies.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this refuge features 13 miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beaches and access to Pamlico Sound. Fish frequently caught include: flounder, red drum, Spanish mackerel, striped bass, Atlantic croaker, Norfolk spot, sharks, skates, rays, pufferfish, bluefish, speckled trout and gray trout. Night surf fishing requires a refuge permit.

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge north of Charleston, South Carolina, offers saltwater fishing in bays, creeks and off a pier as well as surf fishing from beaches. Spottail bass, spotted seatrout, flounder, sheepshead and black drum are found year-round. Shellfish harvesting is available in season.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod offers saltwater fishing for bluefish, striped bass and more. Shellfish harvesting requires a Town of Chatham permit.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Dumbarton Fishing Pier at the refuge’s headquarters in Fremont, California, is open year-round. Bat rays, leopard sharks, white sturgeon, striped bass and shiner surfperch are commonly caught.

Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge near Newport, Rhode Island, is renowned for saltwater fishing opportunities. Fish caught from shore include striped bass, bluefish, tautog and scup. Night fishing requires a refuge permit.

Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge on Florida’s Atlantic coast is a gorgeous place for anglers to try their luck at catching sea trout, red drum, black drum, snook and tarpon. It is also one of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in North America.

Pacific Remote Islands, Rose Atoll and Mariana Trench Marine National Monuments

Little-known fact: You can fish in marine national monuments with the proper permits. If you have the wherewithal to get to them, these conserved waters and lands in the Pacific Ocean offer unparalleled saltwater fishing opportunities.


Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced angler, here are saltwater fishing tips from that might make your harvest from the sea more plentiful.

Information iconPea Island National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. (Photo: Michael Halminski)