The mountain air was crisp enough to warrant a jacket as we trudged in the early morning dew toward the Tarryall River at the Broadmoor Fishing Camp, which borders the 120,000-acre Lost Creek Wilderness, 75 miles north of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
My friend Jill and I were invited to learn how to fly fish on this trout-filled river high in the Colorado mountains, and as hosted guests of Broadmoor, we had a day ahead of us of learning the Zen-like art of fly fishing.
Before this past year or so, I wasn’t what I would call an avid fisherman. Sure, I’ve been out with a pole a couple of times, snagged some red snapper while fishing in the Caribbean, but I’m not a person who even owns her own fishing pole.
I’m changing. After several “bucket list” fishing trips, I now eagerly look forward to feeling that tug on the line when a fish hits. I like how my forearms tense as I grip and reel in whatever sea or river creature I’ve snagged. I love the speckle of sunlight on rainbow trout skin, the artistic dots that line its belly, and I love the feel of the slightly-slimy bodies in my hand as I pose for pictures before letting the trout free to swim another day.
I’ve been lucky to have gone fishing in some of the most astonishing places in North America and around the world, and the adventures I’ve had on the ultimate fishing bucket list stay with me long after these forays into the wild are over.
Whether you are an avid fishing enthusiast or an amateur fisherman like me, here are seven adventures on the ultimate fishing bucket list that all anglers should try.
1. Salmon Fishing In Alaska
One of the most beautiful places in the world to cast a line is the water around Noyes Island in Alaska’s Inside Passage, and one of the best fishing experiences in Alaska is at Noyes Island’s Steamboat Bay Fishing Club.
Located near Ketchikan, Steamboat Bay’s fishing guides take advantage of the salmon-rich waters of the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska, and anglers who stay at this luxury Alaskan sportfishing resort often brag of the numbers of king salmon, coho salmon, halibut, and lingcod they reel in.
The boats all slide out into the gray misty mornings as sperm whales shoot sprays of water into the air and bald eagles soar in search of their own fish. On most days, the fishing adventure lasts well into late afternoon, and you’ll come back to a family-style catered dinner, sore from epic battles with king salmon and hauling up giant, flat halibut.
While salmon fishing trips are in no short supply in this part of Alaska, it’s Steamboat Bay that makes this trip the ultimate adventure. Steamboat Bay Fishing Club is located on what was once the site of a thriving salmon cannery, but it can only be reached by boat and chartered floatplane from nearby Ketchikan.
After your day of fishing, the staff at Steamboat Bay not only filets all your fish right there on the dock, but they also vacuum freeze it and make all the arrangements to have your treasure flown home with you.
Did I mention the on-site massages, the traditional Slavic sauna, and the open bar? For a truly indulgent and pampered experience in one of the best salmon-fishing waters in the world, head to Steamboat Bay.
Pro Tip: The lodge is only open mid-June through August and books up quickly, and the experience isn’t cheap. While it’s called “the most expensive in all of Alaska,” serious anglers who want a taste of luxury in Alaska’s stunning landscapes will find the splurge well worth it.
2. Tarpon Fishing In Florida
Every summer, dozens of boats creep out into the waters around Fort Myers and Sanibel, Florida, with the hopes of snagging and conquering what many consider to be the ultimate sportfishing prize: the mighty tarpon.
Anglers from all over the world assemble along the Gulf Coast as part of the annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford Tarpon Tournament benefiting conservation education at J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, and Al Capone have all ventured here to hunt tarpon. Today, hundreds of fishing adventurers still seek out the challenge of reeling in one of these notoriously hard-to-catch beasts.
I was among the many hopefuls at the annual tournament, but like many others, I didn’t even get a hit. But 88 tarpons were snagged that day, and just watching their bodies break the water as they flip and twist in the air is a sight to behold.
This part of Florida is called “The Tarpon Capital of the World,” and in fact, the first tarpon ever caught was in Tarpon Bay off of Sanibel Island. Many fishing charters are available in Fort Myers/Sanibel, so you’ll have no shortage of guides to bring you out on this ultimate fishing bucket list adventure.
Because tarpon, known as “The Silver King,” can grow to more than 7 feet in length and can weigh more than 300 pounds, it’s vital to have a good guide with the right tackle and equipment to handle this challenge.
3. Fly Fishing In Colorado
For a rustic yet luxurious fly fishing locale, head to the Broadmoor Fish Camp. Located on more than five miles of private waters, this fish camp has some of the best fly fishing waters in Colorado, and each guest can try their hand at casting under the guidance and tutelage of professional Broadmoor guides.
While you’ll spend most of your time under the shadows of the towering mountains and among aspen trees while fishing, guests at the camp stay at one of the seven guest cabins, and when the day is done, guests gather in the Main Lodge prepared meals, drinks, and relaxation.
This lodge is also an ORVIS-endorsed facility, which means the Broadmoor Fish Camp has “unparalleled service, respect for natural resources, and an experienced, professional staff” approved by Orvis, the leader in fly fishing equipment and excursions.
There’s plenty of other things to do at the Broadmoor Fish Camp besides fly fishing, though. Guests can enjoy hiking, fly tying, cornhole, various games, or just relaxing on the lodge’s wrap-around porch.
Pro Tip: Overnight stays are available, but to book this fly-fishing adventure, you need to go through The Broadmoor website under the “Wilderness Experiences” tab.
4. Deep-Sea Fishing In Nicaragua
Not many people have heard of the Corn Islands on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, but avid fishing enthusiasts should definitely put this location on the ultimate fishing bucket list. We stayed on Little Corn Island, just a short but wild inflatable Zodiac boat ride from Big Corn Island, and the local fishermen in this small, 1.5-square-mile island know where all the honey holes are.
On our first day of deep-sea fishing, we hired a local with a small motorboat to take us out into the rough waters. Trolling my line from the back of the boat, I reeled in four large red snappers within two hours — enough for a wonderful lunch on the beach prepared by a man in a little hut who cleaned and cooked our fish for us — and we even hooked a barracuda.
The next day, we went out in the afternoon with a guide named Captain Elvis, who brought us to a honey hole that was so active, the entire bottom of the boat was covered in a myriad of ocean fish, which the men take back to their wives on the island. Most of their wives run restaurants on this roadless island, and because there is no real practical way to take all that fish home, most tourists happily turn over their catch to the locals.
The local guides and fishing excursions aren’t fancy, but they are fun. These guides on Little Corn Island have their own gear to use, and you’ll likely reel in tarpon, king mackerel, and even mahi-mahi.
Pro Tip: To get to Little Corn Island, you can take one of the three daily hour-long flights provided by local airline La Costeña from Managua to Big Corn Island, and then take a 30- to 40-minute panga boat ride to Little Corn Island. These boat rides between islands have limited departures weekly and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to purchase your ticket prior to boarding as soon as you can.
5. Spear Fishing In Mexico
While on a recent trip to Isla Mujeres, a small island across from Cancun, Mexico, we booked a morning to go spearfishing in the waters around the island. I was new and clumsy as a snorkeling spear fisherman, but my friend Tim is an old pro and managed to spear several edible delicacies while we bobbed around the waves and shot spear guns.
We booked our fishing bucket list adventure with Sea Hawk Divers, a small family-run business that offers all kinds of fishing charters, whale shark tours, dive tours, and more.
Our guide, Manu, even took our catch of the day and made a fresh ceviche for us, which he served up in the backyard of the shop with some cold beer. Serious fishermen can even stay at the dive shop’s Sea Hawk Suites for a package deal.
6. Ice Fishing In Door County, Wisconsin
I’m not a big fan of deep, bone-crunching cold, but ice fishing in Door County, Wisconsin, may be the “coolest” adventure on this ultimate fishing bucket list. When winter barrels into the Door, ice forms thick enough at Little Sturgeon Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, and Sister Bay for locals and visitors to set up shanties at the fishing holes.
Once just an activity that locals enjoyed, fishing charters are now offering ice fishing tours for visitors willing to try to catch the famous Door County whitefish or walleye.
Destination Door County has a nice list of local fishing charter businesses that will set you up for your first ice fishing adventure, but be sure to bundle up. It gets dang cold in Wisconsin in the winter!
Pro Tip: Always talk to local sports shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish. Remember, ice is never 100 percent safe, and you cannot judge the thickness of the ice by appearance only.
7. Tuna Fishing In Louisiana
Venice, Louisiana, is the tuna fishing capital of the world, and it’s where sportfishing experts go for the big catches. But bluefin and bigeye tuna aren’t the only things you’ll catch when you book a fishing charter out of Venice. From yellowfin tuna and red snapper to grouper and even mahi-mahi, Venice has some of the most diverse fishing in the world.
The many charter boats and guide services available in and around Venice guarantee you’ll be able to book the offshore trip of your dreams. It’s located roughly 75 miles from New Orleans, and redfish is so abundant here that Plaquemines Parish hosts numerous redfish tournaments throughout the year.
But if you’re looking to bag that trophy bluefin tuna or wahoo, your best bet is to book a Venice trip from January through March.
Pro Tip: Having the right guide and captain can make all the difference in your enjoyment of deep-sea fishing in Venice. The Louisiana Charter Boat Association has a handy website that lists all the licensed charters and captains.