TRAVEL BEST PLACES TO FISH By: Keith ''Catfish'' Sutton Best Fishing Spots: Forests Full of Fish The waters of our national forests offer some of the best fishing spots in North America, and it's time you take advantage of them Our national forests aren't just for campers, hikers and wildlife watchers. Superb fishing opportunities are available for visitors as well. (Photo courtesy of Keith Sutton) Mention national forests and many outdoor enthusiasts think only of hiking trails, forest campgrounds and vast acres of wooded countryside. Often forgotten is the fact that our national forests also provide a multitude of outstanding fishing opportunities. The United States has 154 national forests (NFs) encompassing more than 188 million acres. These lands, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, contain approximately 128,000 miles of fishable streams, more than 2.2 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and 16,500 miles of coastline, including some of the finest recreational fishing areas in the country. Visiting anglers can enjoy an amazingly diverse assortment of fishing experiences: trolling for stripers, jigging for crappie, fly fishing for wild trout, casting for muskies and the list goes on and on. Largemouth bass, bluegills, trout, crappie, catfish, smallmouths, pike, walleyes, muskies, redbreasts, salmon – all these and more are found in national forest waters. The types of waters surrounded by our national forests are almost as varied as the fish found in them. You can wade-fish a creek, ply a johnboat down a lazy delta river or canoe the rapids on a whitewater mountain stream. There are large reservoirs for bass boats and party barges, oxbows and bayous for pirogues and flatbottoms, and tiny ponds for belly boats and bank fishing. Those who prefer a wilderness experience can hike in to numerous backcountry streams and small lakes offering great fishing. Other waters are conveniently located near modern amenities such as resort inns, restaurants, gift shops, vacation cottages and contemporary campgrounds, or fall somewhere between these extremes. No doubt, there’s a lake, pond, river or creek somewhere on a national forest that offers just about everything you require from a perfect fishing spot. The only problem is finding it. Let us offer a helping hand with descriptions of a variety of blue-ribbon fishing waters in the nine regions covered by the U.S. Forest Service. Alaska Region: Mixed Creel in Tongass National Forest Tongass National Forest in the Alaskan panhandle covers 16.7 million acres, an area larger than West Virginia and Delaware combined. It’s the largest national forest in the United States, encompassing the islands and mainland of southeastern Alaska, including the towns of Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Yakutat and Skagway. Fishing is serious business in the Tongass, with many of the 75,000 Alaskans who call the area home earning their livelihood in the fishing industry and even larger numbers enjoying recreational fishing for fun and food. Anglers can pursue halibut, salmon, lingcod and other popular species in the surrounding saltwater. Freshwater fishing in the numerous lakes and streams attracts anglers, too. Cutthroat trout grow to trophy size in some of the larger lakes, while salmon and steelheads returning to the rivers attract both humans and bears. Many who visit turn their experience into an unforgettable adventure by staying at one of 150 rustic rental cabins reached by hiking, paddling, float plane, boat and/or auto. There are no phones or radios at the cabins, and no cell coverage, so you’re really getting away from it all. Eastern Region: Barrier-Free Trout Fishing in Chequamegon-Nicolet NF The 12 million acres of national-forest-system lands in the Forest Service’s 20-state Eastern Region are rich in water, with more than 10,000 lakes and 15,000 miles of streams. Diverse fishing opportunities await visiting anglers. Take home good-eating channel cats, crappie and yellow perch from Allegheny Reservoir in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny NF. Cast for toothy pike, walleyes and muskies in 1,300 Minnesota lakes within Chippewa National Forest. Float-fish in the Au Sable National Scenic River in Huron-Manistee National Forests on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. And much more. One of the region’s unique fishing opportunities revolves around the South Branch Oconto Barrier Free Fishing Trail in Chequamegon-Nicolet NF in Wisconsin’s’ North Woods. One of few of its kind across the country, this 1/4-mile trail northwest of Suring parallels the South Branch of the Oconto River, a quality brook and brown trout stream. The trail provides access to 11 fishing sites, ranging from flat spots along the shoreline to cantilever decks that allow the user to be out over the stream. Intermountain Region: Monster Sturgeon in Idaho’s Payette NF The Intermountain Region includes 13 national forests covering nearly 34 million acres within Utah, Nevada, western Wyoming, southern Idaho and a small portion of California. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of great fishing in that huge area, particularly for trout. One of the most exciting opportunities is fishing for huge white sturgeon on that portion of the Snake and Salmon rivers flowing through west-central Idaho’s 2.3-million-acre Payette NF. These prehistoric giants can reach more than 9 feet and 300 pounds or more. You’ll have to release every one you catch, but the thrill of reeling one in is unforgettable. The best time of year is typically April through the end of July. Cut bait, squid, herring and shrimp are all popular baits and are usually fished on the bottom of deep holes. Barbless hooks with a sliding sinker rig must be used. While some anglers choose to fish from the bank or their own boat, first timers might be better served by hiring a guide. One that comes highly recommended is Hells Canyon Sportfishing. Northern Region: Salmonids and More in Custer Gallatin NF The Forest Service’s Northern Region includes 12 national forests in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho and Montana, all of which offer extraordinary fishing for visiting anglers. Some of the region’s most diverse fishing opportunities are available in Custer Gallatin National Forest, all but a small part of which is in Montana. If you enjoy fishing high mountain lakes, Forest Service personnel can direct you to places where you can catch Westslope or Yellowstone cutthroats, Arctic grayling, golden trout or more common brook and rainbow trout. There are plenty of small streams to fish, too – more than 3,000 miles of them within the NF’s 3.1 million acres. Reservoirs across the forest hold trout, Arctic grayling and panfish – ideal for anglers of all aptitudes. And iconic large rivers like the Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone and Boulder provide yet another opportunity for trout, plus mountain whitefish. Pacific Northwest Region: Salmon in Rogue River-Siskiyou NF Nineteen national forests in Washington and Oregon are within the Pacific Northwest Region. Beautiful streams, high-elevation lakes, reservoirs and ponds here offer just about every setting one could ask for to relax and fish. Many anglers travel here to experience the unequalled salmon fishing. Five species – chinook, coho, chum, pink and sockeye – inhabit waters within Pacific Northwest national forests, including wild and scenic portions of the famous Rogue River flowing through Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon. Anglers there have a chance to catch big cohos and spring- and fall-run chinooks. Four other nationally protected Wild and Scenic Rivers – the Rogue, Illinois, Chetco and Elk – also flow through the forest, providing pristine environments and spectacular scenery for anglers to enjoy while pursuing their quarry. Pacific Southwest Region: Bass Lake Recreation in Sierra NF Eighteen national forests in California comprise the Pacific Southwest Region. One of these is Sierra NF, which offers great fishing on several large rivers, nearly 400 lakes, 11 large reservoirs and countless small streams. One of the most popular of these waters, located near the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park, is 1,165-acre Bass Lake, a popular water sports haven nestled in the pine forest at 3,400 feet. Visitors from nearby Fresno and Oakhurst come to enjoy water skiing, personal watercraft riding, sailing, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, picnicking and, of course, fishing. Among the 16 species of fish you might catch here are rainbow trout, largemouth bass, kokanee salmon, channel catfish, crappie and bluegill. Boat speed limits are restricted to 5 mph before 8 a.m., so mornings are great times for chunking and winding. Rocky Mountain Region: Panfish and More in Black Hills NF The Rocky Mountain Region, as its names suggests, includes much of the high country in Wyoming and Colorado. But the eastern half includes the plains of Kansas and Nebraska, and part of South Dakota, too. It’s in the latter one can find Black Hills NF, which encompasses some of the region’s most popular fishing lakes. One of these is 375-acre Sheridan Lake, 15 miles west of Rapid City, where anglers visit year-round to catch good-eating panfish such as yellow perch and crappie, plus brown and rainbow trout, pike and largemouth bass. Fly fishing is popular in Spring Creek below the dam, and ice fishing is popular on the lake in winter. Fishing piers are located at several spots around Sheridan. Southern Region: Trout in George Washington and Jefferson NFs If trout fishing tickles your fancy, the George Washington and Jefferson NFs in western and northwestern Virginia should definitely be on your angling itinerary. Some of the best trout fishing in the South can be found in this region’s cold mountain streams. These trout waters vary considerably in size. Many native brookie streams are so small they can be stepped across, and anglers may pass them up, not realizing they provide excellent trout fishing a short hike upstream or downstream. Ponds and lakes range in size from a couple of acres to 2,500-acre Lake Moomaw. Regardless of size, though, nearly all these waters offer superb trout fishing. Trout waters in the George Washington NF include the North River in Augusta County (brookies and rainbows), Ramsey’s Draft in Augusta County (brook trout), Dry River in Rockingham County (brookies and rainbows), Passage Creek in Shenandoah County (brook, brown and rainbow trout and the Bullpasture River in Bath and Highland counties (brooks, browns and rainbows). In the Jefferson NF, trout fishing is available in Middle and Jennings creeks in Botetourt County (rainbows and brook trout), Potts and Barbour’s creeks in Craig County (brook, rainbow and brown trout) and Big Stoney Creek in Giles County (brooks, rainbows and browns). Southwestern Region: Trophy Bass in Arizona’s Tonto NF This region includes 11 national forests in Arizona and New Mexico. One of the most popular is Arizona’s Tonto NF, embracing almost 3 million acres of rugged cactus-studded desert and pine-forested mountains north of Phoenix. Here, in the Sonoran Desert, is 1,264-acre Saguaro Lake near Mesa, a body of water that harbors an incredible array of sportfish, including big bluegills, walleyes, crappie, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, channel catfish and even carp and tilapia. Saguaro is best-known, however, for its impressive population of quality largemouth bass, which continue to grow larger every year. Lunkers weighing 5 to 8 pounds are common catches, and there are reports of some up to 12 pounds. Most are caught in shady areas along the lake’s scenic desert cliffs, often on soft plastics, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater plugs. The 2,200 fish-habitat structures installed in the lake also hold lots of bass. With a little homework, you’ll discover dozens of other exciting possibilities for national-forest fishing excursions. No matter what your preference – solo excitement or a fun getaway with the entire family – our fish-filled forests are ideal destinations for your outings this year.