In your wildest dreams: Nine of America’s top sporting destinations

Posted on: August 27, 2015, By: admin

The hunting or fishing may be very good in your backyard, on the grounds of a local club or at the wildlife management area down the road, but every sportsman envisions a dream destination that can offer up a spectacular outdoor experience. Here are nine of the best spots the U.S. offers:

1) Striped Bass – Caped Cod, Massachusetts

Fishing on Cape Cod, Mass., for striped bass can yield some impressive results. (Photo: Chris Megan)

Fishing on Cape Cod, Mass., for striped bass can yield some impressive results. (Photo: Chris Megan)

The migrations of striped bass down and up the East Coast are known simply as the blitz, which describes acres of stripers attacking acres of baitfish near the surface.

Stripers range from Nova Scotia to northern Florida, and a blitz occurs each autumn and each spring. During the fall, stripers leave the cool waters of their northern range to follow baitfish southward. In spring, they move north to follow the same baitfish and routes.

Anglers on the East Coast intercept the runs, which are heaviest from Maine to Virginia. In between are places famous for stripers, but few yield as many huge fish as Cape Cod.

Boats are great for chasing the blitz on the ocean and bay sides of the cape, but plenty of good fishing can be had from jetties, in the surf and around Martha’s Vineyard and other islands south of the cape.

Websites: Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce

2) Waterfowl – Chesapeake Bay

Canvasback ducks stop over in Maryland during their annual migration. (Photo: Eugene Hester/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Canvasback ducks stop over in Maryland during their annual migration. (Photo: Eugene Hester/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

The Atlantic Flyway extends from Canada’s Maritime Provinces to the Caribbean, and the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia is one of the more important stops along the way. More than 1 million ducks, geese and swans winter on the bay, and many others pass through. Such profuse migrations make the Chesapeake a must for avid waterfowlers.

The size (4,479 square miles) and diverse wetland habitats of the bay attract a wide variety of waterfowl, including green-winged teal, mallards, black and wood ducks, buffleheads, scaup and canvasbacks, as well as sea ducks such as scoters and long-tailed duck.  In Maryland, the annual duck harvest generally runs between 125,000 and 130,000.

Larry Hindman, wildfowl project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), says the best hunting generally belongs to clubs or individual landowners, but good shooting can be found in Maryland at Deal Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Somerset County, Fishing Bay WMA in Dorchester County and Assateague Island National Seashore only in designated areas.  You can find other public waterfowl areas through the MDNR website.

Website: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

3) Bobwhite Quail – Thomasville, Georgia

Bobwhite quail can still be plentiful in some areas of Georgia. (Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Bobwhite quail can still be plentiful in some areas of Georgia. (Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

In the 1960s, hunters in Georgia and Florida harvested millions of bobwhite quail — today, just a fraction.  Quail populations in the Southeast have declined dramatically over the past four decades (due in large part to changes in land use), but “Gentleman Bob” continues to thrive in the birthplace of bobwhite management — the Red Hills area of southwestern Georgia and northern Florida.

Coupled with selection logging, prescribed burns create an understory of great diversity comprised of grasses and forbs that quail use for cover and forage.  As a result, bobwhites are proliferating. Opportunities exist to purchase hunts on private land — such as the Sinkola and Millpond plantations in Thomasville, Ga. — but note that such hunts can fill up early, so book well in advance.

Good quail numbers, however, can be found in the River Creek and Silver Lake WMAs, both in Georgia.

Websites: Georgia Department of Natural ResourcesFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

4) Waterfowl – Stuttgart, Arkansas

Nearly 2 million ducks following the Mississippi Flyway pour into the area near Stuttgart, Ark. (Photo: Mike Wintroath/Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)

Nearly 2 million ducks following the Mississippi Flyway pour into the area near Stuttgart, Ark. (Photo: Mike Wintroath/Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)

When the rice farmers of eastern Arkansas complete their harvests in early fall, waterfowl hunters know their favorite time of the year is nigh: duck-hunting season. Nearly 2 million ducks following the Mississippi Flyway pour into the area, drawn to the shallow-water bottomlands created at the confluence of the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers northeast of town, and by harvested fields that have been flooded by farmers and hunters. More mallards wing through than any other species, but black ducks, redheads, pintails and canvasback also find their way through Arkansas.  In the Stuttgart area, public hunting is available on the Bayou Meto and Petit Jean River WMAs, as well as the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge (note that during the height of the season, these lands get crowded).

Website: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

5) Tarpon – Florida Keys

The flats of the Florida Keys are well known for tarpon, bonefish and permit fishing. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The flats of the Florida Keys are well known for tarpon, bonefish and permit fishing. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Both juvenile and adult tarpon are in the Florida Keys year-round, but come late spring, when the weather tends to be more stable and more tolerable than other times of the year, the migratory tarpon come swimming through, bringing greater numbers of adult fish — and hordes of angling tourists.

The migratory tarpon begin showing up in April, and the peak of the season is sometime in May. Fly-fishermen typically fish the ocean side of the Keys with hopes that blue skies and light wind will deliver sight-casting opportunities for streaks of leaping silver as big as 150 pounds. Anglers with conventional tackle and bait can handle even larger silver kings and tend to fish near bridge stanchions and current-filled channels.

Regardless of tackle, always bow to the king when he clears the water — else the acrobatic fish may sever your connection. Fish-fighting skills are necessary — and it will be a genuine fight.

Websites: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionBonefish & Tarpon TrustFlorida Keys tourism

6) Grouse and Woodcock – Michigan

Michigan accounts for a large share of American woodcocks harvested in the U.S. each year. (Photo: David Kenyon)

Michigan accounts for a large share of American woodcocks harvested in the U.S. each year. (Photo: David Kenyon)

Many hunters in Michigan live close to public land, which is a genuine perk come September when the ruffed grouse and woodcock seasons open. The Wolverine Stateaccounts for nearly one-third of woodcock harvested (some 79,000 birds in 2014) in the U.S. and is one of the top states for ruffed grouse hunting.

The birds are found across the state, but the greatest densities are in the Upper Peninsula — known to locals as the U.P. — and the northern Lower Peninsula, the fingertips of Michigan’s “mitten.” Forty percent of the U.P. is public land, compared to 30 percent of the northern Lower Peninsula.

Al Stewart, upland game bird specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), says that Marquette, Gogebic and Iron counties have the best hunting for ruffs and woodcock in the U.P., while Benzie, Montmorency and Otsego are best in the northern Lower Peninsula.

The DNR makes it simple to find places to hunt. An online interactive map allows hunters to search for habitat types on public land. And the agency’s seven Grouse Enhanced Management Sites (GEMS) are intensively managed, walk-in hunting areas.

Websites: Michigan Department of Natural ResourcesDNR interactive hunting map

7) White-Tailed Deer – Illinoise

A number of factors combine to make Illinois a prime destination for hunters looking for big bucks. (Photo: Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources)

A number of factors combine to make Illinois a prime destination for hunters looking for big bucks. (Photo: Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources)

Midwestern states are known for producing bruising white-tailed bucks, but several factors set Illinois apart, including the state’s status as a top U.S. producer of both soybeans and corn, which means that deer have ready access to food throughout their lives.

The federal Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs also increase the amount of cover habitat in areas that may be lacking.  The most productive counties for trophy bucks are in western Illinois — Pike, Brown and Adams counties — but huge bucks are also taken in Hancock, Iroquois and Randolph counties and dozens of others that have the right combination of agriculture and cover.

Websites: The Illinois Department of Natural Resources site includes a map that details the locations of public land.

8) Elk – New Mexico

New Mexico is known for producing trophy bull elk — a population built by careful wildlife management. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish manages its 70,000 to 90,000 elk with an intent to maintain a ratio of 40 to 50 bulls for every 100 cows. That’s not only a lot of bulls, but also a lot of lonely bulls.

While some natural resources departments in Western states host hunters in numbers nearly equal to the total elk population in the state, New Mexico Game and Fish keeps the number of hunters relatively low. It’s worth noting that while some states offer tags over the counter, New Mexico has a draw system based on quotas that heavily favors state residents. But since New Mexico can offer prime hunting for elks with commendable success rates, check out New Mexico’s draw requirements and your odds.

Websites: New Mexico Department of Game and FishNew Mexico Council of Outfitters & Guides

9) Salmon – King Salmon, Alaska

Opportunities for salmon fishing abound in the waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. (Photo: Bob Waldrop)

Opportunities for salmon fishing abound in the waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. (Photo: Bob Waldrop)

The name says it all — King Salmon, a small town in southwest Alaska that provides access to the Bristol Bay watershed and its run of the five species of Pacific salmon. The fishery hosts more than 37,000 anglers annually, but don’t worry about crowds — we’re talking 40,000 square miles of unspoiled wilderness the size of Wisconsin that encompasses five national parks and streams so numerous many of them aren’t even named.

Among salmon, kings and silvers draw the most attention from sport anglers; kings arrive mid-June and silvers in August.  In between, sockeyes, pinks and chums return to their natal waters — the sockeye run can reach 40 million. The Naknek and Nushagak rivers are best for kings but also boast strong runs of silvers.

From King Salmon, you can fish the waters of Katmai National Park & Preserve or rent a boat on the Naknek. Most other waters lie beyond road access, but booking a lodge will put you in the hands of people who will help you deal with bush flights, requirements for fishing Native American holdings — and handling brown bear encounters.

Websites: Alaska Department of Fish and GameTrout Unlimited’s Alaska program

 

This article was originally posted by Russ Lumkpin on USA Today.