find the best places to fish near me

How to answer “The Best Places to Fish Near Me?” #1 resource: Your State Website

find the best places to fish near me
find the best places to fish near me

Exploring the State Fish Commission Website

When I retired and decided to find the best places to fish near me, I started with the PA Fish and Game Commission Website.  I happen to live in Pennsylvania, and the state website is a really good resource.  Not only do they have a link to the “Best Fishing Waters” by species, but they also have an awesome interactive map as well.

Let me tell you, when I realized 23 of the top 28 places to catch big smallmouth in Pennsylvania rivers were within easy driving distance, I realized how much great fishing I had ignored for the 30 years I lived here!

I think Pennsylvania does a great job, so I’ll cover all of the tools this state website has as an example of what to look for on your state’s website.

Maps Make it Easy to Find the Best Places to Fish Near Me!

Pennsylvania has 19 fishing related maps covering everything from trout waters to areas with great accessibility for the diasabled to maps of the numerous “Special Regulations” the state enforces.  These can be helpful to highlight local spots you didn’t know existed or hadn’t considered fishing.  

Stocking Schedules

Knowing what is stocked where is pretty helpful as well.  If you’re looking for Brown trout and all they stock in that water is rainbow trout, it could be a disappointing day.  But it also gives you some insight into general areas to look for for certain species as well. 

PA even gives you the exact dates of trout stocking that is searchable by county.  It is kind of crazy in a way, but they often rely on volunteers to help with the labor part of stocking, so from that perspective it makes sense.  And if you love to fish immediately after trout hit the water you can plan your trips.  But just a note for those that think “all the trout are gone” after a couple weeks:  Wait a minute – maybe I shouldn’t share this tip!

Here goes nothing: The last 2 years I have found trout in heavily pressured waters in August.  Waters that most call “put and take” – meaning there’s no natural reproduction.  This year was drought year, and there were still trout doing well – although the water was too warm to target them safely.  But the point is this:  learn trout behavior, and you will still find trout weeks, even months, after they were stocked.  You don’t need to fish immediately following a stocking.  And honestly, well acclimated fish fight better anyways.  

Biologist Reports

If there’s one thing that helps me figure out the potential best places to fish near me, it’s these biologist reports. Unfortunately, many states don’t make these easy to access. On my YouTube channel, whenever I mention “I know there are 7lb bass in this lake” or something similar, it’s usually not because I saw some dude post on social media.  It’s because it is a state managed fishery, and Pennsylvania often does management surveys where they actually catch and evaluate fish to determine the health of the population.  

This is an amazing resource if your state offers it.  It can give you information on whether fish are stunted, a population has died off or dwindled, or if a lake is really coming on strong.  

The game commission also does it to look for invasive or transplanted species.  Getting flathead catfish or snakeheads into a body of water is a bad situation and may require some sort of corrective action.  But in reality it’s just the best way to evaluate what management steps need to be taken to continually improve the fisheries.  

One of my local lakes which has become much more difficult to catch fish at has a much healthier and heavier overall population of bass.  But there aren’t as many “dinks” which aggressively feed, so the days of being guaranteed to catch a handful there have disappeared – at least for me.  A couple decades ago it was a decent crappie lake, but those are few and far between now that it is a “Big Bass Program” lake.

Special Programs and Regulations

Speaking of Big Bass Programs,  these types of regulations also help you find better places to catch bigger fish.  Some of the programs in PA are called “Brood Stock”, Trophy Trout”, “Big Bass” and “Panfish Enhancement”.   Knowing which waters fall under those programs can help you find bigger – and often more – fish.

Region Reports

These are essentially fishing reports.  They offer clues to what is biting where so you can get a more recent to the question of “where are the best places to fish near me?” And often it even indicates what bait and what time of day.  It’s like a very broad picture of the kind of information you would get from a  good local bait and tackle shop.  This kind of information is very helpful when you’re visiting a new state or location as well.

Fish Identification Guide

This simply lets you know what fish are in the state.  But it can be helpful – maybe you didn’t know a certain species was in the state?  But some states also offer fishing tips and habitat information by species.  

And some states also offer two other really important pieces of information on this part of the website or in it’s own location:  state records and angler awards programs.  With the state records, if you see that a record was recently broken in a certain water, it might be a good sign of a great fishery.  For example, the state record walleye was recently caught in a river near me.  It is not unusual to catch 25” walleye in that river right now while bass fishing.  It seems like they are literally everywhere.  If I were a walleye fisherman I’d be on that river as often as I could.

The other is the angler awards program.  Maybe one year I’ll put a focus on submitting for “Awards” or “Citations” as some states.  This year I caught fish large enough to qualify for five species so far, but it’s not the awards I’m interested in – it’s the information the program collects.  

Pennsylvania not only gives the length and size, where it was caught, and the angler’s name, they also provide the date and usually what it was caught on!   As a side note, in 2021 the same guy caught the largest largemouth bass and one of the largest brook trout that were submitted to the program.  That’s a good year!

Habitat Improvement / Conservation links

When you’re trying to figure out “where are the best places to fish near me”, these types of resources can also be good insight into where to fish for certain species.  In my case, how I developed my initial list of possible native trout waters came not only from the special regulations, but where I caught my first and then later my biggest native brook trout came from unlisted waters.  But, the watershed was mentioned in a conservation project.  Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper….

There may be other types of resources on the state website you use for the waters you fish.  Ohio’s website seems to be similar to Pennsylvania’s.  West Virginia doesn’t have all the same information, but by looking for the info I wanted I was able to find enough to steer me in the right direction.  It actually led me to a lake that was less than 30 minutes from where I grew up but had never fished before.  That day ended up being the best day of a tough spring fishing trip when all my favorite fishing spots of my childhood were flooded and blown out.

Hopefully this helps you start your journey to find better places to catch bigger fish and help answer the question “what are the best places to fish near me?”.  Let me know in the comments below the other types of resources your state website has to help you catch more fish.

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