Best National Parks for Fishing in the U.S.

Oct 12, 2023 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Few things can compare to fishing in a national park. The serene beauty and the variety of fish make casting a line in these preserves a must for any bucket list. The United States is blessed with many incredible fishing spots, but its national parks are the best. Even among these, a few places stand out. Let’s take a look at the best national parks for fishing in the U.S.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and one of the largest national parks in the country. The park boasts a wide variety of waters to fish in. With more than a hundred pristine lakes and thousands of miles of curvy rivers and streams, you’ll pretty much be spoiled for choice.

Yellowstone National Park

As many as 50,000 anglers visit the park each season. You would think that such a large number would endanger the fish population, but thanks to the clear-cut regulations, anglers can actually assist conservation efforts in Yellowstone. Cutthroat Trout is a native treasure, and there’s a big effort to preserve it in these waters. All Cutthroats are catch and release only.

Thankfully, there’s an abundance of other fish to go for, like Brown and Rainbow Trout. The Park also encourages you to fish and keep (or kill) the invasive Lake Trout, since this fish is competing for the same food sources as Cutthroat.

What Are the Best Fishing Spots in Yellowstone National Park?

There’s no shortage of great fishing spots in Yellowstone. Depending on what kind of trip you want, you should visit:

  • Firehole River – This place is amazing for Brown and Rainbow Trout fishing. You’ll be surrounded by thermal springs and exhilarating wildlife.
  • Yellowstone River – Black Canyon, just south of Yellowstone Lake, is filled with Cutthroat Trout.
  • Grebe Lake – This is one of the few spots outside of Alaska with Arctic Grayling.

When Is the Fishing Season Open in Yellowstone National Park?

The fishing season in Yellowstone begins on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and runs through the first Sunday in November. However, several ponds and lakes in the park are open later than that, so be sure to consult the regional regulations.

Do I Need a License to Fish in Yellowstone National Park?

Yes, you do. All anglers older than 16 must have a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing license. State fishing licenses are not valid within the park and therefore aren’t required. You can get one of three valid park fishing permits on offer:

  • Three-day permit – $18.00
  • Seven-day permit – $25.00
  • Season permit – $40.00

You can find more information on licensing here. Keep in mind that lead fishing tackle and barbed fishing hooks are banned in Yellowstone National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

With more than 11 million visitors each year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the single most popular national park in the United States. It stretches along the Tennessee–North Carolina border, and is one of the largest parks in the country.

Lake Santeetlah, Great Smoky Mountains

The park offers over 2,000 miles of streams and rivers, all teeming with fish. The smaller streams are full of Brook and Rainbow Trout, whereas the bigger ones are brimming with Smallmouth Bass.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an excellent example of how conservation can benefit anglers over the long run. Thanks to a successful 30-year Brown Trout restoration effort, 2006 saw the fish made available for anglers for the first time since 1976. Today, the population is strong and stable.

When Is the Fishing Season Open in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

The fishing season is open year-round in Great Smoky Mountains. Fishing is allowed from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sun down.

Do I Need a Fishing License in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Yes, you do. With the exception of Gatlinburg and Cherokee (which require special permits), your Tennessee and/or North Carolina license should cover you while fishing in the park. There are no licenses for sale in the park itself, so make sure you buy one ahead of time.

In Tennessee, residents and nonresidents age 13 and older must have a valid license. Seniors 65 and older may obtain a special permit from the state. The same goes for North Carolina, but the age limits are 16 for residents and nonresidents, and 70 for seniors.

What Are the Bag Limits for Fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

You can keep up to five Brook, Rainbow, and Brown Trout or Smallmouth Bass or a combination of these, per day. The combined total of fish you can keep per day must not exceed five. You may keep up to twenty Rock Bass in addition to the limit above.

The size limits for these Trout and Smallmouth Bass are 7 inches minimum. Rock Bass has no minimum size required.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in Montana is often dubbed the “Crown of The Continent.” Take one look at this unblemished land, and you’ll quickly see why. This incredible ecosystem is home to a wide variety of animals and plants. Grizzly bears, moose, lynxes, and wolverines have called this place home for thousands of years. The park also boasts one of the richest fossil sites on the continent.

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park

Fishing-wise, the gin clear waters of Glacier National Park have a lot to offer. There are more than 20 fish species on offer in the park. You’ll have a lot of Bull and Rainbow Trout, Northern Pike, and Whitefish to go for. Cutthroat and Brook Trout are plentiful, as well as Kokanee Salmon and Grayling.

If you’re fishing west of the Continental Divide, you’ll need to release any Cutthroats you catch. However, you’ll be able to keep up to two Cutties if you’re fishing in Hidden, Evangeline, and Camas Lakes.  Fishing for Bull Trout is catch and release throughout the park.

Like Yellowstone, all use of lead for fishing is strictly forbidden. To ensure fish survival post-release, only artificial lures and flies are allowed when fishing in Glacier National Park.

When Is the Fishing Season Open in Glacier National Park?

The fishing season is open from the third Saturday in May through November 30. There are a few exceptions:

Do I Need a Fishing License in Glacier National Park?

No, you don’t. The only area where you’ll need a Montana fishing license is the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. For licensing details, you can download the official Montana fishing regulations booklet here.

Everglades National Park

The Everglades are a natural wonderland like no other. This World Heritage Site is a perfect window into what Florida looked like before modern development took over. The park provides a refuge for a number of endangered animals like manatees, Florida panthers, and American crocodiles.

Everglades National Park

If you’re serious about fishing, casting a line in Everglades National Park is a must. The species here are almost entirely different from all the other national parks in the country. The park is dotted with amazing fishing areas like Whitewater Bay, Florida Bay, and the southern part of the Ten Thousand Islands.

The waters of Whitewater Bay are a prime fishery for Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Tarpon. To the north, the shallows around the Ten Thousand Islands offer an abundance of Redfish and Speckled Trout. To the south, Florida Bay is teeming with Snook, Cobia, and Permit. If you prefer freshwater fishing, the backcountry lakes and canals feature Peacock and Largemouth Bass in good numbers.

Do I Need a Fishing License in Everglades National Park?

Yes, you do. Anglers age 16 and above will require separate freshwater and saltwater Florida fishing licenses. The price for each is $17.00 for three days of fishing. Florida residents fishing from shore do not need a license. For more information, click here.

A word of warning: High levels of mercury have been found in Everglades Bass. You should refrain from eating Bass caught north of the Main Park Road. If you’re fishing in saltwater, keep in mind that elevated levels of mercury have been found in Spotted Seatrout, Catfish, Bluefish, Jack Crevalle, and Ladyfish.

Acadia National Park

The rocky coast of Maine is home to one of the most picturesque national parks in the country. The park offers a wide range of fishing options. You can enjoy lake and pond fishing for Brook Trout, Landlocked Salmon, and Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. Alternatively, you can venture into the ocean to hook a Mackerel, Bluefish, or Striper.

Acadia National Park

Surrounding Mount Desert Island and a few neighboring islands, Acadia’s fisheries are divided into the North Region and South Region. While the North is abundant in cold-water fish, the South is stocked with warm-water species. The seasons and bag limits differ depending on what county you’d like to fish in. For more information on fishing regulations, click here.

Do I Need a Fishing License in Acadia National Park?

Anglers older than 16 will need a license for freshwater fishing in the park. However, you don’t need a license for fishing in the ocean.

  • A one-day license is $11.00, for residents and non-residents alike.
  • Seasonal licenses cost $25.00 for residents and $64.00 for non-residents

Non-residents also have available multi-day options:

  • A one-day license for $23.00
  • A seven-day license for $43.00
  • A 15-day license for $47.00

It’s virtually impossible to say which of these is the best national park for fishing. Pick any of them, and your fishing adventure of a lifetime is guaranteed. Or better yet, call it a bucket list, and get your rods ready!

Your turn. Which are the best national parks for fishing, in your opinion? Which national park would you like to fish in next? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sean is an optometrist who left his day job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.

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