North America is blessed with fabulous, diverse fishing opportunities from sea to shining sea. For many service members and their families, many of the most productive — and often scenic — spots are within a couple hours of home. A roundup of U.S. hot spots, plus one Far Eastern big bass honey hole:
Homer and Seward, Alaska
The bottom-dwelling Pacific halibut is the largest of all flatfish, similar to flounder. The towns of Homer and Seward along the Kenai Peninsula offer great opportunities to deep-drop for these mild-tasting fish.
The degree of difficulty in halibut fishing varies depending on water depth, current and whether you're drift-fishing or anchored. Bottom-fishing depths range from 100 to nearly 1,000 feet, so hand-cranking your line to see if the bait has been stolen is a workout. The average halibut weighs nearly 25 pounds, but Alaska's state record is 459 pounds, and fish to 200 pounds aren't that rare. The daily limit is two halibut per person. Salmon and lingcod may also be caught on some halibut trips. Homer's economy is based on fishing, and more than 100 sport-fishing charter boats are available for bookings. All-day trips typically cost $200 to $250 per person. The Army's Seward Resort has great accommodations, amenities and a small fleet of fishing boats.
• Insider tip: Many halibut rigs are baited with cut bait. Spray on a little WD-40 for an edge.
• Close to: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is about 2½ hours from Seward, 4½ hours from Homer.
Cowlitz River, Wash. Steelhead trout
Dark olive with a chrome-colored belly and a pinkish racing stripe along its sides, the sleek steelhead trout is one of the Pacific Northwest's top trophy fish. Incredible fighters once hooked, they can leap several feet out of the water. The summer steelhead fishery targets hatchery-raised fish, while the winter fishery features wild steelies with weights pushing 40 pounds and more. Last year saw a strong showing of hatchery-released fish returning, resulting in an increased daily limit. The Cowlitz is often the top-ranked steelhead river in Washington state.
Fishing regulations can change frequently with steelhead. Check rules and limits before hitting the water. Be advised that the crowds of anglers can be thick at times. The river also has rainbow trout and runs of salmon.
• Insider tip: Fish along the bank or from boats. The access area at the Blue Creek Cowlitz Trout Hatchery provides a boat launch and popular bank-fishing site.
• Close to: Seattle-area military installations, about two hours.
Lower Sacramento River, Calif. Rainbow trout
For more than 50 miles south of Redding, Calif., the Lower Sacramento River beckons rainbow trout anglers. The river is fed by water from the depths of Lake Shasta, keeping it cool year-round and creating superb wild trout habitat. With numerous gravel bars, deep pools and some excellent wading spots with riffles, it's possible to find public access points and fish on foot. But to cover water and reach remote hot spots, drift boat fishing is recommended, especially in summer.
The average rainbow is about 16 inches, but some can reach 30 inches. Steelhead and king salmon also run the river. Spring heralds huge hatches of caddisflies. The salmon spawn in early fall.
• Insider tip: Fishing nymphs deep and mimicking salmon eggs are popular tactics. Various sections have different rules regarding keeping fish and types of hooks that may be used. Check local regulations before fishing.
• Close to: Travis Air Force Base, about 2½ hours.
• More info: http://www.troutsource.com/RiversFolder/LowerSac.htm">Click here or http://www.flyshop.com/adventures/lowsac.html">click here.
• Farther south: For trout in southern California, check out 4,500-acre Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet, west of the San Jacinto mountains. Trout are regularly stocked and grow to hefty sizes. The lake also has bass, panfish and catfish. It's an easy drive from San Diego.
Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, Colo. Trout
Eleven Mile Canyon State Park, near the town of Lake George, has a 3,400-acre reservoir stocked with rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, and sockeye salmon. Fish leisurely with salmon eggs on a hook, or fly-fish both the reservoir and the South Platte River, which flows out of the reservoir.
Part of the fishery is designated as "gold medal" trout waters with dry-fly anglers heralding success year-round when the water is open. Ice fishing can be productive in winter. Northern pike and carp are also abundant.
• Insider tip: A state park pass is needed to access the reservoir from the park.
• Close to: Colorado Springs-area military installations, less than an hour.
• More info: http://www.11milesports.com/category/fishing-report/">Click here or http://www.wildlife.state.co.us/Fishing/WhereToGo/HotSpots/HotSpotNortheast.htm">click here.
Toledo Bend Reservoir, Louisiana/Texas border Largemouth bass
Fed by the Sabine River on the Louisiana-Texas border, massive Toledo Bend Reservoir covers 185,000 acres of surface water. With loads of submerged timber, underwater vegetation, brushy shorelines and ample forage fish, largemouth bass have a lot to like about the reservoir, and the water is a regular destination for some of the top bass tournament tours. The reservoir has considerable public access points on both the Louisiana and Texas sides, http://www.fortpolkmwr.com/toledo_bend_recreation_site">and Fort Polk operates a recreation area on Toledo Bend.
• Insider tip: Anglers who match the lure choice to the habitat, time of year and water temperatures will usually find the reservoir productive for big bass. Best fishing is in spring, fall and winter.
• Close to: Fort Polk, La., 1½ hours; Barksdale Air Force Base, La., 2½ hours
• More info: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/toledo_bend/">Click here or http://www.crt.state.la.us/parks/intoledo.aspx">click here.
Dale Hollow Lake, Kentucky/Tennessee border Smallmouth bass
Dale Hollow Lake's 27,700 acres encompass 620 miles of scenic shoreline that are largely protected against development. It's considered one of the cleanest, clearest lakes in the country.
The smallmouth bass fishing is legendary. The lake also has good numbers of walleye and crappie, among other species. The underwater geography, with rocky bottoms and ledges, makes for superb smallmouth habitat. Smallmouths will attack jigs or grubs, or may finesse worm lures or jerk baits such as Luckycraft Pointer Minnows. Adjust tactics to water temperatures, which range from 45 to 80 degrees.
• Insider tip: Both the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife maintain jurisdiction over the lake's waters. A reciprocal fishing agreement is in place, meaning recreational fisherman licensed by either state may fish a large reciprocal zone within the lake.
• Another insider tip: The world-record smallmouth — 11 pounds, 15 ounces — came from this lake.
• Close to: Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Campbell, Ky., 3½ hours.
Lake Moultrie, S.C. Monster catfish
This 60,000-acre lake is part of the Santee-Cooper lake system created for hydroelectric power in the early 1940s. The incredibly varied habitat lends itself to excellent panfish and bass angling. What makes Moultrie and all the system's fisheries famous, though, are the absolutely huge blue and channel catfish available for anglers looking for a brawl. A world-record channel cat of 58 pounds has been caught, and blue cats can exceed 100 pounds with fish to 40 pounds common. Moultrie's sister, Lake Marion, is no slouch for flathead catfish.
• Insider tip: Catfish like deep holes and dropoffs and typically feed along the bottom. Fresh-cut shad, mullet or herring make good bait, but the catfish will also hit live-bait offerings, such as a bluegill. Fishing is best, and most comfortable, from April to June and September to November.
• Close to: Charleston Air Force Base, 45 minutes; Shaw Air Force Base, 1½ hours; Fort Jackson, 2½ hours; Fort Gordon, Ga., three hours; Fort Stewart, Ga., three hours.
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland and Virginia
Striped bass, aka rockfish
The middle and upper Chesapeake Bay rocks with trophy striped bass in late April and early May as the fish migrate to spawning areas in the tributaries. The lower bay loads up with behemoth stripers in late November through December. Fish up to 50 pounds and more are possible, and 25 to 35 pounds is common. Many affordable guides are available for anglers without boats. The inshore ocean fishery just off Virginia Beach is also a striper hot spot in the coldest winter months.
• Insider tip: Troll big bucktail jigs, parachute lures and umbrella rigs in the spring, and bait up with live eels and drift fishing near the lower Eastern Shore or Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in early winter.
• Close to: Military installations in the Washington, D.C., and Virginia Tidewater regions.
Black River Bay, Lake Ontario, N.Y. Trophy walleye
Walleye, some of the best-tasting freshwater fish to be found, make the Black River and Black River Bay a fishing hot spot from early May to mid-June. Steve LaPan of New York state's Great Lakes Fishery Commission says walleye move into the bay as soon as the winter ice goes out. They head into the river to spawn and then hang out in the bay until the waters normalize with Lake Ontario. Trophy 12-pound fish aren't unusual. The river is also an outstanding smallmouth bass fishery and has a fall salmon run, while the bay offers great winter ice fishing for yellow perch, many exceeding 12 inches.
• Insider tip: Post-spawn fish are hungry. Drift worms or troll diving crankbaits, ideally in something resembling an alewife (one of the walleye's main food sources here). The mouth of the river, where it empties into the bay, is a popular locale.
• Close to: Fort Drum, N.Y., less than an hour.
Lake Biwa, Japan Bass
Lake Biwa, near Kyoto, is several hours from installations such as Yokota Air Base or Fleet Activities Sasebo but could be worth the trip if you're looking for a big bass fix. The lake is Japan's largest, with 165,000 acres and 146 miles of shoreline. In 2009, it offered up a largemouth bass that weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces, officially tying the existing world record. Marinas, boat rentals and guides are available. Catfish, carp and landlocked salmon are also found in the lake. Ironically, bass are non-native, and some residents revile the bass as a nuisance species.
• Insider tip: Target bass with artificial lures or live bait. The brute bass caught in 2009 was reportedly caught on a live koi or live bluegill.
• Close to: Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, 3½ hours; Yokota Air Base, 4 hours.