WITHOUT A DOUBT, 2020 was a crazy year, and many travel plans have changed or were cancelled due to the pandemic. Traditionally, the winter months signal a desire to explore a new destination, fishing spots, or return to a favorite state, island or country that has a special place in one’s and angling memories.
And, while the winter months are often the “off-season” for many island resorts and much of the U.S. mainland, a few fishing spots still let you enjoy some prime fishing when the temperature drops at home.
Keeping in mind that travel requirements are changing daily, we’ve put together a list of destinations where fishing can be stellar and accommodations range from simple to five star. In these uncertain times, please check the Centers for Disease Control’s website and your state’s requirements as well as those of your destination before making plans.
Well known for its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, luxurious hotels and exceptional fishing, The Bahamas are a favorite cold weather = destination for snowbirds. Although winter isn’t the peak time to visit the islands for fishing, the close proximity of The Bahamas to the United States provides an opportunity to plan a trip on short notice by boat or plane when a stretch of warm weather is in the forecast.
Miles of sandy bottom flats laden with turtle grass throughout much of The Bahamas are home to bonefish and permit. On warm winter days, you can cast shrimp with a spinning rod or flies with the long wand to both species as they feed on the bottom and signal their location with tails breaking the surface.
On cool days when the wind can make flats casting difficult, many wrecks and reefs near and offshore produce tasty bottom species that include several types of grouper and snapper.
Offshore action is far from the peak of the spring season, but look for white marlin and mahi mahi offshore and sailfish closer to shore along the reefs. High speed trolling will produce wahoo of up to 100 pounds along the southern island chain including Cat Island, Long Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay.
With more than 1,300 miles of mainland coastline, Florida offers unlimited fishing opportunities. However, when thinking of Florida in the winter, two locations immediately come to mind for awesome fishing action.
If sailfish are your target, it’s tough to beat Florida where spindlebeaks are stretched out from the Treasure Coast south through The Keys. Leave the bathing suit at home and instead pack a sweatshirt, long pants and foul weather gear for protection from ocean spray if you hope to score with sailfish as winter cold fronts blast though the area.
The Gulf Stream is closer to the U.S. mainland off Florida than anywhere else, and northerly winds get the sailfish in a feeding mood. It’s often possible to see pods of sailfish chasing schools of baitfish.
Look for the best action off Stuart and Fort Pierce while trolling ballyhoo, but from Palm Beach south through The Keys live baiting with goggle eyes, greenies and small jacks is the popular approach. When conditions are right, expect to fly a rigger full of sailfish release flags from the Treasure Coast south to The Keys.
With more than 120 miles of roadway from Key Largo to Key West, the Florida Keys present numerous fishing challenges for winter anglers. In addition to the outstanding winter sailfish action, near-shore wrecks and reefs offer fine fishing for grouper and snapper that make excellent table fare. Barracuda, sharks and a variety of jacks add excitement to any inshore trip.
The famed backcountry, including Flamingo Bay, is home to redfish, snook and trout as well as sharks, jacks and barracuda. Tarpon, permit and bonefish are tough to find during the winter but often surprise anglers in the skinny water on warm winter days.
Like Florida, Mexico offers a plethora of travel destinations for winter-weary anglers. Mexico’s East Cape lies along the western side of the Sea of Cortez and offers a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Cabo San Lucas. Roughly 45 miles north of San Jose del Cabo Airport, the tiny town of Los Barriles is home to Van Wormer Resorts with three properties that provide plush accommodations. Van Wormer’s fleet of charter boats includes pangas and deluxe sportfishing cruisers.
Although the best billfish action kicks off in March, you find enough striped marlin, blue marlin, black marlin and sailfish offshore to make things interesting. Trolling with lures and live bait will produce strikes, and billfish often tail on the surface, which will have crews tossing live baits to draw hookups.
Also expect to catch mahi mahi, wahoo and an occasional yellowfin tuna. Near-shore action with cabrilla, grouper, Pacific sierra, snapper, yellowtail and roosterfish can make your arms ache.
Cancún and Isla Mujeres are also billfish anglers’ favorites where the winter sailfish bite can be off the charts. Unlike Florida where winter cold fronts drive the fishery, Isla Mujeres typically enjoys warm winter weather though trade winds often can make sea conditions a bit “sporty.”
During winter, sailfish are on the feed and are often found cutting through “bait balls” of sardines. Trolling with ballyhoo is the common approach and when conditions are right, expect to ring up serious numbers of releases.
Look for blackfin tuna, kingfish, wahoo and mahi mahi to bite between sailfish strikes during the winter offshore, while near-shore action finds snapper, grouper, hogfish, amberjack and barracuda receptive to natural and artificial offerings.
When it comes to bucket list destinations, Panama is an often mentioned spot for many die-hard anglers, and one place has been an angler magnet for decades. Opened in 1963 on Piñas Bay in the Darién Gap jungle, Tropic Star Lodge is a world-class fishing resort that receives rave reviews from anglers and travel critics.
Winter is prime time to visit Tropic Star Lodge as the weather is warm, and windy, rainy days are virtually non-existent. Lodging includes deluxe rooms, villas, suites and a three-bedroom home, and the fleet of reconditioned Bertram 31s and Hatteras 45s is equipped with the finest inshore and offshore tackle and is crewed by local captains and mates who worked with the lodge for decades.
Situated less than five miles from the venerable Zane Grey Reef, it’s a short run to catch blue marlin, black marlin, sailfish, tuna, mahi mahi and wahoo. Should you tire of catching billfish, the waters near the lodge are home to monster roosterfish as well as the very tasty cubera snapper, grouper, jacks and tarpon.
Another gem for anglers is Los Sueños Resort & Marina in Costa Rica. Californian developer Bill Royster discovered the Herradura Bay area’s beauty and sampled its fishing in the early 1990s. Royster saw the fishing potential of the area and envisioned the creation of a world-renowned destination resort.
Today, the marina harbors many American boats, who in fall make the journey through the Panama Canal either on their own or aboard a transport ship to cash in on the area’s fabulous and famous billfish.
December through April is the region’s prime time, when excellent numbers of sailfish, blue marlin, black marlin and striped marlin as well as mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna and wahoo swim relatively close to shore. Winter is the region’s dry season, so you can expect to rarely encounter rain and count on hot weather and flat calm seas that make this an ideal spot for anglers who are not rough water fans.
Los Sueños Resort offers a wide range of luxury accommodations including a full-service Marriott Hotel within the resort. Visitors who want the ultimate in luxury can rent single-family villas or one-, two- or three-bedroom condos. Amenities include a golf course, swimming pool, hiking trails, zip lines, spa and private beach club.
Maverick Sportfishing offers a fleet of excellent charter boats ranging from 32 to 50 feet with English-speaking crews and the finest tackle and gear. Expect to get arm weary here as Pacific sailfish run larger than their Atlantic cousins, and days of releasing 20 or more are common during winter.
The Dominican Republic is one of the few destinations where catching multiple blue marlin on a single day is more common than rare. Winter is a great time to visit the DR, as most of the blue ones caught then are less than 300 pounds, making this a light-tackle haven.
Expect to find blue marlin anywhere from minutes away from the slip to about 50 miles away, based on the part of the island you sail from. Best action for blue marlin occurs on the days leading up to a full moon. White marlin is a rare catch here, but you can tangle with yellowfin tuna, wahoo and mahi mahi during the winter as well.
Most of the pros work the areas where FADs (fish attracting devices) are deployed as they attract bait that draws gamefish. Marina Casa de Campo is right in the heart of the action and is the gold standard on the island. In addition to their world-class marina, land accommodations include lavish rooms, villas and suites. Three championship golf courses test your skills, and there’s plenty of watersports and shopping to enjoy.