Fishing the Fifty
My Quest to Fish All 50 States
Questions and Answers
If you don't see your question here, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have to catch a fish in each state?
YES! While any serious fisherman knows that fishing does not always mean catching, I made it my goal to catch a fish in each state, not just put a line in the water. The fish also has to be photographed, so reeling in a monster only to have it break off at the boat would not count as catching a fish either.
What kind of tackle do you use?
I generally use spinning or casting rods and light tackle whenever possible because I find light tackle fishing to offer the most enjoyable fight. Out of respect to the guides, the exact tackle and techniques used, as well as the specific locations fished, will remain secret. If you are curious, please contact the guides directly, or, better yet, book a trip with them!
Do you practice catch and release?
Yes, whenever possible. I would much prefer to have trophy fish fight again than to harvest them, especially when I am far from home and have no cheap means of getting my fish back to Virginia. Plus, I enjoy fishing for the sake of fishing, so going back to the dock after limiting out instead of fishing the full time does not appeal to me.
That being said, if the guide insists on keeping fish, I acquiesce. For instance, in the places I fished in Maryland, Mississippi, New York, and Ohio the guides wanted to keep fish because people around the marina expect to see coolers full of fish, so returning to the dock without fish reflects poorly on the captain and may cost him business. In Indiana and Illinois, we targeted mature salmon returning to the streams to spawn; however, no natural reproduction occurs, and those fish will die without spawning, meaning that harvesting them does not damage the ecosystem. I will also point out that, in five of those states, the guide allowed me to do catch and release once I reached my limit.
How did you decide which fish to target, where to fish, etc.?
I generally tried to fish for trophy fish and, if possible, fish species that are not found in Virginia. I did extensive research about the fish for which each state had good guides, then contacted the guides to ask about the best times to target the trophy fish in that species. I would then try to match that time with the optimal trophy time for neighboring states’ species so I could combine several states in a trip.
Occasionally, I would fish the same body of water in multiple states. For example, I fished Lake Michigan from Illinois one day and then from Wisconsin the next.
I was very fortunate that many good fishing opportunities in neighboring states were not more than four or five hours apart, so I could fish for eight hours in one state and then subsequently drive to the next state for a full day of fishing the next day.
I tried to do at least two states on each trip, which cut down significantly on the time and money I had to spend to complete this quest. However, only once (Minnesota) did I deliberately fish a state during a time that was not regarded to be one of the better, or best, times of the year.
When did you start your quest?
I began my quest by fishing in Nevada on April 21st, 2007. I was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party and was eager for something to do outside other than sit by a pool. I had never fished with a guide before, nor had I ever fished outside of Virginia. Even though I did not catch much of anything, I had such a great time fishing in a new place that I decided to make it my goal to fish every state.
How many states did you typically fish in a year?
I fished an average of six states each year. In a given year, I had at least one multiple-state trip that involved flying (e.g., Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota) and at least one state I could drive to in one day, fish the next day, and then head back to Virginia that night. If I had to fly, I usually did multiple states so as to reduce costs as much as possible.
How many days do you fish in each state?
In fishing the 50 states, I fished only one day in each in 40 of them. There were a variety of reasons for fishing more than one day in the other states. For some states (e.g., Arkansas and Idaho), I did not want to choose between two excellent guides on two different bodies of water. For other states (e.g., Arizona), I already had my end goal of Hawaii in spring 2015 set and I fished multiple days to ensure I completed the state. There were only three states that I planned only one day for, did not catch anything, and therefore had to return.
In addition to Virginia, which I have fished hundreds of times since catching my first fish with my dad on a local lake as a kid, I have returned to 13 more states (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming) after catching at least one fish in the state my first time, and I hope to return to many more.
Did you tell the guides you fished with about your quest?
Sometimes, but not at first, and never when I was booking the trip. I wanted to be sure that I was treated the same way as any customer would be, and not differently because the guide thought he could get good publicity out of treating me well and having my recommendation posted on a website.
In how many states did you catch at least one trophy fish?
Of the 37 states with official trophy fish programs, I caught at least one trophy fish in 33 of them.
Alabama: 38-inch flathead catfish [minimum is 38 inches]
Arkansas: 38-inch (28-pound); 39-inch (25-pound); and 43.5-inch (38-pound) stripers [minimum 25 pounds]
Colorado: 39-inch (32-pound) and 37-inch (25-pound) lake trout [minimum is 32 inches]
Delaware: 39-inch, 27-pound striper [minimum is 37 inches]
Florida: 27.5-inch and 24.5-inch largemouth bass [minimum is 24 inches]
Georgia: five rainbow trout meeting or exceeding the 20-inch trophy minimum, with the heaviest being 10 pounds and 23 inches
Illinois: 12-pound coho salmon [minimum is 10 pounds]
Iowa: 11.5-inch yellow bass [minimum is 10 inches]
Kansas: 39-inch, 17.8-pound channel catfish [minimum is 33 inches]
Kentucky: 37-inch, 17.2 pound flathead [minimum is 35 inches]
Maryland: 43.5-inch (40-pound) and 40-inch striper [minimum is 40 inches] and 8.5-foot, 250-pound sand tiger shark
Massachusetts: 900-pound, 115-inch bluefin tuna and 16-inch Atlantic mackerel.
Michigan: 42-inch musky [minimum is 42 inches]
Minnesota: four lake sturgeon exceeding the 54-inch minimum, with the biggest being 68.5 inches and 81 pounds
Missouri: 27-inch shovelnose sturgeon [minimum is 24 inches]
Nebraska: 24.5-inch hybrid striped bass [minimum is 24 inches]
Nevada: 10-pound Lahontan cutthroat trout [minimum is 10 pounds]
New Hampshire: 24-inch lake Atlantic salmon [minimum is 24 inches]
New Jersey: 43-inch (30-pound) and 46.75-inch (34-pound) stripers [minimum is 42 inches]
New Mexico: 24-inch white bass [minimum is 15 inches]
New York: 10.5-pound and 10-pound walleye [minimum is 8 pounds]
North Carolina: 12-inch white perch [minimum is 12 inches]
North Dakota: 18 channel catfish exceeding the 30-inch trophy minimum, with the heaviest being 19.2 pounds and 35 inches
Ohio: 29-inch, 10-pound walleye [minimum is 28 inches]
Pennsylvania: 43-inch (32.2-pound), 40.5-inch (28.8-pound), and 36-inch (19.2-pound) flathead [minimum is 34 inches]
South Dakota: six smallmouth bass exceeding the three-pound minimum, with the biggest being 19 inches and 4 pounds, 3 ounces
Tennessee: 48-pound, 42-inch blue catfish [minimum is 34 inches]
Texas: 81.5-inch, 187-pound alligator gar [minimum is 72 inches]
Vermont: 24-inch Atlantic salmon and 14-inch cisco (lake herring) [minimums are 24 inches and 13 inches, respectively]
Virginia: trophies in 19 different species
West Virginia: 25-inch channel catfish [minimum is 25 inches]
Wisconsin: 30-inch coho salmon [minimum is 30 inches]
Wyoming: 49-pound (46-inch) and 23-pound (36-inch) lake trout [minimum is 36 inches] and 14 kokanee exceeding the 20-inch trophy minimum, with the biggest being 23 inches.
For the 13 states without official trophy fish programs, I used the In-Fisherman Master Angler size chart to determine trophies. I have never read or seen anything produced by In-Fisherman, but many guides speak highly of it and its trophy size chart seems reasonable when compared to official trophy programs in various states. For the nine states in which I caught a fish listed on In-Fisherman’s Master Angler size chart, I caught what would have been a trophy fish in three of them.
Arizona: 22-inch, 8-pound largemouth [In-Fisherman minimum is 22 inches]
Indiana: 14-pound steelhead [In-Fisherman minimum is 14 pounds]
Utah: 22-pound, 40-inch lake trout [In-Fisherman minimum is 35 inches]
Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Oregon did not have official programs OR fish species listed on In-Fisherman for potential award. This was also true for the kokanee salmon in California. Please see description of “unofficial” trophies in question 11 for discussion on how I dealt with determining that my biggest Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Oregon fish were trophies.
Of how many species did you catch at least one trophy?
So far, I have caught at least one trophy (official, unofficial, or In-Fisherman) of 40 different species:
Alligator gar (Texas)
Atlantic mackerel (Massachusetts)
Atlantic salmon (New Hampshire, Vermont)
Black crappie (Virginia)
Blue catfish (Tennessee, Virginia)
Bluefin tuna (Massachusetts)
Brook trout (Virginia)
Brown trout (Virginia)
Chain pickerel (Virginia)
Channel catfish (Kansas, North Dakota, West Virginia)
Cisco (lake herring) (Vermont)
Coho salmon (Illinois, Wisconsin)
Flathead catfish (Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia)
Hybrid striped bass (Nebraska)
Kokanee salmon (California, Wyoming)
Lahontan cutthroat trout (Nevada)
Lake sturgeon (Minnesota)
Lake trout (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming)
Largemouth bass (Arizona, Florida, Virginia)
Longnose gar (Virginia)
Muskellunge (Michigan, Virginia)
Rainbow trout (Georgia, Virginia)
Red drum (Louisiana, Mississippi)
Rock Bass (Virginia)
Sand tiger shark (Maryland)
Shovelnose sturgeon (Missouri)
Smallmouth bass (South Dakota, Virginia)
Striped bass, freshwater or saltwater (Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia)
Walleye (New York, Ohio, Virginia)
White bass (New Mexico)
White crappie (Virginia)
White perch (North Carolina, Virginia)
White sturgeon (Oregon)
Yellow bass (Iowa)
Yellow perch (Virginia)
What is an “unofficial” trophy, and how is it determined?
There are two types of “unofficial” trophies:
a. Trophy-size fish caught in a state without an official trophy program. In this case, I used In-Fisherman’s Master Angler size requirements. There were nine states without official programs, but with fish listed on In-Fisherman’s Master Angler chart. I caught trophy fish in three of these states (Arizona, Indiana, and Utah). [Disclaimer: I never actually sent any entry forms to In-Fisherman, as they make it quite clear that requisite accompanying photographs then become their property. I always knew I wanted my photographs to remain my property for the purposes of this site, so that clause made award submission a nonstarter.]
b. Trophy-size fish caught in a state without an official trophy program AND of a species for which In-Fisherman does not have a trophy size. This applied to five states: Hawaii (yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi), Louisiana (red drum); Mississippi (red drum); Oklahoma (paddlefish); and Oregon (white sturgeon). Interestingly, two of the best fish of my entire quest were my 44-inch, 40-pound Mississippi red drum and my nine-foot, 400-pound Oregon sturgeon. This meant I needed a proxy for trophy size in these three species. (I also caught paddlefish in Missouri, but they were barely over the legal size, so I can safely assume they were not trophy size.)
For my Oregon white sturgeon, the answer was straightforward. A nine-foot, 400-pound sturgeon certainly sounds like it would be a trophy, but I wanted to be sure. Several websites use “trophy” and “oversize” sturgeon interchangeably, leading me to believe that an oversize sturgeon (longer than five feet) is considered a trophy. Moreover, several other sites mention the average oversize sturgeon being around eight feet, so even by oversize standards, my nine-foot sturgeon was big. Therefore, I decided to call the biggest of my Oregon sturgeon an unofficial trophy.
For my Oklahoma paddlefish, the answer was still straightforward, but required some calculations. While Oklahoma did not have an official trophy program and paddlefish were not listed on In-Fisherman’s species list, six of the 22 states with paddlefish had official award programs that listed paddlefish. Fortunately, these states (Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) are either close to or relatively close to Oklahoma, so applying their trophy standards in Oklahoma seemed reasonable. Five of these states listed minimum trophy weights, and the average of these five was 50 pounds. Four of these states listed minimum trophy lengths, and the average was 47.75 inches. Therefore, these were the minimums I used to determine whether my biggest Oklahoma paddlefish was a trophy, which, at 54 pounds, 66 inches bill to tail, and 54 inches mouth to tail, I determined that it was.
For my Louisiana and Mississippi red drum, I went full-on nerd and did some statistical analysis. Only Texas and Florida have red drum trophy minimums (25 inches and 30 inches, respectively), so my 30-inch Louisiana red drum and all three of my Mississippi red drum would qualify in each state, which is a strong argument for them being trophies. But I wanted to be sure, so I compared these fish to red drum caught on the East Coast. This was difficult because East Coast red drum are notably bigger. The state records for the Gulf Coast range from Florida's 52.3125 pounds to Louisiana's 61 pounds, whereas the primary East Coast state records range from Maryland's 70 pounds to North Carolina's 94.125 pounds. Four East Coast states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina) have saltwater citation programs. In order to account for the size differences and compare the East Coast states directly to the Gulf Coast states, I took the ratio of minimum citation length to state record. Thankfully, these were fairly uniform. Then, I computed the ratio of the length red drum I caught in each state (30 for Louisiana and 37 - 44 for Mississippi) to its respective state record (61 pounds for Louisiana and 52.25 for Mississippi). The Louisiana red drum's ratio fell within the confidence intervals of the six states' average ratio. The ratios for the three Mississippi red drums exceeded the upper bound of the confidence interval, but that is great news because that confirms what I already suspected, that those fish were enormous. So, long nerdy story short, I concluded that my red drum from both Louisiana and Mississippi were trophies.
For California's kokanee salmon, the answer was very straightforward. California shares Lake Tahoe with Nevada, and Nevada does have a trophy program that lists kokanee salmon, with a minimum of two pounds needed for a trophy.
Why do some states not have guides mentioned?
I do not name the guides I fished with in Connecticut, my first trip to Nevada, or New Mexico. In the cases of Connecticut and New Mexico, the guides are good fishermen but not good guides and therefore I do not recommend them. In the case of my first trip to Nevada, the guide is very nice but I do not want to associate him with pictures of the small stripers I caught because it might be detrimental to his business.
Do you ever use the solunar calendar or peak feeding times?
Not really. I first heard about peak feeding times in 2011 and, by 2012, had dismissed them as useful predictors. I had never looked at a solunar calendar until compiling information for this site in 2014, after all of my trips were either planned or completed.
I strongly urge people to plan their fishing trips for when they want to fish, not for when the calendar says is the best day or time to fish. I have been skunked on “Excellent” fishing days and times, and, on several occasions, I had unbelievable fishing trips on “Poor” fishing days and times. The temperature, barometric pressure, etc. are contributing factors as well, but the one thing you learn about fish feeding habits is that you do not really know anything about fish feeding habits.
My Washington trip is the perfect example of why not to use solunar and feeding time charts. (Again, I did not use them to plan this trip. I am only including them here for illustrative purposes.) The feeding forecast was “Excellent” and the solunar calendar called for a maximum feeding score of 63 over the course of my trip, solidly in the “Very Good” range of 51 to 75. However, the bite was so slow in the morning that all of the other guide boats quit after five to six hours without catching a fish. My guide fortunately stuck it out and we fished 10+ hours and caught five fish. Hardly an “excellent,” or even a “very good” bite. The temperature reached 80 degrees that day and 79 degrees the next day, so an incoming front cannot be blamed either. It was simply one of those days that the fish played hard to get.
On the other hand, my two days in Vermont both had “Poor” feeding forecasts and had only one hour-long window in the “Good” range on the solunar chart in the two-day period in which I fished. I also fished in the middle of increasing and record heat. However, I caught 40 fish in two days, including a trophy Atlantic salmon and a trophy lake herring.
Moreover, the two predictions do not always agree. My Michigan trip produced 12 muskies and had a feeding forecast of “Excellent,” but had a solunar prediction of “Average.” My Arkansas striper trip had a feeding forecast of “Poor,” but a solunar prediction of “Good,” and produced stripers of 38, 28, 25, 23, 15, and 15 pounds.
Will you do better by religiously obeying the solunar calendar and feeding times forecast? Possibly, but you will also miss out on some incredible days of fishing, so why even bother?
What do you plan to do now that you’re done?
I plan to return to some of the states I liked the most and to the states in which I have not yet caught a trophy fish, and I want to continue my Virginia Master Angler quest. There are 30 different freshwater species for which Virginia has an established citation size, and I currently have citations in 19, making me a Master Angler III. My next goal will be Master Angler IV, which will require one more new species.
People sometimes ask if I plan to fish abroad. I do not have any plans to travel abroad as of yet, but many guides have raved about the fishing in Mexico and I’ve seen some amazing fish pictures from Europe, so maybe I’ll venture into foreign waters someday. I don’t see a fishingthe196.com in my future though.
What about Washington, D.C.?
I caught fish in Constitution Gardens and the Tidal Basin as a kid, and I will be happy to add D.C. to the site if it ever becomes a state.
What is the biggest fish you have ever caught?
No cheating. You have to read the site to find out!