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


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.


(Even though I did not learn about the official trophy fish programs until 2011, I would generally ask the guides with whom I wanted to fish when they considered to be the best times to target big fish, as I have always been interested in catching big fish rather than big numbers of fish.  The lone exception was my first trip (Nevada), which occurred during my friend’s bachelor party, not necessarily the best time for trophy stripers.  There were two states (New York and Florida) that I was visiting anyway, and, luckily my trips coincided with some of the best times to target trophy fish.)


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 two 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 36 states with official trophy fish programs, I caught at least one trophy fish in 30 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]

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]


For the 15 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 11 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 four 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]

Wyoming:  49-pound (46-inch) and 23-pound (36-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 and Wyoming.  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 39 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)

Carp (Virginia)

Chain pickerel (Virginia)

Channel catfish (Kansas, North Dakota, West Virginia)

Cisco (lake herring) (Vermont)

Coho salmon (Illinois, Wisconsin)

Fallfish (Virginia)

Flathead catfish (Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia)

Hybrid striped bass (Nebraska)

Kokanee salmon (California, Wyoming)

Lake sturgeon (Minnesota)

Lake trout (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming)

Largemouth bass (Arizona, Florida, Virginia)

Longnose gar (Virginia)

Muskellunge (Michigan, Virginia)

Paddlefish (Oklahoma)

Rainbow trout (Georgia, Virginia)

Red drum (Louisiana, Mississippi)

Rock Bass (Virginia)

Sand tiger shark (Maryland)

Shovelnose sturgeon (Missouri)

Smallmouth bass (South Dakota, Virginia)

Steelhead (Indiana)

Striped bass, freshwater or saltwater (Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey)

Sunfish (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)