5 Top National Parks for Fishing

Photo: NPS/Jim Peaco

These five parks are best viewed from the water’s edge.

Sure, you can drive through a national park and just look at the landscape. But bring your fishing rod, and you’ll actually experience it. Fishing in a national park gives you the opportunity to get deep into the ecosystem and relate to it on a more intimate level. Fortunately, the National Park Service (NPS) seems to agree. While its primary mission is to help preserve these natural wonders, it also works hard to help people enjoy them—and that includes maintaining top-notch angling access at a number of marquee parks. (Note that different parks have different regulations, so check beforehand.) 

At the following spots, you’ll be able to take advantage of that convenient access—not to mention thriving fish populations, crystalline water, and some of the most gorgeous backdrops in the NPS system. Here are the five best national parks for fishing.  

Yellowstone National Park, WY 

Best for: Cutthroat trout, Arctic grayling 

Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the country—and also one of the largest, which gives anglers a lot of room to fish. Add to that countless miles of river and more than 100 lakes, and you’ll find no shortage of water to wet your line. 

The ancestral home of Crow, Bannock, Shoshone, and other tribes, Yellowstone remains a land of rich resources today. The fish populations here are especially abundant, thanks to the park’s efforts to preserve them. Yellowstone’s prized cutthroat trout have especially benefited from NPS conservation efforts. Look for runs of this native species in tributaries of Yellowstone Lake. Another good bet: The Black Canyon below Yellowstone Lake teems with cutthroat (which are catch-and-release only throughout the park). 

Want a fish you can keep for your campfire frying pan? Target invasive lake trout. The park service considers them pests and encourages anglers to catch, keep, and eat them.

Anglers can also keep rainbow, brook, and brown trout in some areas of Yellowstone (make sure to follow possession regulations). Hotspots for these fish include the Firehole River and the Madison River for rainbows and browns. Also be sure to check out Grebe Lake, which carries, believe it or not, Arctic grayling. (Like cutthroat trout, all Arctic grayling are catch-and-release.)  


The season is open from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through the first Sunday in November (note: many lakes are open longer). 


For anglers older than 16, a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing license is required (state fishing licenses alone aren’t valid). Both lead tackle and barbed hooks are banned within the park boundaries. More info: nps.gov/yell 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC 

Best for: Native brook trout  

Once the homeland of the Cherokee Nation, Great Smoky Mountains is now the most popular national park in the country—seeing a whopping 11 million visitors annually. The good news? The park’s massive size gobbles up those visitors, so even with those numbers, there’s little chance your fishing line will get tangled up with anyone else’s. Stretching along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, GSMNP is one of the largest parks in the country, and harbors nearly 3,000 miles of rivers and creeks. 

Put brook trout high on your list. While the park offers countless fishing options for such species as rainbow trout, brown trout, and smallmouth bass, recent restoration efforts have made it a true refuge for brookies, as well. Adventurous anglers can now find brook trout in many smaller streams in the higher-altitude areas of the park.

Recent conservation efforts have also boosted the park’s brown trout population, with its fishery reopening in 2006 after a 30-year restoration program. Want to keep and cook? You can take home up to five total fish per day—any combination of brook, rainbow, brown, or smallmouth (7-inch minimum)—and up to 20 rock bass. 


Fishing season here is year-round, from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sundown. 


Either a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license will cover you in the park (except for areas in Gatlinburg and Cherokee, which require special permits). There are no licenses for sale within the park itself, so plan ahead. More info: nps.gov/grsm  

Glacier National Park, MT 

Best for: Bull and rainbow trout 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a prettier setting than Glacier National Park. Dubbed the “Crown of the Continent,” this park sits in northern Montana on the ancestral territory of the Blackfeet, Kootenai, and Salish tribes. The land here feels larger than life. It’s framed by the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River, and jagged, snow-capped peaks towering over every cast. Plus, there’s far more than mountains to see: The park’s ecosystem is also home to grizzly bears, moose, lynx and wolves. 

Fish populations are equally abundant, with more than 20 species living within the park. Prized trout targets include bull, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook. Many anglers opt for such additional species as whitefish, northern pike, grayling, and even Kokanee salmon. 

If you’re planning to keep your catch, you’ll have to fish according to the watershed geography. Cast west of the Continental Divide, and you’ll have to release all cutthroats. If you fish in Hidden, Evangeline, or Camas lakes east of the Divide, you can keep two per day. (Note: Don’t expect to take home bulls; they’re catch-and-release throughout the park.) Only artificial lures and flies are allowed—regardless of species—and lead is forbidden. 


Fishing the park’s rivers is allowed from the third Saturday in May through Nov. 30, with lake fishing allowed year-round. (Note: If you’re fishing Two Medicine Lake, check Blackfeet Tribe fishing regulations first.) 


Believe it or not, no fishing license is required to fish within park boundaries. You’ll only need a Montana fishing license on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. More info: nps.gov/glac   

Katmai National Park, AK 

Best for: Salmon and rainbow trout 

If you want to fish for salmon, it doesn’t get any better (or more grandiose) than southern Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Katmai was first established in 1918 to protect the volcanically devastated region surrounding Novarupta and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Today, it guards 9,000 years of human history as well as important resources for a number of Native peoples who still have ties to this landscape. Among those resources: lush habitat for five species of Pacific salmon, as well as rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and lake trout.  

One of the most popular areas to fish is Brooks Camp, which is situated at the mouth of the Brooks River on the shore of Naknek Lake. While you should expect windy, rainy, and cold conditions, you can also expect incredible fishing, no matter what you’re after. 

Most people arrive via small, float-equipped aircraft. (Visit Katmai’s Directions and Transportation page for more information.) 


The season for fishing in Katmai runs from April 30 to Aug. 15. 


An Alaska sport fishing license is required for all nonresidents 16 and over, as well as for most residents 16 to 59. (Note: You may also need a harvest record card and/or king salmon stamp.) 

Special federal and state regulations exist for the Brooks River. New in 2022, you’ll need a permit ($6; reserve online) for any activities within the river corridor between July 1 to Oct. 31 when the salmon are spawning. 

All visitors are required to attend a bear safety talk outlining park regulations. Be aware that, even if you’re practicing catch and release, as is required in certain areas, you’re still raiding the bears’ refrigerator. Always reel in and back off when bears are within 50 yards. And if a bear claims your hooked fish? Cut the line and give up the goods. More info: nps.gov/katm 

Everglades National Park, FL 

Best for: Redfish, tarpon 

A refuge for such endangered animals as manatees, Florida panthers, and American crocodiles, Everglades National Park was once the homeland of Calusa, Seminole, and other Native tribes. Today, it’s a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. With 1.5 million acres of marshes, mangrove islands, wetlands, and waterways, it’s also an angler’s paradise. 

One third of the park is covered by saltwater and the rest is a freshwater wetland. That means you’ll find vastly different fish species on offer depending on where you visit. Prized saltwater zones such as Whitewater Bay and Ten Thousand Islands are prime fisheries for redfish, speckled trout, and tarpon, while Florida Bay teems with snook, cobia, and permit. For freshwater fishing, ply any of the umpteen lakes and canals for such species as largemouth bass and peacock.


Open seasons and regulations vary per species. Visit the FWC website for more information. 


Anglers 16 and older need separate freshwater and saltwater Florida fishing licenses to fish from within or atop the water. (Florida residents fishing from shore do not need a license). However, no special fishing license from the NPS is required.

Anglers are limited to possession of 20 fish per person at any time, but may possess no more than 10 fish of any one species. Bag limits for certain species is less than 10 fish. Fair warning: High levels of mercury have been found in Everglades bass, spotted seatrout, catfish, bluefish, jack crevalle, and ladyfish. More info: nps.gov/ever 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.