America’s 14 Best Fishing Bars

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Best Place to Pahk Your Yacht
Brown’s Wharf, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Pull your boat into one of Brown’s Wharf Inn’s 40 slips (they can accommodate crafts up to 165 feet long, so no worries there) and make your way up to the bar, which overlooks Boothbay Harbor. Here, among sextants, old buoys and antique lobster traps, you can enjoy a number of local microbrews and order dinner from the adjoining kitchen. (The twin lobster special is a steal at $24.) The town might be overrun with tourists during the summer, but owner Ken Brown estimates that roughly 30 percent of the Wharf’s clientele is local fishermen, both commercial and recreational, so be prepared to swap tales.

“Hang there long enough and every angler and commercial lobsterman in the area will pass through,” says OL Fishing Editor Jerry Gibbs. “The guides congregate out back at the docks.”

Brown’s Wharf, family-owned and operated since 1944, is more than just a bar: It also features a waterside motel and restaurant.

Best Bar Named for a Fly
R.F. McDougall’s, Wilmington, N.Y.

Jerry Bottcher’s business partners weren’t crazy about having the words “Rat Face” in the name of their bar, so Jerry agreed to abbreviate the moniker of the parachute fly pattern popular in Adirondack streams.

McDougall’s is a classy, laid-back joint, designed to complement the region’s Victorian architecture. Antique rods, reels and creels, solid oak floors, an 18-foot-long cherry bar and a large stone fireplace are among the attractive features in the large room. In fact, the fireplace used to be external, before R.F. McDougall’s was built around it in the basement of the Hungry Trout Inn in 1989. Guests in the 1930s and ’40s would use the fireplace to cook the trout they’d caught from the Au Sable River, which flows past the property the distance of a double-haul from the main building.

McDougall’s has a long list of single-malt Scotches, a martini menu and a number of beer choices, including several from the Saranac brewery in Utica. The dinner menu includes half-pound burgers, rib-eye steaks, venison stew and pan-fried trout panini.

Best Odds for Getting Lucky With an Octogenarian
Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar, Ocracoke, N.C

“Anyone who comes to Ocracoke Island to fish invariably stops into Howard’s for a beer or two,” says manager Bill Cole. And that includes the hundreds of anglers who flock to the island each May for the Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament.

Howard’s resembles an oversize beach shack with its weather-worn wood paneling, long screened-in porch and a roof deck from which patrons can view both the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean while enjoying a cold one. During the summer, local acts and bigger bands traveling the coast stop in to Howard’s to play a set or two. The clientele includes everyone from spring-breakers to party-hearty grannies. A few years ago a woman was celebrating her 80th birthday here when she decided to perform a table dance for everyone in attendance—topless.

Cold beer is the drink of choice at Howard’s, though hurricanes that have come through and “kicked us in the butt,” as Cole puts it, have inspired a number of champagne drinks. Among them are “Pink Floyd,” named for 1999’s Hurricane Floyd, and “Dizzy Izzy,” for 2003’s Isabel. Howard’s menu features seafood, burgers, steaks, ribs and a raw bar. Before you leave, be sure to suck down an Ocracoke oyster shooter: a combination of raw oyster, hot sauce, pepper and beer.

Best Place to Bring the Kids
Half Shell Raw Bar, Key West, Fla.

Finding a bar or restaurant in Key West that hasn’t been taken over by blind-drunk college-age kids can seem impossible. While the Half Shell Raw Bar attracts its fair share of out-of-towners, they’re mostly families and they dine and drink with a coterie of colorful locals. It’s not unusual, for instance, to see a grandfather playing shuffleboard with his grandkids in the back room, says manager Marlene Johnson.

The Half Shell is an open-air joint on the Gulf side of Key West Bight, with picnic tables made of hatches from old boats and a large shucking station—stocked with oysters, stone crabs and more—that provides great entertainment as the shuckers do their thing.

Being near the water and the docks, the Half Shell gets its share of fishermen coming off boats after a day at sea, and the staff is always happy to cook up any fresh catch. “Some nights we’ll cook five hundred dinners,” says Johnson, “and a full twenty-five percent of those will be BYOCs—bring your own catch. We’ll cook it however you want it. Fried, grilled, blackened, you name it.”

Best Sunrise
Mel’s Crow’s Nest, Marblehead, Ohio 419-734-1742

Pull up a stool at the rectangular bar near the two garage-style glass doors and enjoy a Lake Erie Sunrise while you enjoy a Lake Erie sunset. The former is a rum drink with raspberry and banana juices, the latter a breathtaking spectacle. (Then again, the latter, with “sunset” capitalized, is also a rum drink, with strawberry and mango juices.)

The Crow’s Nest is situated next to a marina between Middle and West harbors and the staff will gladly cook up your catch of the day. In addition, there’s a smokehouse on the premises, stuffed with ribs, chicken and other tasty meats.

The tiki bar outside hosts concerts in summer. Come fall, enjoy the fire inside while admiring the stuffed walleyes on the wall and humming along to the Ohio State University marching band songs, which are catalogued on the jukebox.

Best Stop on a Float Trip
Lovell’s Riverside Tavern, Grayling, Mich.

There’s a distinct possibility that most of the Riverside’s patrons arrive by means other than an automobile. Located in the middle of nowhere (30 miles outside of tiny Grayling), the Riverside is a popular stop for snowmobilers and fishermen alike. During fishing season, anglers on the North Branch of the Au Sable are welcome to pull their canoes ashore or wade up and hang their waders on the racks outside.

The casual open bar and dining room overlook the river and provide the perfect respite for river-runners. Budweiser and Bud Light prevail, though part-owner Roger Phillips insists he makes the best margarita in the North. Among his other specialties is Roggie’s Special Pizza, which features “a little bit of everything,” from traditional pizza toppings like pepperoni and mushrooms to walleye meat.

Happen by on a night Sneaky Pete and his band are on stage and you’ll be lucky to find a seat. Pete plays guitar and is backed by his wife on mandolin, his son on drums and his daughter on keyboard. Phillips says the family act “really packs the house.”

Best Place to Get Gassed…Literally
Boathouse Bar, Waconia, Minn.

While the Boathouse’s minnow-eating contests and wax worm races went away with the bait shop after last year’s renovation, the bar is still a popular stop for Twin Cities anglers. Situated on the shores of Lake Waconia, the Boathouse still operates a gas pump at the docks out back.

Plates of fried walleye and fries are chased by Miller Lites during Vikings games on fall Sundays. In fact, at press time, bar owner Chris Anderson was in talks with former Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss about hosting a fishing tournament in June on Lake Waconia.

Best Bar With Its Own Song
Chili Willie’s, Rio Hondo, Tex.

Located between South Padre Island and Port Mansfield, Chili Willie’s is popular with all the southern Gulf Coast fishing guides. The walls are covered with mounts of trophy whitetails, wild turkeys, redfish and sea trout.

Chili Willie’s serves beer and wine, but you’re welcome to bring a bottle of your own if your tastes require something a bit stronger after a day wading around the Laguna Madre. In addition to seafood, owner Billy Mitchell serves up the chicken-fried variety of a number of meats, including New York strip steaks, pork chops and chicken.

The jukebox cranks mostly country-western tunes, including a song called “Chili Willie’s” written for the bar by San Antonio musician Mike Allen. On weekends, the bar hosts live entertainment. Says Mitchell, “Fridays and Saturdays we have our New York strip steak and shrimp specials. Then we just push the tables out of the way and get to dancing and drinking and partying down.” What more could you want?

Best Bar to Rub Elbows With Ranch Hands and Movie Stars
Sportsman’s Inn, Navajo Dam, N.Mex.

Sidle up to the bar at the Sportsman’s Inn and to your left could be a ranch hand or an oil field worker, while to your right could be one of Hollywood’s leading men. “Val Kilmer has stopped in here. Also Tom Cruise…and that guy from Dances With Wolves,” says owner Bill Eaves. “I think they come in here because they know they can sit back and have a good time and not be harassed by the locals.”

It’s hard not to feel at home at the Sportsman’s Inn on the banks of the San Juan River, with its wood paneling, dim lighting, trout and bass mounts, pool table and jukebox loaded with country ballads. Over the years it’s been a tradition to sign a one- or five-dollar bill and tack it to the wall or ceiling. Eaves estimates there are 6,000 bills adorning his bar.

Aside from steak and seafood, the Sportsman’s Inn serves a half-pound cheeseburger topped with green chiles and bacon. Specialty drinks include the San Juan Bulldog (Absolut Vanilia and Kahlua) and the Fisherman’s Godfather (Jim Beam and Disaronno).

If you’re looking for a local guide, the Sportsman has you covered there, too. Bill’s son Brad guides from a driftboat and knows the San Juan as well as anyone.

Best Place to Drink With Rodeo Clowns
The Stockman, Walden, Colo.

The Stockman is a classic Old West bar with traditional wooden front, tile floor and tongue-and-groove interior. All that’s missing are the hitching posts. The ornate back bar was crafted in England in 1864. The Stockman has been in its current location since 1958; originally across the street, it opened in the 1930s. Over that time, it has served countless fishermen who have tried their luck on the North Platte, Michigan and Illinois rivers and the many alpine lakes outside of town, including John and Delaney.

The town of Walden is home to just 600 people, but things pick up the last week of June, when the annual Never Summer Rodeo coincides with the North Park Pioneer Reunion, a sort of homecoming for folks who grew up in town but have since moved away.

Best Place to Foil a Heist
New Atlas Saloon, Columbus, Mont.

In August 2004, two South Dakota men entered the Atlas at closing time—2 a.m.— armed with an SKS rifle and a pistol. They tied up the bartender and the three customers in the bar at the time and fled through the back door with an undisclosed amount of cash, hopping in their waiting getaway car. In the meantime, the captives freed themselves and busted through the front door just as the crooks were coming around the corner; they managed to get a look at the car and its plates. The perps made it just 30 miles down the highway before they were apprehended by the cops. “They’ll be in prison for about eighty years,” says bar owner Lars Swanson. “But I sure wish they’d have just given them back to us.”

So go to the New Atlas Saloon for a few drinks after a day on the Yellowstone or Stillwater river. Go there to check out more stuffed fish and animals than there are in most museums. Heck, go to play a few hands of Texas Hold ‘Em with the locals, if you dare. But don’t go to the New Atlas Saloon with any ideas of playing outlaw.

Best Official Point of Navigation
The Salty Dawg Saloon, Homer, Alaska

Way out near the harbor on Homer Spit sits the Salty Dawg Saloon, a great bastion of deep-sea lore. It’s actually three buildings pieced together, including the oldest building in Homer—which once served as the post office—and a light tower. When the light’s on, the bar’s open.

The variety of odds and ends you’ll find decorating the interior is unmatched. Most noticeable are the women’s undergarments and the currency from around the world tacked to the walls and ceiling. Several orange life rings hang from the walls as well; some are from ships that have gone down at sea and are memorials to the local fishermen who lost their lives. There’s even a human skull on a shelf. Perhaps the most interesting of all, though, is the landmark from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration embedded in the floor that designates the Dawg as an official point of navigation.

After a day of wrestling halibut from the depths, swing by and have Hollyn (a.k.a. “Hot Linda”) behind the bar whip you up a “Salty Dawg” (vodka and grapefruit juice in a saltrimmed glass) and gaze around at the strange and interesting decorations. You’ll be occupied right up until they shut off the light in the tower.

Best Place to Drink With Bass Pros
Tirebiters, Osage Beach, Mo.

Unlike most of the bars and restaurants in this vacation hotbed, Tirebiters sits off the main drag and feels more like a log cabin tucked back in the woods. The bar has become the destination of choice for tournament bass fishermen after a day in competition on Lake of the Ozarks, as they can easily find a spot in the large parking lot for their rigs and boats.

Bud Light is the preferred beverage and the table fare includes burgers, steaks, ribs and pork chops. They aren’t on the menu, but ask for some of the house-special smoked wings, topped with cayenne pepper and Parmesan cheese.

The 1,000-square-foot deck out back provides the perfect shaded spot to suck some suds, scarf some wings and argue with your buddies about why the bass just didn’t seem to take to chartreuse baits that day.

Best House Special
Mary Todd’s Workers Bar & Grill, Astoria, Ore.

The Workers Bar opened right after prohibition in the heart of Astoria’s Union Town section and caters to the local commercial fishermen as well as many of the recreational anglers who fish the Columbia River around Buoy 10.

“We love ’em up, feed ’em up and don’t give a damn what they smell like,” says bartender Kama Clayton of the clientele. Among the favorite dishes are barbecue oysters, steak and eggs, burgers and a full breakfast served any time of day.

Beer and whiskey are popular with fishermen, but the house special is the Yucca. “It’s vodka, a little simple syrup and a whole lemon mixed with ice and shaken until it’s nice and frosty,” says Clayton. “There are pictures all over this country of me shaking Yuccas…thanks to my double Ds.”

The big turn-of-the-century building may be in need of a paint job, but it features large front windows, a solid wood door with a zodiac made by a local artisan, an old mirror with some of the bar’s regular customers through the years painted on it (“Some alive, some dead.”) and a big horseshoe-shaped bar. A fire will be going on cool, damp days.

“Our chairs and customers are both mismatched, but everyone seems to have a good time,” says Clayton. “The only live entertainment we have at Workers is the locals.”