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The prehistoric sturgeon might be an unconventional pick as the best gamefish swimming, but Virginia Commonwealth University making to it to the NCAA Final Four would have been, too … before this year.
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While the sturgeon might not possess the palatability of a walleye or the popularity of a largemouth bass, what it lacks in attractiveness and fame it more than makes up for in size and fight.
The river-running dinosaur is an unholy amalgamation of tarpon, salmon, halibut and freight train. Capable of topping 2,000 pounds, sturgeon dwarf tarpon, and occasionally break the water’s surface like a Silver King, while going on reel-burning runs that make salmon and steelhead look like panfish – oh, yes, and let’s not forget the fact that they can swallow salmon whole. You won’t likely pursue sturgeon with a flyrod; it’s a fish that requires gear you’d expect to find on a halibut charter in the deep waters off the coast.
When you hook into a 9-foot, 500-pound beast, you’re in for a fight that will test your stamina – and one that will leave you feeling the after effects for days.
Yes, when a debate of the greatest gamefish surfaces, anyone worth their salt has to consider a fish that has swum, fought and survived in our waters since the days of the Tyrannosaurus Rex!
By John Burgman At times, I’m darn-near convinced that sportsmen like to argue simply for the sake of arguing. That’s not a bad thing–it actually keeps things interesting. But sit around the fire at any hunting camp, or lean on the gunwales of any fishing boat, and you’re bound to eventually get an earful about the best new product or technique, the best buy, the best swath of land or corner of a pond, which is bound to be met with disagreement and contention from others in the group. Squabbling will ensue. Tempers might flare. There’s often little resolution, and you’re left feeling somewhat embattled, none the wiser and a little worse for wear. However, there is one point that seems to be universally accepted among outdoorsmen, whether they’re hardcore saltwater fiends or flyfishing streambums, and that is that walleye is one heckuva delicious fish. What’s more, slide a plate of sizzling, butter-and-seasoned salt-fried walleye onto any sportsman’s table and you’re bound to end any arguing–at least temporarily–in an instant. So, because I find no aspect of fishing more satisfying than enjoying the flavor of the meat that I worked so hard to catch, and because they’re the tastiest of all fish, I consider walleye the greatest gamefish. Is it a popular opinion? No. But think about it the next time you take a bite of a perfectly cooked, tender walleye fillet after a long day on the water or in the woods. Life really doesn’t get much better than that.
Walleye are freshwater fish, and they tend to stay concentrated in Canada and the northern U.S. They’re usually mature by age 4, and lay their eggs–which can number in the hundreds of thousands–in rocky stream areas, which the northern United States (Minnesota, particularly) are full of. Like other fish found in similar habitats (northern Pike, particularly), walleye will eat anything from worms to mayflies to frogs or crayfish and other fish. – Mykl Roventine
What’s in a Name?
The name of the fish is a reference to the way a special layer (“wall”) of tissue covers their eye and improves their low-light visibility.
The walleye’s closet relative is the Pikeperch. It’s also known as a Zander fish, and is extremely popular in Russia and other parts of Europe. Like walleye here in the states, it’s popular because of its incredible flavor when cooked over a flame. Photo: texas_mustang
There’s a Zander fish in my walleye
But, on a rather funny note, there’s no fooling Americans when it comes to walleye. In 2004, some restaurants in America were busted when it was discovered that they were serving Zander and trying to pass it off as walleye to patrons. It’s extremely difficult for the casual eater to tell a difference in the taste, but that didn’t stop the U.S. government from launching a full-blown investigation of the restaurants’ sly switch. Photo: dlkinney
When I was young, we used to say a walleye could be judged by whether it took two hands to hold him. If it took two hands, it was probably a keeper. On a more precise level, walleye can weigh over 20 pounds and measure over 30 inches in length. To most fisherman, however, anything over 10 pounds is considered a trophy. Photo: corinne68
Taking the Bait
Over the years, I’ve had success landing walleye with a number of different baits and techniques, likely because their natural diet is so diverse. Some anglers prefer to jig and go simply plastic, while I’ve also known many northern Pike fishermen who “accidentally” caught sizable walleye on spoons. Trolling from a canoe is also a popular way to catch them. Walleye will bite mainly during the sunrise and sunset–and also feed throughout the nighttime–and remain somewhat lazy during the long hours of midday. If it’s particularly hot, they’ll head to the cool and calm of the deeper water, and most likely seek further shelter under rocks, logs and piers. Photo: Mark Susinno
Walleye are not the most colorful fish. Because much of the water in their natural habitat is browned or darkened to do the excessive ore deposits in the lake rocks, walleye’s coloration tends to be somewhat “bland” when compared to bright saltwater fish or even more vibrant freshwater species like a rainbow trout. A walleye’s coloration will vary from different shades of yellowish brown to more gold or even green (again, depending on the color of the water). But, after all, when I’m frying them up, it’s what’s inside that counts! Photo: gbishop
Cabela’s makes a diverse assortment of walleye jigs, which includes fatheads and shad diggers, among other heads. Most fishermen, myself included, enjoy sticking a floating lure that will dive to below the warmer topwater (10 feet or so in big, open water).
Close, but no cigar
Many people assume that walleye are related to pike and perch, given their similar coloration and geographic regions. This, however, is false. Walleye are sometimes referred to as “Yellow pickerel,” but they’re not, in fact, pickerel at all.
If you’ve made it this far, your mouth is probably watering recalling all the times you’ve fried up walleye on an open flame in a campsite in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or in Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park. Let’s start with the most basic walleye recipe, which is to remove the small bones from the fillets, cut into 3-inch slivers, fry in hot butter and season with salt and lemon pepper. I’ve enjoyed walleye cooked like this in the backcountry countless times over the years, and never heard a single complaint.
More elaborate recipes…
If you’re in the mood for a little fancier preparation, take along a plastic bag filled with equal parts flour and breading or batter mix. Add a healthy dose of pepper and tabasco sauce, along with some liquid of choice–and egg or cooking oil works great. Drench the fillets in this batter mix before frying…cook until the breading on the outside of the fillet is browned and crispy. Season with a touch of lemon juice at the very end. Again, never a single complaint.
John’s Fish Taco
Walleye, eaten as straight up fillets, get a lot of attention, but you can also spice up your next shore meal by bringing along some hard-shell tacos or soft tortilla shells. Fry your walleye in butter, seasoning with chili pepper and taco sauce instead of lemon pepper. Put the fried fillets into the taco shell, and add additional touches like lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, shredded cheese and onions. Again, never a single complaint (Are you beginning to see the pattern here? Essentially, walleye is delicious any way you fix it.)
EDITOR’S NOTE: VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE GAMEFISH IN THE COMMENTS SECTION AND YOU COULD WIN A NEW ROD, REEL AND MORE. REDFISH
By: Alex Robinson
If you consider yourself a bass fisherman, then stay away from redfish, because they will ruin you. Skeptical? Imagine casting an a spinner or plastic crayfish into shallow, bassy looking water and suddenly a wake forms behind your bait. Half a second later it feels like you’ve hooked a dumptruck as your rod doubles and line screams off of your reel on the fish’s first run. Finally you stop him and work him toward the boat, but he takes another run, spooling off all of your handwork. After about 15 minutes you finally haul your fish to the boat, but instead of a six-pound largemouth, you’re looking at a 30-pound bull redfish. Welcome to redfishing. Redfish are hard-hitting and incredibly hard-fighting fish. During the right time of year they feed readily and they taste great (think cajun food). Redfish are the best gamefish on the planet.
Redfish range from Massachusetts (according to biologists, though not really) down the east coast to the Florida Keys and throughout the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They grow fast; it takes a red about three years to grow to eight pounds. In comparison, a largemouth will weigh between one and two pounds at three years. It takes a muskie about twice as long as a redfish to grow to eight pounds. The world-record redfish weighed 94 pounds 4 ounces.
Reds prefer to hangout in shallow water (1 to 4 feet) near submerged vegetation. They frequent costal marshes, oyster reefs, tidal creeks and rivers, coves, bays and jetties. They are typically found in saltwater, but can survive in freshwater.
The redfish’s blunt nose and mouth that’s located lower on their body and their coloration gives them a carp-like appearance to northerrn anglers who have never seen one up close. But anyone who has ever caught a redfish knows that they’re beautiful in their own way.
They have a shiny bronze coloration that makes them nearly invisible in the water but they’re spectacular out of the water. Reds can have up to 50 spots but on rare occasions a red will have no spots.
The majority of a redfish’s weight comes from the front half of its body. Their big, powerful “shoulders” are what makes them such stubborn fighters. They are truly headstrong fish, and the only way to beat a big read at the boat is to muscle his head above the surface.
The tackle required for redfishing is pretty simple. You can use medium action spinning or baitcasting gear with 15 to 20-pound line. Live bait options include shrimp, crabs, finger mullet and cut baits. But there are also a variety of ways to catch redfish using artificial baits …
One of the most exciting fishing experiences you can have standing up is casting soft plastics to a school of tailing reds. Redfish cruise mudflats that are so shallow you can often spot their backs or tails slicing through the surface. When the water is deeper you can still spot their wake as they chase baitfish around. The trick is casting to these wakes and fins without spooking the fish. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is. To be good at sight fishing you have to be quick on the draw as well as be capable of casting long distances accurately. I’d argue that it takes the same amount of skill as casting to rising trout in a crystal clear stream. But when you make the perfect throw to a big bull redfish, you’ll often hook him a second after your bait hits the water.
Watching a 30-pound redfish explode on a topwater bait is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on the water. A redfish hits a topwater bait with malice, as if you have personally insulted him. In cloudy water this can be a frustrating exercise as reds will hit a bait multiple times (sometimes punching it clear out of the water) but never hook themselves. Both buzzbaits and Zara Spooks work well for topwater redfishing.
But redfish don’t have to be hard to catch. A popping cork rig is one of the easier ways to hook redfish, although some purists consider this method cheating. The rig is what it sounds like. Tie a bobber-like cork six to eight inches above a live bait or soft plastic. Pop the cork on your retrieve, reel up the slack, wait a second or two and do it again. The action mimics the commotion a redfish makes when he’s chasing around baitfish, and it drives real redfish crazy. You can experiment with different cadences to figure out which one works the best for you.
I had my first redfish experience last November in Venice, Louisiana, the Mecca of redfishing. I spent the first morning fishing with professional redfish anglers Kris and John Culpepper. I struggled out of the gate. It was hard for me to see the reds cruising back and forth and when I did spot one, I seemed to cast just a little behind him or a little too far in front of him.
The morning blew by and I was yet to catcha fish. Frustration began to set in as baitfish fluttered all around me and wakes appeared and disappeared in the muddy water like ghosts. But finally a swell appeared behind my bait, my rod curled down and line began to fly off of my reel.
To me, the most important aspect of a great gamefish is how much of a fight it puts up once hooked. Some fish will fight hard at first but tire themselves out in a few seconds. They will smash a lure and cartwheel into the air but then “dead stick” their way to the boat before the fight truly starts. This is not how a redfish fights. Battling a big bull red is like stepping into a heavyweight boxing match. They typically don’t jump or do anything flashy, but from start to finish they pour on the muscle (think of a smallmouth on steroids). A good red will go on at least three runs but could take far more.
If I look tired in this photo, that’s because the red I’m holding gave me a good whipping before coming to the boat.
Redfish are mostly a southern species and they’ve become a popular cajun cuisine. If you’re looking for something more flavorful than the typical fish fry, redfish are your game.
Vote for your favorite game fish in the comments section and win a new rod, reel and fishing tackle!
Dolphin If you’re ever looking to incite a riot among fresh and saltwater fishermen, toss this question into the discussion: What is the greatest gamefish of all? Freshwater guys will quickly bring up largemouth bass for their international popularity, or smallmouths for sheer fighting ability. Walleyes? Not great battlers, but they sure taste good. Trout? They might qualify as the most cerebral of fish. However, for me, one fish has every one of them beat hands down and that is the dolphin a.k.a. mahi mahi or dorado. Why? Well, dolphin is the perfect gamefish.
By: Gerry Bethge
Range: While it may be true that you will need a boat in order to gain access to dolphin–in most cases a boat that is capable of going offshore–dolphin range from Massachusetts to the Florida Straits, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean to southern California. This schoolie was taken off the coast of Jensen Beach, Florida.
Growth Rate No gamefish in either fresh or saltwater can compare. Dolphin are eating machines and may very well be the fastest growing wild fish known to man. According to researchers at the Dolphinfish Research Project in Homestead, Florida, dolphin can grow at rates of 1.3 to 2.7 inches per week. “Studies have shown dolphin are capable of reaching a body length of four feet and a weight of 40 pounds in less than 12 months. Males were found to grow at a faster rate than females, weigh as much as 20 percent more per given length and reach a larger size at equal ages.” Given a month, this little bugger will be twice its size.
Taking The Bait Rapid growth comes hand in hand with a voracious appetite and dolphin are aggressive predators known to eat 20 percent of their body weight in food per day. Opportunistic feeders, they will eat everything and anything that is abundant at the time–which bodes more than well for anglers.
What About Weeds? Dolphin schools are commonly associated with sargassum weed along the east coast of the United States. Large, surface-drifting weed beds are pushed by summer trade winds toward the U.S. mainland from the Sargasso Sea, located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. But this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Don Hammond director of the Dolphin Research Program out of Homestead, Florida (dolphintagging.homestead.com/) says dolphin and weeds (as well as any other flotsam) are found together regardless of the geographic location. “Weeds hold food, and dolphin have to eat continuously, so they almost always travel with weeds in ocean currents for survival,” he explains. “Weeds are important to catching dolphin wherever they’re found-and they’re found in almost all warm ocean waters, including the Pacific and Indian Oceans.”
True Colors There is perhaps no fish more brightly colored than the dolphin–capable of displaying brilliant hues according to conditions and moods. They are also chameleons of the highest order. Anglers are most familiar with the normal yellow-green and the silver-blue patterns. Fishermen with an eye for detail may have noticed the excited pattern. However, these masters-of-color changes possess a myriad of patterns to fit life’s situations. With the help of fishermen and biologists, here are a few of these patterns and their interpretations according to Hammond and the Dolphin Research Project.
Yellow-green Pattern (with common variations) This is the color pattern that comes to mind when dolphin are mentioned to fishermen. It is the normal color pattern observed by anglers in the majority of their encounters with mahi. This counter shading of emerald green above fading into bright yellow with brilliant blue spots serves the fish well in its normal activities. This pattern has many subtle variations from lighter patterns featuring white on the lower belly to darker patterns with brown to black covering much of the fins.
Silver-blue “Invisible” Pattern In the gin-clear waters inhabited by dolphin there is little structure available for fish to use to hide from predators. To compensate for this lack of hiding places, this adaptive fish developed a color pattern to simulate the clear waters and small particles commonly seen. This pattern could be interpreted as the “I am invisible” pattern used when caught in the open by a predator.
Excited “Neon” Pattern Note the neon blue on the back, head and fins. This pattern presents some of the most brilliant colors exhibited in the fish world. Anglers hooking a large dolphin close to the boat will be treated to these brilliant colors but only in brief flashes and glimpses as the fish zips through the water and leaps into the air. It will also be seen when dolphin go into a feeding frenzy.
Sargassum/Flotsam Pattern A review of scientific literature on dolphinfish did not reveal any report of this color pattern having been observed on dolphinfish from the Atlantic Ocean. This fish presents a distinct brown mottling in irregular patches, termed a disruptive pattern, similar to that of shadows cast by Sargassum or flotsam at the surface. Such a pattern would be very beneficial in eluding predators by disrupting their outline when under Sargassum or floating objects.
Distress Pattern This large bull displays a brown color pattern that appears to overlay the yellow-green pattern. It is seldom seen even by seasoned dolphin-anglers. Initially tagged for release, this fish was later boated when it was found to be deep hooked. It is likely that damage from the hook would have been fatal and the severity of the injury led to this coloration.
Injury Pattern The blackish-brown band running from the tag up the back to the top of the fin appeared immediately after the tag was implanted. Initially appearing to be blood, it actually is color present in the skin. Because the pattern runs in a specific direction as opposed to radiating out in all directions from the point of injury, this discoloration is likely controlled by nerves.
So How Do You Catch Dolphin? Weedlines, floating debris, temperature breaks and trolling lures all combine to help anglers cash in on dolphin. Doug Olander, editor of Sport Fishing magazine provides some helpful pointers. Leave No Weed Unturned — Or Unchecked Most skippers agree on this one. Any sort of accumulation of floating sargassum offshore merits a closer look. “I always check out a weed line [in the summer],” says Capt. John Raguso of New York. “It pays to take a look,” says Frekey. “Sometimes it takes only one good fish to turn around an [otherwise slow] day.”
Look For Bait Look for baitfish under/around a weed line, and if you don’t see a sign of it, move on. That’s the bottom line for most offshore pros. “With no sign of life, a weed line normally produces little to nothing,” Capt. Dave Kostyo of Florida says. “But with plenty of life, it’s just a matter of time before the rods start bending!” For Hensley it’s a “number-one rule.” That is, “No bait under the mat: leave. Bait present: continue.” On the other hand, some experts give just about every weed line a shot: “The best way to find out if a line holds fish is to fish it,” says Capt. Mike Holmes of Texas. Slice Of Heaven That pretty much describes the enviable situation in which you’ll find yourself when you stumble upon a weed line that runs along (a) a color-change line, (b) a temperature change or (c) both. Just about every weed-line wizard emphasizes that. And it’s not an unusual circumstance to come upon since, “There’s a reason those weed lines are where they are,” as Stanczyk points out, thanks to converging currents, areas of upwelling and so on. “Here off Tobago,” says Capt. Frothy Desilva, “the best weed lines are the ones with some greenish water on one side and clearer blue water on the other side.” If there’s also a temperature change on the line, so much the better. But that advice isn’t limited to Tobago by any means; Frekey and others echo Desilva’s assessment that weeds + color change + temperature break = a slice of anglers’ heaven. In fact, without it, at least “in the northern Gulf, a weed line is just another place to fish,” says Capt. Marcus Kennedy of Alabama. “But if it’s accompanied by a color change, temperature break and/or converging currents, get ready: Good fishing is almost guaranteed.”
Jensen Beach, Florida skipper Scott Fawcett is a confirmed believer in using a dredge teaser while trolling. “I wouldn’t fish sails or dolphin without one,” he told Outdoor Life last week while setting up on an offshore weedline.
Fawcett runs the dredge–a mix of real and soft-plastic ballyhoo–off a Canon downrigger.
It’s then deployed behind the boat and into the spread.
The dredge is then run 20 to 30 yards behind the boat–closer if fishing for sails (look closely and you can see the iridescent colors of a chasing mahi).
Trolling lures rigged with ballyhoo are then run off outriggers, flatlines and diving boards most typically in an “M” or “W” pattern.
Dolphin, attracted by the dredge, will often smack one of the trolling lures. This is where the fun begins. “Reel the first fish in,” says Fawcett, “but don’t boat him, leave him in the water. That fish will often lure in the rest of the school.”
The dredge and the hooked fish did draw in the school and we had loads of fun pitching small jigs at the chicken dolphin. Once action with one school slowed, we re-rigged with trolling baits and had at them again.
The best fish of the day weighed 10 to 13 pounds–great fun on light tackle.
Great Eats Finally, what gives dolphin my final nod as the No. 1 Gamefish is their edibility. I’m a fish lover and have eaten a variety of species both fresh and salt, but none can match mahi-mahi on the table.
Question: What is the most popular of all gamefish? Largemouth bass? Walleye? Trout? Steelhead? Dolphin? Tarpon? Now’s the time for you to decide.