10 Fish That Should be on Your Bucket List

Like most fishers, I love catching really big fish. Check out my Tinder account for proof (and swipe right if you like what you see – who knows?). But they are not the be-all and end-all of good fishing. I am of the firm belief that every fisher’s bucket list should include a variety of game fish, non-game fish, freshwater fish, saltwater fish, big fish and small fish. Yes, even small fish. Well, medium-size-ish.

Fish Bucket List

This list below describes what I believe are the fish that every fisher should try to catch in his or her life. It’s not necessarily important that you actually land each one. Fishing is about the experience. It’s about enjoying the water, the chase and a beer. It’s sometimes about missing a bite because you drank too much beer and dozed off. Occasionally, if you’re lucky, it’s about catching a fish. (Also, full disclosure, despite what I said before, this list does mostly include big fish. What can I say? I love big fish.)

1.  Marlin

Right off the bat, I’m going to start with the marlin to get it out of the way. Yes, you should try to catch a marlin. Anyone who talks about fishing has said this before and I’m saying it again. Marlins are awesome. They’re massive, they’re lightning fast and catching them is a serious physical challenge. They’re the king of game fish, although Florida has done this species a massive disservice by naming a terrible baseball team after it. The team is so terrible, no one even remembers it’s called the Miami Marlins now.

A blue marlin can grow to 1,400 pounds or more. That’s more than a motorcycle. That’s more than a horse. That’s the size of an adult cow. There are literally marlins that weigh as much as an entire full-sized cow. Have you tried catching an entire cow before? Probably not. If you want to catch this species, you’re going to need patience and strength. Lures and bait that skip around and move will do best for marlin.

2.  Bonefish

Depending on the fisher you talk to, bonefish are literally the easiest fish in the world to catch or the most enormous challenge you will take on in your life. So, opinion on this guy varies. In my humble opinion, the only secret to catching bonefish is having patience while waiting, and a firm hand when you get a bite. Some practice casting in the wind will help you avoid flailing wildly in the water as well.

In my opinion, the best way to catch bonefish is from a boat. You can try wading, but if you aren’t experienced at catching bonefish, it’s really easy to scare them off with any noise. Side note: Don’t go bonefishing with your less experienced friend if you plan on catching any fish. When he shifts in the water to scratch his leg for the third time or coughs every few minutes and scares off every bonefish within 100 feet, you will want to hurt him.

3.  Wels Catfish

The Wels catfish… is a really big fish. If you thought the mudcat you caught in the Mississippi was a big catfish, I’m here to tell you that it wasn’t, actually. Native to Europe, these freshwater monsters are absolute beasts to try and catch. On average, they grow between four and five feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds, but there have been reports of Wels weighing 300 pounds or more.

Wels catfish are survivors, reportedly living 50 years or longer. While researching these suckers, I found out there’s a whole tribe of these swimming around an abandoned Chernobyl cooling plant, looking perfectly healthy and massive. That’s a fish that wants to live. If you’re willing to go across the pond for a fishing expedition, this is the type of challenge worth making the trip for.

4.  Wahoo

Another awesome game fish worth catching is the wahoo. These suckers are lightning fast. They can zip by at 60 mph, making them one of the fastest fish around. Now, you can try catching these fish with slow trolling or dropping jigs. But that would be a waste of your time, a waste of my time and a waste of the wahoo’s time. That’s not how to enjoy this fish. Get on a boat and learn how to high-speed troll for wahoo – now that’s a thrill worth dedicating a day to.

Wahoo grow up to eight feet long and can weigh 150 pounds or more. They’re a particularly delicious species to cook and eat as well. If you manage to wrangle some up, slice those suckers open and cook ‘em. You will absolutely be hungry after wrestling with them at high speeds.

5.  Trout

I spent plenty of Saturday mornings fly-fishing for trout fish with my dad growing up. Every fisher you ever talk to will have some experience with this fish. That’s because they’re literally everywhere and damn easy to catch. There are dozens of varieties, all ranging in size and weight. In general, trout fish are on the smaller side, weighing in at five pounds or less. Rainbow trout are some of the more attractive species you can fish out of the water.

There are dozens of ways to catch a trout. Try them all. Lakes and rivers aren’t going to run out of trout fish anytime soon, so you have plenty of opportunities to practice. Plus, they’re relatively good eating — trout are worth keeping rather than catching and releasing.

6.  Tarpon

Head down to Florida and look for tarpon if you’re really looking for a fishing challenge. These absolute units will put up a serious fight, flipping and thrashing in the air the whole way. Full disclosure: If you’re planning on hunting for a meal, these guys may not be the tastiest dinner around unless you’re, like, super into bones. Which is weird, and you shouldn’t be.

Second disclosure: In Florida, you can only keep one tarpon a year, and that requires a special license. If you don’t have that license, release any you catch. Make sure to minimize the damage caused by hooks, and avoid using light lines to catch these big guys. They can fight until they’re completely exhausted and there’s no point in catching and releasing a tarpon just for the fish to die anyway.

7.  Crappie

The crappie is a tiny fish. So tiny that you may perhaps wonder why it’s on my bucket list of fish to catch. I understand your confusion. This little guy is an easy catch, which means you aren’t going to be making any crazy hauls or wrestling with a crappie anytime soon. However, they are quite fun to target from a kayak. Kayak fishing allows you to get into shallower waters you may not be able to reach with a regular boat. Bonus: it’s fun to ride in a kayak.

Crappie typically max out at about a pound. Despite what their name would suggest, these fish make for good eats too. Fillet the if they’re large or leave them whole if they’re small, coat them and dry them in a pan. Since each specimen is small, a full afternoon’s worth of crappie fishing can easily be devoured in an evening. The perfect excuse to return to the lake and go fishing again the next day.

8.  Grouper

The grouper fish gives you the best of both worlds. It’s a strong fish that grows to impressive sizes, making it fun to catch, and it’s also good eating, making it excellent to cook. Enjoy an afternoon getting utterly wrecked by a fish that’s stronger and badder than you. Once you’ve admitted defeat, you can visit a seafood restaurant for dinner and order the grouper while reflecting on your failures.

There are a large variety of grouper fish in the sea. You can hunt down a giant grouper like the Atlantic Goliath, which weighs around 400 pounds on average if you’re so inclined. If you don’t think a fish literally twice your size sounds like a good time just yet, you can start off with the brown spotted grouper, which maxes out at about 15 pounds. There are dozens of options in between as well.

9.  Cobia

The cobia looks like a shark and if you’re showing off photos to non-fishing friends, you may be able to pass it off as one. In fact, it’s a game fish in a family of its own. Cobia can grow up to 100 pounds and more than six feet in length. These guys are big, they put up a fight and they’re great to eat.

If you want to catch a cobia, the trick is to tire him out before he tires you out. Let him thrash and splash in the water and give him some line and space to do it. When he’s tired out, you can pull him in with a net. Expect a second round of resistance when you’re bringing him into the boat. If you don’t tire him out before you bring him up, you and everyone on board is going to get tail-slapped by a thrashing 50-pound pissed-off wet fish.

10.  Sturgeon

Sturgeons are considered living fossils, relics from the age of dinosaurs. You remember dinosaurs, right? Those guys that ruled Earth when “giant” and “massive” was the default animal size? These guys don’t even have scales, just bones on their bodies. Catching a sturgeon is an awesome feat. They can grow up to 800 pounds, and they’re famous for their acrobatic thrashing. The experience of trying to catch a sturgeon is worth striving for, even if you don’t manage to land the fish.

Once upon a time, sturgeons were driven to the point of near extinction. This was due to the fact that mmm, sturgeon caviar. Today, the population is making a slow recovery. Atlantic sturgeon cannot be harvested, while white sturgeon can. Research the exact regulations regarding catching sturgeon where you live. If the local sturgeon can be caught, there’s probably a limit on how many you can take and what size they should be. You can download our master fishing guide to learn more about checking fish regulations before landing a particular species.