Take Your Family On A Camping Fishing Trip!

Take Your Family On A Camping Fishing Trip!

Looking for an extra-special place to take the family this summer? These five great destinations, sure to make the most of everyone's precious vacation time, are just a little of what California has to offer.

The author's daughter Katie (right) and best friend Willa Keegan find the fishing to their liking off the docks at Clear Lake State Park.
Photo by Brian Sak

Between a war in Iraq, natural disasters and a local economy that's not sure where it's going, it's more important than ever for families to take breaks from watching it all on TV. And with summer fast approaching, there's not a better way to get away than by heading for the water with your loved ones in tow.

You'll want to make the most of your trips this year, so be sure to select destinations with something for everyone. Sounds easy, and it should be with California's 4,800 lakes and reservoirs, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 1,100 miles of coastline. But with more than 2 million licensed anglers and even more campers, you can see why it's not that simple to make a last-minute dash out the door and expect to really do well.

Any number of campgrounds in the state with excellent fishing, topnotch facilities and fun activities nearby would be good choices, but here are five destinations to help start your search. Although the amenities at our selections range from roughing it to full-service affairs, be assured that each of these locations is well kept, offers above-average fishing and has alternative activities that will satisfy every family member.

CLEAR LAKE STATE PARK

California's largest natural body of water, in the foothills of Lake County, is known for summer fun. A modest three-hour drive from most anywhere in the Bay Area, people flock the Clear Lake to get away from hectic urbanized life, to enjoy everything from water skiing to wine tasting. But that's not what brings anglers here year after year. It's the trophy largemouths that, according to many, make Clear Lake the best bass fishery west of the Rockies.

Clear Lake is one of those places in which every inch of shoreline looks like it holds bass, but you'll do better targeting specific types of cover. The flooded tules surrounding the park are a good place to start. Fish spinnerbaits or poppers early and late, switching to plastics when the sun is high. If the tule bite doesn't work, head north to fish docks, rocky banks, algae-mats and rock piles. Popular offerings include white crankbaits, black frogs and earth tone Senkos.

Panfish provide plenty of action when bass become difficult to catch. Crappie have been making a comeback at Clear Lake, and although tough to find during summer, you may get lucky soaking live minnows off docks near deep water. Red worms are a sure bet for bluegills in the slough running through the park.

Traditional cut baits will coax big catfish into biting, especially during the first few hours after sunset. Concentrate on the entrances to creeks and bays.

Clear Lake State Park has four campgrounds combining for 147 sites, each with a picnic table, food locker and fire ring. There are no RV hookups, but a dump station is available. You'll find running water close to each site, and three of the four campgrounds have bathrooms with showers. A roped-off beach provides a safe place for swimmers. Park rangers offer nature walks and a Junior Ranger Program. Boaters will appreciate a wide ramp, docks with slip rentals and battery-charging stations. For more information, call the park at (707) 279-4293. To make reservations, dial 800-444-PARK (7275).

When you need a break from the lake, Outrageous Waters offers slides, race cars, batting cages and more. There are interactive displays at the Calpine Geothermal Visitor Center and Taylor Observatory. Adults may enjoy a concert at Konocti Harbor Resort or an evening at a local casino.

For details and additional ideas, call the Lake County Visitor Information Center at 800-525-3743.

LAKE MARGARET

If you prefer a genuine backwoods experience to falling in line with the masses, then put Lake Margaret at the top of your must-visit list. This relatively small Goose Creek impoundment sits at the edge of Shasta-Trinity National Forest, only 4.4 miles north of Highway 299 near Burney. You'll have to join Wilderness Unlimited to camp and fish here, but the modest membership fee is a small price to pay for the setting and quality fishing you'll enjoy.

Margaret is in trout country, and don't be surprised if you catch rainbows, browns and brookies all in the same day. Wilderness Unlimited stocks just one time each year, typically in June, but because the lake gets little pressure you'll find non-stop action no matter when you go. And with plenty of holdovers, there are big fish too.

Rainbow trout are the easiest to catch, and will keep you busy all day once you figure out where they are and what they want. Start by trolling a variety of spoons and in-line spinners around the lake, covering the entire thing by zigzagging back-and-forth; black spinners are a good bet. Once you hook a couple of trout from the same spot, you'll catch dozens more by anchoring and fishing the area thoroughly.

Concentrate on the creek mouths for brook trout, especially when there's water flowing into the lake. Fly-fishing is the technique of choice, and while brookies take most nymphs, beadhead patterns tend to work best. Try a size 14 Adams when there's a mayfly hatch, or any small black fly when you see ants on the water.

Brown trout move deep during summer and are usually tough to catch. Plan a spring or fall trip, however, and you'll see just how big Margaret's fish get. The secret to browns in the spring is casting 4-inch floating minnow plugs to the shoreline. Trolling along the old creek channel also works well. Try crappie jigs at the creek mouths when autumn rolls around.

Margaret's campground has only 12 sites, but management never books more than 10 so you'll always have a choice for your RV or tent. A local caretaker controls access, but with no amenities other than chemical toilets you'll be on your own for supplies. There are several boats available at the lake, free to members when reserved. They come with life vests and oars but you'll have to bring your own electric motor and battery. You can use your own boat (no inflatable crafts or gas motors) as long as it's light enough to carry to the water. Float tubes and pontoon boats are also allowed. For more information or to become a member, call Wilderness Unlimited at 800-498-9818.

It's difficult to break away from the fishing at Lake Margaret, but there are several things to do in the area for those who want to head back to civilization. The adventuresome wil

l find over 1,000 feet of the Subway Cave open to exploration, along with white-water rafting on the Pit River. Slightly farther away, Lassen Volcanic National Park's boiling lakes and cinder cones are must-sees. For details and additional ideas, call the Burney Chamber of Commerce at (530) 335-2111.

LAKE PARDEE

Are you looking for a great fishing lake that offers fun for the family and a peaceful setting away from water skiers and personal watercraft without having to rough it at a remote destination? If so, Pardee is for you.

Situated on the Mokelumne River amongst the Western Sierra's rolling foothills, this lake's picturesque setting, fish-filled waters and full-service features provide everything necessary for a stress-free outing.

Rainbow trout are the main attraction at Pardee, with weekly plants of fish to 5 pounds. Make it here before the lake stratifies and you'll catch fish by trolling spoons or night crawlers at 10 to 15 feet. Otherwise you're better off soaking dough baits, inflated night crawlers or marshmallow-salmon egg combos. One of the prime spots is around the marina.

Project Kokanee does a good job keeping Pardee's salmon fishery going strong. For kokanee averaging 12 to 15 inches, head to the dam and troll flashers followed by a spinner. Covering your terminal tackle with some type of attractant pays big dividends.

Although the bass at Pardee get relatively little pressure in comparison to other Mother Lode lakes, the smallmouth and largemouth fishing here is outstanding. There are plenty of targets to cast to here, including points, rock ledges and submerged island tops. Use poppers and ripbaits first thing in the morning and just before dark. Try crankbaits, jigs and small worms or grubs when the sun's rays hit the water.

Panfish enthusiasts will find non-stop action in the coves near the campground. The largest concentrations of fish are under the marina docks. Channel, blue and white catfish are available if you're the nocturnal type willing to soak smelly baits.

East Bay Municipal Utility District operates Lake Pardee, opening it from mid-February through the end of October. There are two campgrounds with 141 tent and RV sites -- 12 full hookup sites are available by reservation only. Each site has a fire pit and table, while piped water and chemical toilets are accessible in the campground. For flush toilets, showers and laundry facilities you'll have to walk to the lower trailer park. There is a coffee shop, convenience store and two swimming pools near the campground entrance. Boaters will find a 10-lane ramp and marina with everything from spark plugs and fuel to tackle and fishing licenses. For more information or to make reservations, call the Lake Pardee office at (209) 772-1472.

Lake Pardee is in the heart of gold country, where campers can visit the Amador County Museum, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and the restored gold-mining town at Columbia State Historic Park. If you're not claustrophobic, give spelunking a try at Mercer or Moaning caverns. For details and additional ideas, call the Amador Chamber of Commerce at (209) 223-0350.

MONTEREY BAY STATE BEACHES

What was once the most prolific commercial fishing area along California's coast, Monterey Bay and its surrounding communities are now known for their tourist attractions. From the Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz to the greens of Pebble Beach's championship golf courses, there is something for everyone here. And although the commercial fishing is not what it used to be, Monterey Bay continues to provide ample sport-fishing opportunities.

King salmon are the prime target during summer, but to catch fish you'll have to go to sea. Party boat trips are available out of Monterey and Santa Cruz, and are your best bet when unfamiliar with the area. If you have access to a seaworthy vessel of your own, try mooching at popular holes like Natural Bridges, Soquel Point and the Soldier's Club. Launch facilities are available in Monterey, Moss Landing, Capitola and Santa Cruz.

Those willing to risk seasickness can also find decent halibut, rockfish and lingcod fishing. Try drifting bait off sandy beaches for halibut. Drop shrimp-fly rigs or jigging spoons over reefs for rockfish and lings.

Surf casting here can be hit-or-miss, but you'll increase your chances by heading to a local hotspot known as the Cement Ship. For better fishing, travel to Capitola and Santa Cruz wharfs, where access to deeper water yields mackerel, perch, kingfish and an occasional striper.

Four state beaches allow camping along the Pacific on Monterey Bay: New Brighton, Seacliff, Manresa and Sunset. There are 102 tent and RV sites on the bluffs overlooking the ocean at New Brighton State Beach, while Seacliff offers 26 sites available to RVs only. Try one of Manresa State Beach's 64 walk-in sites for a serene experience -- some overlook the ocean, but you may prefer those behind wind-protecting dunes. Sunset State Beach provides 90 tent and RV sites. Each campground provides picnic tables, fire pits, restrooms and showers. For more information, call the state parks district office at (831) 429-2850. To make reservations, dial 800-444-PARK (7275).

Anyone wishing to experience the attractions that draw countless people to the Monterey Bay area every year will enjoy trips to Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow-Gauge Railroad, the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz or Monterey Bay Aquarium. Plan a trip right away and you'll catch the Monterey Blues Festival June 24-26. For details and additional ideas, call the chambers of commerce in Santa Cruz at (831) 457-3713 or Monterey at (831) 648-5360.

IRVINE LAKE

It's hard to believe that it's possible to find quiet places to wet a line anywhere near a Southern California population center, but that's exactly what Irvine has to offer. Only minutes away from Orange and Anaheim, at the base of Cleveland National Forest, this quaint lake features shallow coves, steep bluffs and well defined creek channels. The quality habitat adds up to some of the best fishing the state has to offer, especially when it comes to trophies.

There are brook, steelhead and Kamloops trout in Irvine Lake, but it's the rainbows and browns that get most of the attention. The rainbow record stands at 22.55 pounds, while the 12.5-pound brown trout record was set last year. Bright dough baits take most of the fish, but at times inflated night crawlers work better. Casting in-line spinners early or late in the day is also worth a try, while trolling is the way to go when trout move deep. Start your search for fish along the west shore, over the flats or off the point at Trout Island. Younger family members will find plenty of action in the Kid's Lagoon.

Monster catfish are planted at Irvine throughout summer, where the current channel record is 70 pounds and a huge 89.6-pound blue tops the big-fish list. You'll need beefy gear, capable of handling 15- to 20-pound-test line, for these big cats. Bait 4/0 hooks with mackerel or chicken livers, and let them sit on the bottom on slack line; set the hook when the sag disappears. Catfish bite day and night in Boat Dock Cove.

Bass angler

s are asked to use artificial lures and are required to practice catch-and-release when targeting largemouths. Popular techniques along the west shore or in Sierra Cove include topwater fishing and drop shotting.

You'll find bluegill and redear sunfish wherever there's submerged brush, while schools of crappie hold on deeper structure. Although rarely caught, there are also wipers (a cross between a white bass and stripers) and sturgeon.

Irvine is a privately owned pay-to-fish lake; fishing licenses are not required. There are 64 sites in two campgrounds, each with a table and fire ring. The lower campground offers easy access to showers and other facilities, the lake and the Kid's Lagoon, and is suitable for large RVs. The secluded upper campground is ideal for smaller RVs and tents, but be aware that there is no running water and campfires are not permitted. You'll also find a café serving burgers and tacos, a fully stocked tackle shop, boat rentals and a boat ramp. For more information or to make reservations (only taken for busy weekends), call the Tackle Shop at (714) 649-9111.

When you've had enough fishing fun, there are several alternatives offering a change of pace. Schedule your trip for late August and you'll catch the lake's first classic rock festival. If the Anaheim Angels are playing at home you can take in a Major League ball game. And what better way to round out a family vacation than with a trip to Disneyland. For details and additional ideas, call the chambers of commerce in Orange at (714) 538-3581 or Anaheim at (714) 758-0222.

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