Take Your Family on a Camping Fishing Trip!
September 29, 2010
Summer is just around the corner -- round up the gang and choose a vacation destination that will make everyone happy!
By Brian Sak
There's no denying we live in a fast-paced world. Have you noticed the number of people eating at fast-food chains? Drive 70 miles per hour on the freeway and you had better keep to the right. Chaos erupts when e-mail goes down. And nowadays you can get coffee, doughnuts or your oil changed without getting out of the car. I've even been to a bait shop featuring a drive-up window.
For the most part there's nothing wrong with living our lives on the move. Day-to-day events are exciting and productivity is high. The problem, however, is that we get so caught up in getting things done that we stop taking the time to enjoy life.
With summer right around the corner, it's a great time to start thinking about a break from life's hustle and bustle. And what better way to get away from it all than a peaceful camping/fishing trip? No e-mail. No fast food. And yes, you will be getting out of your car!
The key to getting your family to agree to such a trip is selecting a destination that offers something for everyone. Once you know what each person wants, do some research to find out what's out there. California has a lot to offer, so it shouldn't be difficult. But if you don't know where to start, look over the five spots below. Each area is well-maintained, has above-average fishing and provides a variety of alternative activities.
Stan, Randy and Scott Harrison (l. to r.) represent three generations of anglers who found the lingcod bite at Shelter Cove to their liking. Photo by Brian Sak
SHELTER COVE This stretch of Pacific seashore, otherwise known as the Lost Coast, remains true to its name. Why? Because the King Range, which forces the Coast Highway about 30 miles to the east, makes access difficult at best. Isolation is responsible for the area's continued existence without major highways or towns; the small community of Shelter Cove is all that is here.
Portions of the 27-mile drive from Highway 101 to Shelter Cove are treacherous, but even RVs and vehicles towing trailers make it when drivers take their time. The fishing makes the trek worth the effort, and is supported by a number of anglers that return to Shelter Cove each year. Most fishermen target salmon in July and August, with rockfish and surf perch filling in on slow days.
King salmon come close to shore here, and because Point Delgada protects the area from northwesterly winds, Shelter Cove is ideal for owners of small boats. (Be wary of winds out of the west and south.) Find out where other campers have been catching fish before heading out - most are eager to share information. Trolling tends to be the most effective method for salmon, although there are always a few taken by moochers. There are rentals and charters available for non-boat owners.
You'll catch a quick limit of rockfish by dropping shrimp-fly rigs or jigs down to rocky reefs. For more fun try fishing soft plastics on light line. Rockfish regulations have been in turmoil lately, so make sure to check for closures. Cast bloodworms or motor oil mini-grubs on drop-hook rigs into the surf for perch.
There isn't anything fancy about the Shelter Cove Campground, other than its ocean view, but when it comes to amenities you'll be able to find what you need. There are about 100 campsites, many with full hookups, complete with picnic tables and fire rings. A centrally located general store, restaurant (try the fish-and-chips), restrooms, showers and laundry are available. There's a launch ramp and tackle shop within walking distance. For information and reservations, call (707) 986-7474.
The remote nature of the Lost Coast limits the number of activities in the area. Historians can tour the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse that was moved piece by piece to Shelter Cove in 1998. The entire family will enjoy exploring tide pools below Mal Coombs Park or watching harbor seals and sea lions from the Seal Rock Picnic Area. Hiking is popular along Black Sands Beach and the King Crest Trail.
For details, call the Shelter Cove Information Bureau at (707) 986-7069.
SHASTA LAKE It's tough to find a body of water in California with easy access that, at the same time, provides a relatively secluded outdoor experience. But that's exactly what you get at the massive reservoir created by the damming of the Sacramento, McCloud and Pit rivers. As a bonus you get unparalleled vistas of what many consider the most scenic lake in the state.
Getting to Shasta is easy, with Interstate 5 crossing the reservoir eight miles north of Redding. And with several species of fish to target, catching something is almost as simple as finding your way to the water. The most popular include largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, landlocked king salmon, brown trout and rainbows, and a variety of sunfishes and catfish.
Black bass are abundant throughout Shasta and attract lots of attention from fishermen. Spots dominate creels no matter where you fish on the lake, and are easy to catch with downsized crankbaits and shad-pattern plastics; cast to rocky structure. Your best chance at largemouths is in the Pit River arm, where ripbaits and topwater plugs produce early and late in the day. Smallies can be tough, but with a jar of crickets and persistence they can be taken off steep banks.
Although trout and salmon will be shallow early and late in the year, you'll have to get your offering to the thermocline to catch fish when summer arrives. Trolling spoons or night crawlers behind flashers from the dam to the I-5 bridge is a good bet. Fisherman's Point, near the dam, is a popular shore-fishing spot; use marshmallows to float salmon eggs off the bottom.
Crappie congregate around submerged willows and go crazy over minnows. Dunk small pieces of night crawler to catch sunfishes suspended under docks or houseboats. Try liver or clams in coves for catfish.
There are numerous public and private campgrounds around Shasta, with sites ranging from primitive to fully developed. Adventurous families with older children may choose to camp at a boat-in site, or even stay on a rented houseboat. Regardless of the accommodations that suit you, it's best to look for a campground in the arm of the lake you wish to explore. Although most sites are first-come, first-serve, some take reservations. For information, call (530) 275-1589.
After several days of Shasta's searing sun, it's a good idea to take a break from the lake. The entire family will appreciate time in the cool passageways at Lake Shasta Caverns (my personal favorite). Other oppor
tunities include tours of Shasta Dam, exploration at Carter House Natural Science Museum and rides on the Yreka "Blue Goose" Excursion Train. For details, call the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association at 1-800-474-2782.
LAKE TULLOCH The fancy houses than line much of Tulloch's perimeter make this Western Sierra reservoir appear more suited to water-skiers and personal watercraft than to fishermen. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
The two crisscrossing canyons that form this Gold Country lake combine for 55 miles of fishable shoreline with enough structure to satisfy the most serious of anglers. The docks attached to many of the houses only add to the cover.
Often overshadowed by larger foothill waters east of Manteca, including Don Pedro and New Melones, this relatively small lake holds its own when it comes to fishing. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are found here, but the smallies are the real draw. Rainbow trout, several species of panfish and catfish are also in Tulloch, providing something for everyone.
Smallmouth bass are found throughout Tulloch, but the majority of the fish congregate in three areas of the lake. For starters, try spinnerbaits in the Green Springs arm, topwater plugs in Black Creek and pork tipped jigs upriver; cast to wherever you find rocky outcroppings. Look for largemouths in grassy coves off the main lake and under docks. Ripbaits and crankbaits take fish early and late in the day, but you'll need to slow down with soft plastics when the sun is on the water.
For summer trout on the main lake it will be necessary to fish deep with downriggers. Rainbows can be taken shallow, however, by casting spoons and spinners upstream of the warmwater/coldwater boundary in the river. Use red worms to catch sunfishes along the perimeter of the campground. Soak stink bait in any cove for catfish.
The quality of the facilities at Lake Tulloch's South Shore Campground are tough to beat, thanks to several upgrades implemented over the past several years. In addition to just over 100 campsites and a handful of full-hookup sites, you'll find waterfront cabanas and cabins. For your convenience there's a small general store, restaurant and bar in the campground. Swimmers enjoy the safety of a roped-off area complete with sandy beach. There's also a multi-lane boat ramp and marina with berths, gas and boat rentals. For information and reservations, call (209) 881-0107.
Although it will be hard for anglers to break away from the fishing, there are lots of fun things to do in the area for those desiring something different. If you've never been to the restored gold-mining town at Columbia State Historic Park, where you'll feel like you've been transported to the Wild West, put the destination at the top of your list of places to visit. Other worthwhile trips include Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown and the Hershey chocolate factory in Oakdale.
For details, call the Highway 120 Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-449-9120.
MAMMOTH LAKES Camping and fishing amongst the landscapes that inspired photographer Ansel Adams and poet John Muir is akin to taking a step back in time. You'll want to keep your cell phone turned off at this Eastern High Sierra destination, where relaxation is the name of the game. Casting, napping and playing take place at a leisurely pace here, in the shadow of spectacular granite mountainsides, majestic pines and crystal clear waters.
The Mammoth Lakes area is relatively easy to get to, at less than a half-day's drive from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. When you arrive, you'll find more than enough hungry trout to go around, distributed through a variety of lakes and streams. Hatchery-raised rainbows are the most common species, although there are ample opportunities for brookies and browns.
Department of Fish and Game hatchery trout and privately stocked Alpers are available for rainbow fans, and are the easiest species to catch. You'll find exceptional fishing at Twin Lakes and lakes Mamie, Mary and George, each accessible by car. Bait and artificials work at all four locations, although you'll need to downsize when casting hardware. Try soaking red worms or casting spoons, spinners and dry flies. Mary is the only lake suitable for trolling.
Although brookies are sometimes taken from Mammoth's lower-elevation lakes, you'll have a better shot at hooking one by hiking to waters above 10,000 feet and casting flies. Brown trout are tough to find in lakes during the summer, but can be caught when targeting deep-water reaches of streams.
Several campgrounds are available in the Mammoth Lakes area, including at Twin Lakes and at lakes Mary and George. Most accommodate RVs as well as tents, and include picnic tables, fire rings, piped water and restrooms with flush toilets. Supplies, laundry facilities and propane are available in the town of Mammoth Lakes.
For information, call (760) 924-5500. Reservations are only accepted at Mammoth Mountain RV Park (1-800-582-4603).
There's an abundance of alternative activities in the Mammoth Lakes area. Try mountain biking Mammoth's ski slopes, taking a horseback excursion into the Ansel Adams and John Muir wildernesses, or touring (if you dare) the ghost town of Bodie. Head here in July for the annual Jazz Jubilee or the Children's Fishing Festival.
For details, call the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau at 1-888-466-2666.
BIG BEAR LAKE The San Bernardino National Forest provides a spectacular background to Big Bear Lake. Its majestic mountains, towering pines and blue skies that go on forever rival the vistas of any other California location. Although the area is known for the outstanding winter recreational opportunities that it provides, it's no slouch when it comes to summer fun.
At 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, you may think that the fishing at Big Bear is less than optimal. But that's not the case. You'll find some of the best angling in southern California at this high-elevation mountain lake. The most popular species targeted by fishermen are rainbow trout and largemouth and smallmouth bass, although creels also include good numbers of bluegill and catfish.
Trolling takes most of the rainbows here, shallow during spring and fall while deeper in the summer. Flashers trailed by spoons, small minnow plugs or night crawlers are the rigs of choice, but try these offerings without an attractor when fish develop lockjaw. The west end of the lake is a good place to start, with the area from Metcalf Bay to the dam considered prime.
It's hard to believe that a lake at almost 7,000 feet would have quality populations of warmwater bass, but there are plenty of largemouths and smallies swimming in Big Bear. Fish topwater poppers before the sun hits the water and after it sets, working your way from the ends of points into coves. A slow presentation with dark soft plastics works during midday. You'll find smallmouths in the same areas as the largemouths, bu
t you'll have to downsize your offering and fish deeper to catch them.
Target bluegills around shallow weedbeds by suspending a small piece of night crawler below a bobber. Stay east of Juniper Point after dark, soaking mackerel or chicken livers for catfish.
There are a variety of campgrounds at Big Bear, most on the north side of the lake. You can choose from fully developed resort-type facilities within walking distance of the water to undeveloped camps in the mountains. No matter what you select you'll always be a short distance from groceries, supplies and access to Big Bear Lake. The Forest Service operates the National Forest campgrounds, but the Discovery Center is the best source for information; call (909) 866-3437.
Most activities in the Big Bear area are outdoor-related, with a number of opportunities available nearby. Head to Magic Mountain where you'll navigate your own authentic bobsled down an alpine slide, or slow down with a leisurely horseback ride at Baldwin Lake Stables. Inquisitive members in the family will want to visit Big Bear Solar Observatory, open to the public on Saturdays in July and August from 4-6 p.m.
For details, call the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce at (909) 866-4607.
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