Great Plains Family Fishing

When vacation time rolls around at your house, check out one of these family-friendly fishing destinations across our region. (June 2006)

I didn't realize how easy it would be for families to visit all four of the Great Plains vacation destinations that I've chosen until I went back and put two and two together. The trend was so obvious that an alternate title for this piece could be "I-29 Family Fishing Vacations" -- because it would seem that families from Grand Forks to Kansas City don't have to stray far from that particular interstate for their family fishing fun. Convenience is this year's theme: big-city convenience with a family feel.


In North Dakota, Grand Forks means the Red River of the North. One of the nation's most scenic rivers, the Red River boasts more than 50 species of fish, along with world-class catfishing. Yet Grand Forks and the Red River area also offer other attractions like rock-climbing, shopping, and a host of kid-friendly activities.

At the Northern Heights Rock Gym, participants can take advantage of a number of rock-climbing challenges sure to test the entire family. Columbia Mall in Grand Forks has shopping, while Splash Park features playgrounds and sprinklers for the kids.


On June 2, take a trip to the River Cities Speedway for a night at the races. Check out the Grand Cities Art Fest, June 10-11 in downtown Grand Forks, or just take in a family movie any day of the week at one of the area's theaters. Visit the North Dakota Museum of Art to view the latest exhibitions.


Or spend your entire time at the Red River State Recreation Area. With mountain biking, nature trails, and a host of boating and fishing activities, the park is regarded as one of the state's best family environments. Plus, it's set in an urban area that's within walking distance of shopping and dining.

With access to the Red River in this recreation area, anglers should focus on the smallmouth bass, pike, and catfish angling that the Red River of the North has to offer. Fish 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigs and spinnerbaits for ambushing pike near calm-water sections adjacent to moving water. Catch smallmouths near rocky areas with crawfish-colored crankbaits, or find fish by floating crankbaits atop the water.

Featuring only light current, the river's a perfect spot, and now's the perfect time to work lures for multiple species. Cast past points near calm water and allow the lure to maneuver its way to the point, drift back into the current and then swim its way back to the point again. It's a great way to keep a lure in a fish's strike zone. The main thing at the Red River is to find the eddies and to fish the lines between those still patches and the continuously moving water.

Check out the state's fishing Web site at www.gf.nd.gov/fishing or www.ndtourism.comfor additional tourism information.

The fun in Sioux Falls, South Dakota's biggest city, starts at the beginning of June and doesn't seem to end until the kids go back to school. On June 3, the Siouxland Renaissance Festival transports patrons to the English town of Shrewsbury as it might have been in the year 1575. In this setting out of a history book, food for the whole family and an array of performers ready to entertain both kids and adults await visitors.

Sending countless colors across the Sioux Falls skyline in a stunning spectacle for all ages, the Great Plains Balloon Race takes place June 9-11. And at Catfish Bay Waterski Park every summer, the "Greatest Show on H2O" welcomes visitors to view water-skiing tricks executed by pros. You can also take the family to Empire Mall and Empire East, two of the best shopping destinations between Denver and Minneapolis.

Then, on June 10 or on June 17, watch the Sioux Falls Storm of the United Indoor Football League play home games against the Peoria Rough Riders and the Sioux City Bandits. The city also has four bowling lanes, three movie theaters -- and the Thunder Road Family Fun Park, where siblings can compete on the mini-golf course or one of the top go-cart tracks in the area.

If go-cart racing is your child's forte, the I-90 Interstate Speedway features dirt-track races every Thursday and Saturday during the summer. Plus, the Wild Water West Water Park and the Valley West Shooting Complex give families the opportunity to take their shot at the best clay shooting courses in the Sioux Falls area.

If you happen to be in the area on the weekend of July 22-23, check out the U.S. Navy Blue Angels Airshow. From little kids to elderly couples, I haven't seen one person who isn't impressed by the aerial ballet that these experts put on.

When it comes to fishing, the Sioux Falls area offers numerous options for vacationing families. West of Sioux Falls is a body of water that's very manageable for family fishing: Scott Lake. The best things about Scott are its size and its proximity to Sioux Falls. A few miles west, near Hartford, lies Scott Lake, an 80-acre reservoir into which anglers can slip in a johnboat or canoe for a morning trip across this angling venue whose yellow perch, bullheads, and walleyes are most abundant. Just down the road at 82-acre Loss Lake, anglers can also find yellow perch, bullheads, and walleyes, but can bring their big boat along for a day of fishing.

Check out the Big Sioux State Recreation Area with its disc golf course and its access to the Big Sioux River as well. The river has bass, pike, walleyes, catfish, and crappie. Try fishing a 1/4-ounce white tandem-blade spinnerbait for chances at multiple species, bass and pike in particular.

With more than two miles of its shoreline in the park alone, the Big Sioux River is a slow, meandering stretch of water enabling anglers to fish from either the shoreline or a canoe. Simply locate where the river makes its turns, and fish will be ambushing your lures in the still water next to the nearby flow just as they would on the Red River.

For more on Sioux Falls fishing or tourism, visit either of these helpful Web sites: www.sdgfp.info; www.siouxfallscvb.com.

A recent article in Parenting magazine named Omaha as one of the top 10 cities in the United States in which to raise a family. Sounds like it's not a bad place to spend some vacation time, either!

Another destination that features some of the best family activities to be found in the Great Plains is Omaha, Nebraska's metropolis. That's especially true during the month of June. The College World Series, which starts on June 16 this year and runs through the weekend of the 25

th, comes to this town. It's an event for baseball and non-baseball fanciers alike -- a place to meet people from throughout the nation who've come to watch their favorite college teams play. Reserved or bleacher tickets, available daily, can be purchased at Rosenblatt Stadium's box office at 10 a.m. on the day of the game.

Within eyeshot of the stadium is one of the best attractions in the city for both children and adults: the Henry Doorly Zoo. It's one of the best zoos in the nation, and plays host to an aquarium, a desert dome, and an IMAX theater that runs shows daily.

As far as fishing is concerned, I'll make this really easy for you: On your first day, take your son or daughter to Walnut Creek Lake in Bellevue, 15 minutes' drive from downtown Omaha. Fishing either from the bank or from one of the rental boats at the recreation area, an angler can use any collection of lures to find fish.

First, I'd recommend using either a natural- or fluorescent-frog-colored Zara Puppy to cast into open areas near shallow water; this should trigger multiple bass strikes. You can also take a miniature topwater plug and fish it with an ultralight rod and reel and catch fish all day. Walnut Creek is known for harboring a lot of smaller fish, and anglers can take advantage of these numbers with a child around.

But Walnut Creek isn't just for young kids. Take your teenager on the lake too, and you'll quickly see the large amount of cover that welcomes anglers. Fish small topwaters in open spots and scum frogs in areas of heavy foliage.

Once you've spent enough time on the water for the day, go back to the water for an afternoon swim at the Nebraska Fun Plex, a water park in Omaha that's open throughout the summer. In the evening, take the family a meal and a movie in west Omaha at one of the city's nicest shopping and dining destinations, Oak View Mall.

On day two, sneak out of the hotel or campsite and play nine holes at one of Omaha's public golf courses. Then take the kids to the Children's Museum, stop by the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium to look at the country's largest catfish on display, and head to Two Rivers State Recreation Area for a little afternoon catfishing or trout angling.

A mere 10 minutes from west Omaha, Two Rivers offers a small-lake atmosphere with big-fish opportunities. In the evening, dress the family up and venture out to a presentation of Ragtime -- The Musical at the Omaha Playhouse through June 25, or to the Omaha Symphony, which will be performing A Chorus Line from June 9 through July 2.

A recent article in Parenting magazine named Omaha as one of the top 10 cities in the United States in which to raise a family. Sounds like it's not a bad place to spend some vacation time, either! Explore the site www.visitomaha.com for additional tourism information; also check out the state's game and fish Web site www.ngpc.state.ne.us for more ideas regarding fishing in the area.

The Kansas City area, spanning two states and comprising other Kansas cities like Leavenworth, Overland Park, Olathe and Shawnee, is, simply stated, one huge metrozone. And with this gigantic population center comes an equally enormous complement of family vacation options both in the city and on the water.

Let's start with the Kansas City Royals. One of my fondest memories with my family is of driving through Kansas City one summer afternoon and -- having observed just a few people sitting in the stands at Kauffman Stadium -- deciding that we'd stop to see if there was a game, since we had nowhere to be for a while. As it happened, there was, and for a few bucks apiece, we bought seats for all of us in the right-field bleachers 15 minutes before the first pitch.

This year, the Royals host the Tampa Bay Devil Rays June 9-11 and the Milwaukee Brewers June 23-25. If that doesn't scratch your baseball itch, baseball history buffs can tour the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; one more of the glories of Kansas City, it's open throughout the summer.

Buy tickets to the Kansas Speedway on June 30 for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Qualifying and the O'Reilly Auto Parks 250 on July 1. In addition, visit the Coterie Theatre, named one of the most respected theaters for children in Time magazine. From June 27 to Aug. 6, the company is presenting Geppetto and Son.

Throughout the summer, an enormous amount of family things to do are on offer for young children and teenagers alike. For people of all ages, the 175-acre Worlds of Fun is the best theme park in the Midwest, while the adjacent Oceans of Fun is 60 acres of swimming and water-ride action. If you don't do anything else with your kids when you visit Kansas City, start with a little morning fishing, spend the rest of the day at Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, and then see either a Royals' game that night or take the family shopping at the Country Club Plaza. Your kids will remember it forever; they may even sleep in the next day!

Also located south of KC off of Interstate 35 is Olathe-Cedar Lake. At 56 acres, it's very manageable for a family of weekend warriors and has one of the highest concentrations of largemouth bass in the state. Tons of small fish can be caught, which means plenty of action for a child trying to get interested in one of the world's greatest hobbies. It contains a large contingent of channel cats larger than 16 inches as well. If it were my call, I'd do a little fishing for both. Tightline for catfish on bottom with a favorite bait such as chicken livers or shrimp -- and set that rod in a holder so a catfish can't drag it away! Work on your casting with your young angler a few steps away. Make sure your catfish rod is secured both in the ground and with an alarm bell for when it moves.

This is a good place to put a baitcaster or a spinning rod in your child's hand if he or she's graduated the closed-reel series. The best thing my dad did for me when I was young was to put a baitcaster in my hand and, then, to tighten the brake so much that it would have taken a miracle for me to backlash it.

Let your kid fish for bluegills and bass with a popping bug and a leader. Tie the leader to your main line and allow the popping bug to trail behind your leader about 2 feet while increasing the distance between these two as the child's comfort level rises. Explain those delicacies of sidearm casting that will eventually lead to your child's ability to fish a bait-caster with no problem.

* * *

If your family's like mine was when I was growing up, you'll have to get a group picture at some time during your family fishing vacation. My dad would set the camera on a stump, telling us very frankly that if we moved he was going to hunt us down -- which, of course, would set off a temporary dancing-and-clowning session on the part of my sisters and me. He'd then hit the button on the camera and run as fast as he could to jump in the photograph with us. He always had plenty of time, but we'd still yell "Hurry! Hurry!" as if he didn't.

That was the cherry on to

p, the final memory from each of our family trips. And they were good memories.

There's no reason to limit your vacation time to June. Most of the activities I've listed continue through the summer and can be enjoyed throughout July and August. All four of these Great Plains cities are great destinations for family vacations, offering plenty of lodging and camping accommodations. Each of them also presents the kind of outdoor fun and fishing you want with a child, the kind of summer that will provide a photo album of memories -- as long as you remember to bring your camera!

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