A Dozen Family Fishing Road Trips

Did you ever have one of those vacations that resembled a comedy movie? There's no chance of that if you take your clan to one of these Prairie State getaways. (June 2006)

Have you ever seen National Lampoon's Vacation movies? You know, the ones where Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, the optimistic father who plans the perfect getaway for his family, but has his well-planned excursion mutate into farcical disaster.

Much the same way as the calamity that befell the Griswold clan on every outing they took, a fishing trip with the family can create the same spoof we laugh at on the silver screen. However, taking everyone out for a day of angling fun can be a meaningful experience if you follow a few guidelines. Destinations need to be convenient, and there has to be plenty of things for children to do in case the fish aren't biting.

If you've been looking for a place to take your posse for a day of productive fishing with a pinch of variety, look no farther than the following destinations. The fishing at each getaway is superb, they all have numerous additional activities for families to engage in, and even Clark Griswold himself would have a hard time messing up a trip to these waters.

LAKE CARLTON

Nestled in the rolling hillsides and woodland terrain of Morrison-Rockwood State Park, Lake Carlton is a great getaway for folks looking to cash in on good multi-species fishing. Department of Natural Resources biologist Joe Ferencak said Lake Carlton has a family's favorite fish.

"Carlton is a good place to take the family for bluegills," Ferencak said, "and fishing can be exceptional in summer. Concentrate on the many small inlets with timber and weeds."

Carlton also has a lot of crappies that can be taken with bobber and minnow rigs in brushy coves and submerged fish cribs. Largemouth bass up to 3 pounds often thrill unsuspecting youngsters. Channel catfish are numerous for a patient angler soaking dip bait or cut bait on the bottom, with cats from 3 to 6 pounds being common. Walleyes and saugeyes are caught on night crawlers and minnows around the levee area. And if you're lucky, you could encounter one of the legendary muskies of Carlton.

Morrison-Rockwood State Park is located in Whiteside County about three miles north of Morrison. Boat rental, ramps, fishing piers, concession, camping and picnicking facilities are available. For more information, call (815) 772-4708. Travel and lodging information can be obtained from the Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce at (815) 625-4500.

THE LAKE AT INDEPENDENCE GROVE

For all the opportunities available in the northern suburbs of Chicago, DNR biologist Frank Jakubicek had difficulty commenting on just one good family destination in his district. However, he named one Lake County location as a standout for a productive day of bent poles and smiling faces.

"The best bet in my area is Independence Grove in the Lake County Forest Preserve District," the biologist said. "Fishing is very good, but the whole lake is catch-and-release for all species right now."

Constructed from a series of gravel mines in 1999, Independence Grove stocks bluegills, largemouth bass, crappies, channel catfish, perch and walleyes. Anglers will have no trouble catching hordes of nice bluegills in a day.

"Use a No. 10 hook, bobber and wax worms or pieces of night crawler, and parents won't be able to bait the kids' hooks fast enough," Jakubicek said.

Crappies can be taken from around fish attractors. Largemouths like whole night crawlers or plastics worked slowly over the bottom. Catfish and walleyes can be taken with worms on the bottom. Additionally, the Des Plains River courses through the park, and is well known for oodles of drag-ripping carp and a few pike.

Independence Grove is just north of Route 137 off River Road in Libertyville. Excellent facilities include boat rental, hiking trails, concession, a visitor's center, boat ramp, picnic area, swimming beach, flower garden and playground. There is a non-county resident user-fee. For more information, call (847) 968-3499, or visit www.lcfpd.org. For travel and lodging information, contact the Libertyville Chamber of Commerce at (847) 680-3716.

BRAIDWOOD LAKE

If you like catfish, then this is the place to go. Braidwood Lake in Will County provides a pleasant, arm-exhausting experience for folks eager to reel in fish. Catfish from 12 inches to 3 pounds abound. Worms, minnows, dip bait and the like will catch all the catfish anyone could care to reel in. Fifty fish in a day are typical.

Braidwood also has largemouth bass from 2 to about 4 pounds. Carp up to 5 pounds are an infestation, and will tire out a youngster fishing corn or doughballs on the bottom. Bluegills are likewise abundant and taken with worms.

Boat launches are available. Access for bank-fishing is good. A gravel trail circles most of the lake, and many anglers enjoy riding bicycles around the 2,241 acres of water. The park is also a hotbed of geological excavation, and many families enjoy fossil hunting as a sidebar activity to fishing. In addition, Braidwood is located near historic Old Route 66, which has attractions to investigate when the fishing day is over.

For more information, contact Mazonia/Braidwood SFWA at (815) 237-0063. For travel and lodging information, call the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce at (815) 476-5991.

STARVED ROCK STATE PARK

The majestic landscape, incredible facilities and superb fishing of Starved Rock State Park combine to form what could be the best overall destination for traveling families.

On site, the Illinois River provides anglers with a shot at anything that swims. White bass from 10 to 14 inches love white or chartreuse twistertails along the park's seawall or southern shoreline downstream of the dam. Catfish and freshwater drum infest the river. Most cats are between 12 and 16 inches, while drum run to about 3 pounds. Worms and minnows fished on a sinker rig catch both species. Walleyes, saugers and saugeyes are similarly abundant, along with carp, gar and smallmouth bass.

In addition, Starved Rock is well known for superb hiking trails through breathtaking forest and cliffy scenery. Excellent shore access and boat launching is available, as is camping and concession. On premises, Starved Rock Lodge offers modern rooms and swimming. Nearby, the town of Utica is filled with stores and restaurants. And new to the area is the Grand Bear Lodge Water Park with a hotel, restaurant and other activities.

For more information, contact Starved Rock State Park at (815) 667-4726, and Grand Bear Lodge at 1-866-399-

3866.

WELDON SPRINGS

Three miles southeast of Clinton in De Witt County, Weldon Springs Lake offers families a superb facility with excellent fishing.

"Anglers can expect to catch large numbers of 7-inch bluegills and redear sunfish," said DNR biologist Mike Garthaus. Bobber and worm rigs around shoreline cover and weeds will keep anglers busy.

If bass are your game, this is a good place to battle numbers of largemouths. "Approximately 45 percent of the bass are longer than 15 inches, and density is very good," Garthaus said. Target shoreline weeds and brush with spinnerbaits or plastic worms.

And what would a family lake be without catfish? "Each year the lake is stocked with 8-inch channel catfish. Anglers can expect to catch numbers in the 16- to 25-inch range," Garthaus said. Dip bait or night crawlers will produce enough whiskered critters to make everyone smile.

Additionally, excellent access, picnic areas, playgrounds, camping, concession and boat rental are available. For more information, call (217) 935-2644. Travel and lodging information can be had from the Clinton Chamber of Commerce at (217) 935-3364.

HOMER LAKE

Located in Champaign County, Homer Lake is a definite magnet for families in search of productive angling. According to biologist Garthhaus, it's no slouch for a smorgasbord of good fishing.

"The management goals for Homer Lake are to provide good largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish fishing," he said. "Northern pike are also stocked at low densities and provide a bonus for anglers."

Look for bluegills and redears around shoreline cover and weed edges. Bobbers won't stay afloat very long with night crawler pieces attached to a small hook. Largemouths prowl weeds and shorelines, and are taken with minnows, plastic worms or spinnerbaits. Crappies are caught with minnows around shoreline brush. And if you want to see the color drain from your kid's face, rig a pole with a bobber and roach minnow and let them battle a big northern.

Boat launching, picnic areas and excellent park facilities are present, and the facility is just a hop away from the Champaign/Urbana area with scores of sidebar activities. For more information, contact Homer Lake at (217) 896-2733. For travel and lodging information, call the Champaign Area Chamber of Commerce at (217) 359-1791.

EUREKA LAKE

Visitors to the Peoria area will want to check out Lake Eureka Park in the town of Eureka.

"Eureka Lake is only about 30 acres," said DNR biologist Wayne Herndon, "but it has good fishing for bluegills, bass and channel catfish."

Anglers visiting Eureka Lake can expect to be kept busy with 7-inch bluegills all day long. Most are taken on worms around shoreline cover. Bass are numerous, and can be caught along the banks with traditional fare. Most are below 16 inches, but 5-pounders are caught occasionally. Channel catfish can be taken throughout the lake with worms or dip bait fished on the bottom. Lunkers up to 8 pounds occasionally widen the eyeballs of a young angler.

Boating, hiking trails, open fields and woodland areas combine to give a variety of playtime options. Pavilions, fishing piers and superb bank-fishing are available. The park is used by local schools and universities because it offers easy exploration for budding environmentalists.

Eureka Lake is open from sunrise until 11 p.m. Boat propulsion is limited to trolling motors, and all gas motors must be removed from your watercraft. For more information, call (309) 467-5325, or go online to www.lakeeureka.lib.il.us. For travel and lodging information, call the Peoria Chamber of Commerce at (309) 676-0755.

SAM PARR STATE FISH & WILDLIFE AREA

DNR biologist Mike Hooe said as far as a family fishing destination is concerned, you'll be hard-pressed to beat Sam Parr Lake in Jasper County.

"The lake has very good all-around fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish," Hooe said. "There are several picnic areas and a campground that allows for easy access to the lake. It also has two boat ramps, and a 10-horsepower limit."

Bluegills and catfish are the best draw for kids. Most 'gills average about 7 inches long, while the cats go about 2 pounds. Both can be taken pretty easily with night crawlers. Bass average between 14 and 15 inches, and are fools for crawlers on the bottom, or with spinnerbaits and crankbaits around shoreline cover. In addition to fishing and camping, there are good playground facilities and a few miles of scenic hiking trails.

Sam Parr State Fish & Wildlife Area is located about three miles northeast of Newton. For more information, call (618) 783-2661. Travel and lodging information is available from the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce at (618) 783-3399.

SILOAM SPRINGS STATE PARK

Families traveling to the rugged beauty of west-central Illinois will want to visit this attractive facility on the border of Adams and Brown counties.

This is a magnet for bluegills, redear sunfish, largemouth bass and channel catfish. Good shoreline access and boat launching is available. Plus there's a children's pond that's full of bluegills and sunfish. In both waters, worm-and-bobber rigs produce the 'gills, while crankbaits and plastics produce bass. Catfish can be taken easily with cut bait or night crawlers.

Supplementing the productive angling is a varied topography and forested setting, giving Siloam Springs an awesome specter. Wildlife abounds, while picnic areas, camping, hiking, concession and boat rental are available.

For more information, contact Siloam Springs State Park at (217) 894-6205. For travel and lodging information, call the Quincy Chamber of Commerce at (217) 222-7980.

RIVES LAKE

Travel to Greene County and you'll encounter the town of Greenfield, and likewise, their municipal reservoir, Rives Lake.

"Greenfield City Lake is excellent for bluegills, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, crappies and catfish," said DNR biologist Jeffery Pontnack.

The mayor of Greenfield, Don Chapman, concurs.

"Fishing is pretty good for bluegills all around the lake," Chapman said.

"Largemouth bass fishing is fair, crappie fishing was down last year, but fishing for channel catfish is excellent. We stock the lake every year, and it's no trouble catching fish in the 2- to 5-pound class on night crawlers and stink bait."

Along with good fishing, Rives Lake has a campground and excellent park facilities. Boat launching is available, but the entire lake is no-wake. For information about fishing or travel and lodging, contact the city of Greenfield at (217) 368-2332.

RED HILLS LAKE

DNR biologist Joe Ferencak fingers this 40-acre Lawrence County lake as a magnet for families looking for some good summer fishing.

"Red Hills is a small lake, but it consistently produces big bluegills up to about a half-pound," the biologist said. "This is another great family destination with camping and ample shoreline access."

In addition to incredible bluegill fishing, Red Hills Lake is full of largemouth bass, channel catfish, bullheads and crappies. Shoreline access is unhampered, with a road that goes around the lake. A boat launch is available, but limited to trolling motors. Hiking trails, picnic areas, camping, boat rental, concession and a restaurant are on site.

Close by is the Chauncy Marsh Nature Preserve. From July through August, it's home to one of the most scenic marshland flora and fauna displays in all of Illinois. The kids would love to see it, and take a camera with you!

For more information, call Red Hills State Park at (618) 936-2469. Travel and lodging information is available from the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce at (618) 943-3516.

DU QUOIN STATE FAIRGROUNDS

Not far from the attractions of Rend Lake, the collection of reclaimed strip-mine lakes of Du Quoin State Fairgrounds supports a fishery traveling families will want to write into their plans.

"These lakes offer excellent shoreline access and contain largemouth bass, bluegills and redear sunfish," said DNR biologist Shawn Hirst. "East Stable Lake, West Stable Lake and Long Cut Lake are stocked with channel catfish every year. Fishing tends to be excellent, with superb picnic and playground facilities."

Restaurants and lodging are available nearby, and throughout the summer the fairgrounds feature scores of activities highlighted by the Du Quoin State Fair, which runs from Aug. 26 to Sept. 24. Racing, rides, games and subsequent carnival splendor attract visitors each year. For information about the schedule of summer events, call (618) 542-1515. Close by is Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park on Rend Lake. Camping, boating, hiking, picnicking and swimming facilities are available, as well as Rend Lake Resort at 1-800-663-3341. For travel and lodging information, contact the Du Quoin Chamber of Commerce at (618) 542-9570.

* * *

It's not too difficult to find a great fishing trip for your family in the Prairie State. If you're looking for a place for the family to wet a line, be sure to try some of these waters this summer.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.