6 Great Outdoors Family (Fishing) Vacations In Our State

Here are six places that offer fishing, plus a whole lot more, so the entire family can enjoy their time away from the hustle and bustle of work and school.

Panfish are a great choice to get young anglers hooked on fishing. After all, bluegills and other sunfish are (most times) eager to bite -- and keeping stringers full is usually good for the resource as well as one's diet. It's all a part of outdoor vacation fun!
Photo by Tom Berg

Each year, Indiana Game & Fish publishes a family vacation guide that details several great places where your entire family can relax and have fun. Since fishing is always high on the list of outdoor activities for many families, we have kept that in mind when researching likely vacation hotspots.

For those family members with interests other than angling, however, many of these properties also offer camping, hiking, horseback riding, swimming and sightseeing (just to name a few). The whole family can enjoy the great outdoors without getting burnt out on just one activity. There is literally something for everyone.

In today's computerized world, it is not surprising that camping reservations may now be made in advance and online for most of Indiana's state parks, reservoirs and state forests. On the Internet, check the state's Web site at www.camp.IN.gov. It is active 24 hours per day, every day. If you prefer to call, the toll-free phone number is (866) 622-6746.

There are plenty of state-owned properties, lakes and historical sites to please the entire family, so read on and start making your summertime plans. Here are our choices for this year:

JUNE

Deam Lake Bluegills

The Deam Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) in Clark County is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life -- and relax in the great outdoors. Located at the south end of Clark State Forest (SF) and nine miles northwest of Sellersburg, Deam Lake SRA is surrounded by trees and wildlife. Families will find this forested property very attractive, whether they enjoy fishing, boating, camping, hiking or biking.

Fishing on 194-acre Deam Lake can be very good for panfish (mostly bluegills and redear sunfish), so it is the ideal place for youngsters to wet a line. Channel catfish are also stocked here, so there is always a good chance that the kids can hook and catch a bigger fish. Although the lake is more than 30 feet deep, most people fish around the shoreline edges where there is good weed growth and more fish activity.

There is a public boat ramp on the lake, along with a boat dock and rowboats available for rent. You may bring your own boat, but keep in mind that only electric trolling motors are allowed. Some visitors bring their own canoes and take a quiet float trip around the lake to photograph birds and other wildlife.

After a relaxing morning on the lake, the entire family can go on a nature hike on one of the nearby trails. Hiking trails range from one-half mile or so up to six miles in length, so choose one that suits you. The Lake Vista trail is three miles long and is one of the more popular trails.

A variety of birds can be seen here, so bring along a pair of binoculars. Deam Lake SRA and Clark SF also offer five miles of mountain bike trails for those who bring their own bikes, but be sure to keep the bikes on designated trails.

On those days when you feel like being lazy, there is nothing better than having a leisurely picnic and going for a swim. The beach area is even accessible to wheelchairs. Picnic tables and grills are available at the picnic sites, and there is a picnic shelter for rainy days. Head for the nature center in the afternoon or let the kids run off some energy at one of the two playgrounds on the property.

Campers will find 275 Class A sites in the campground, so there are electric hookups, modern restrooms and showers, picnic tables, fire rings and drinking water. A dump station is also provided. Be sure to make reservations early so that you get a good site.

For more information about Deam Lake SRA, contact the property office at (812) 246-5421 or send them an e-mail at DeamLakeSRA@dnr.state.in.us.

Patoka Lake Panfish

Patoka Lake in southern Indiana is a watery wonderland that really caters to families. This 8,800-acre reservoir near French Lick provides unparalleled fishing opportunities for anglers, but it is also perfect for those non-fishing family members who would rather go waterskiing, wake-boarding, or just take a quiet boat ride in the evening.

Boaters who bring their own craft will find that there are nine launch ramps located around the lake for their convenience, making it much easier to access different areas of the lake on a daily basis. Others can rent a boat for fishing or cruising from Patoka Lake Marina on the south side of the lake. The marina carries bait and tackle, and offers fishing boats, pontoon boats and houseboats for rent.

Fishing is the No. 1 activity on the lake, and the reason is that the fishing is excellent. Crappie fishing is the most popular here, followed closely by largemouth bass fishing. Every morning the boat ramps are bustling with activity as the fishermen set out for a day of angling fun. Crappies exceeding 2 pounds and bass topping 7 pounds are caught here every summer.

If the whole family is going fishing, it is a good idea to target crappies and bluegills. Children want to catch fish regularly, and these panfish are usually happy to oblige. Local fishing guide Tim Gibson (812-936-3382) says it's best to keep it simple. "Use floats and minnows for the kids," he said. "I recommend a 1/32-ounce jig, and you can catch bluegills and crappies with it. Tip that small jig with either a worm or a minnow and you can fish for both species with one jig."

The lake makes a perfect base-camp for excursions on the lake and to other nearby attractions. In French Lick (12 miles north of the lake), there are plenty of things for the entire family to enjoy. There are ranches that provide horseback riding; there are plenty of golf courses and there are even train rides on the old steam locomotives at the Indiana Railway Museum. Those who are interested in shopping and sightseeing can tour the Ballard Mansion, the historic West Baden Hotel or visit the local antique shops.

Patoka Lake is adjacent to seven state recreation areas (SRAs) totaling 25,800 acres inside the Hoosier National Forest. The camping facilities are extensive, with 455 Class A campsites and 45 Class C campsites available. There are also miles of hiking and bicycling trails, picnic areas and an archery range.

If you prefer not to pitch a tent in one of the campgrounds, local lodging is available for families at several places in the area. If you would like to stay right on the water, call Patoka Lake Marina at (888) 819-6916. Besides houseboats, the marina also rents floating cabins that accommodate six people and come with a private boat slip. For other lodging, check out a Web site that was developed specifically for this area:

www.patokalakeindiana.com.

JULY

Harmonie State Park Catfish

Harmonie State Park (SP), 3,465 acres in the extreme southwest corner of the state, is another good place to go for pure relaxation. There is not much going on, and that's just how everyone wants it. Located due south of New Harmony on the banks of the Wabash River, Harmonie SP is perfect for camping and hiking.

Since the park is located right on the Wabash River, fishermen in the family will have a hard time resisting the urge to cast a line at every spare moment. The Wabash is famous for the catfish that inhabit its murky depths, and both channel catfish and aggressive flathead cats are common. Some of the flatheads reach weights in excess of 40 or 50 pounds.

Fishing along the riverbank can result in some good catches, but many anglers prefer to pursue catfish from a boat. The park offers a boat ramp at the southwest edge of the property, so fishermen can launch a boat and fish one of the many logjams and deep holes in this section of the river. A variety of baits will tempt Wabash River catfish, but night crawlers, chicken livers and small fish are always popular.

The campground here includes 200 sites with electrical hookups, and there are also 11 family cabins available for rent. Do not bring pets with you, since they are not allowed in or around the family cabins. The nature center is also open for campground visitors.

Hiking enthusiasts will find trails ranging from easy to moderate on this property. The longest trail is 2.5 miles long, but for those who prefer a short leisurely walk, there is also a 1/4-mile River Walk Trail. Nature hikes are very popular, and visitors often see deer, squirrels and a variety of birds.

Mothers and daughters with a love for sightseeing will find plenty to do in nearby New Harmony. They can visit one of many antique shops, craft shops and restaurants in the downtown district, or they can tour the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art and the New Harmony State Historic Site (SHS). If they run out of things to do here, Evansville is only 25 miles away.

Tippecanoe River SP Bass

Tippecanoe River SP near Winamac is the ideal place for canoeing and kayaking. The fishing here isn't bad, either! The meandering Tippecanoe River beckons to families who enjoy both fishing and boating, so this park is the natural choice for many Hoosiers.

Most fishermen explore the river with the aid of a canoe, fishing and paddling as conditions warrant. When a fishy-looking spot presents itself, fishermen stop paddling and start casting. Logjams, rocky eddies and other locations offer good fishing for channel catfish, smallmouth bass and rock bass. Northern pike are also caught here, along with various panfish species.

Smallmouth bass are one of the most sought-after fish on the river, and the Tippecanoe is consistently rated as one of the top smallmouth streams in the state. Concentrate your efforts on deeper holes below fast water and logjams along the rocky shores. Smallmouth bass will take a variety of live baits and artificial lures, but small in-line spinners are hard to beat.

The campground here includes 112 Class A sites, and there are another 10 Class C sites in the canoe camp at the water's edge (near the boat launch). Campers with their own horses can stay at one of the 56 Class C horseman's campsites. There are also shelters and picnic areas.

Trails are abundant in Tippecanoe River SP. There are both bridle trails and hiking trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to moderate. Sand Blowout Trail (the shortest trail) is moderately difficult and is just less than one mile long. The two longest trails are 3.5 miles each; Pin Oak Trail is considered easy and River Bluff Trail is moderate.

Keep in mind that canoe rentals are not available at the park. You must either bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent one from one of the local canoe liveries. For more information about Tippecanoe River SP, call the park office at (574) 946-3213.

AUGUST

Turkey Run SP Panfish

Turkey Run SP in Parke County is located just off U.S. Route 41, several miles north of Rockville. First-time visitors to Turkey Run are usually amazed at the steep canyons and sandstone gorges that run throughout the park, and those images are not easily forgotten.

Fishing is a popular pastime at this park, and Sugar Creek makes fishing access easy. The creek runs right through the middle of the park, and fishing is good almost anywhere along the shoreline. Channel catfish, smallmouth bass and rock bass are the most common catches, but bluegills and other panfish are also caught. Kids prefer to fish with worms, while the adults often use small spinners to probe the deeper holes.

Turkey Run SP hosts some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the state. There are literally miles of challenging hiking trails here, ranging from easy to very rugged. The rugged trails ascend steep bluffs and ravines, and should not be attempted by visitors who are in poor health. Hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of Sugar Creek and the surrounding area, making the effort very worthwhile.

Canoes are a common sight on Sugar Creek, and there is no better way to explore the creek and do some fishing in spots away from the crowds. During the summer months, the creek is usually low and calm, which makes it easier for youngsters to join in the fun. Canoe rentals are available from local canoe liveries outside of the park.

Campers flock to Turkey Run during the summer months, and there are 213 Class A sites in the campground. For those vacationers who prefer a bedroom to a tent, cabins may be rented here or rooms may be rented at the Turkey Run Inn instead. There is even an indoor pool at the inn.

Call the park office at (765) 597-2635 for more information on Turkey Run SP.

Indiana Dunes SP Salmon & Trout

Indiana Dunes SP, on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, is a great place to be in August. While the hot summer sun is blazing away at Hoosiers in the rest of the state, the refreshing breezes coming off Lake Michigan often cool visitors to Dunes SP. The park is located in Porter County, just north of Chesterton in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

A trip to Indiana Dunes SP is not complete unless you hike the trails on the sand dunes to work up a sweat, and then take a plunge in the refreshing waters of the lake. The beach area here is beautiful, and many visitors get a suntan on the beach while the kids play in the water and make sand castles. After a day at the beach, visit the nature center to learn a

little more about the area.

Fishing on Lake Michigan is world class, especially if you are interested in trophy-sized trout and salmon. The downside is that you will need a boat at this time of the year to get out to the summer fishing grounds. If you don't have your own craft, book a fishing charter. Lake trout, brown trout, steelhead, coho and chinook salmon are all available, and they commonly reach weights of 20 pounds or more. Visit the Indiana North Coast Charter Association's Web site at www.charterfish.org for more information.

There are more than 16 miles of diverse hiking trails here, including trails that cross massive sand dunes, wet marshes, oak forests and even a true bog (Pinhook Bog Trail). Hikers are usually amazed at the different plant and animal species that they see right on the shores of Lake Michigan, including prickly pear cactus plants and white-tailed deer.

The campground at Indiana Dunes SP was closed last summer for renovations, but it is scheduled to re-open by May of this year. In the past there were 100 Class A campsites and more than 150 Class B sites, but those numbers will likely change when the campground opens again in 2005. Check the state's Web site after the May 2005 re-opening at

www.camp.IN.gov for current campsite details.

For more information about Indiana Dunes SP, contact the park office at (219) 926-1952.

So there you have it, six prime places you may want to bring your family to this summer season. Each offers excellent angling, plus a whole lot more for just about every interest. After all, isn't that what makes a family vacation so much fun for everyone!

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