Our State's Finest Family Fishing Vacations

Here's where you'll find great angling, plus other fun things to do, while relaxing in the wonderful outdoors right here in Hoosierland! (June 2009)

Enjoying a quiet moment, like this beautiful sunrise, is even more relaxing while out in our state's great outdoors.
Photo by Tom Berg.

Summer is here! School is finally out of session and it's time to plan a family getaway that everyone will enjoy. To coincide with the warm-weather vacation season, Indiana Game & Fish publishes an annual family vacation guide that highlights a variety of destinations where families can go to relax and get away from the daily grind.

Since gasoline has come down from last summer's all-time highs, in-state vacations are even more affordable these days. And Indiana has lots of state parks and public properties where camping, fishing and general exploring are nearby and downright convenient. The cost is usually quite affordable, too!

The only thing to do is to figure out what activities will interest everyone in the family, and then pick a place that matches those interests. If fishing is at the top of the list, choose a location that has good angling nearby. If the majority of the clan enjoys water skiing or high-speed pleasure boating, be sure to find a lake that has no horsepower restrictions.

If your family would like to include some hiking, wildlife viewing, camping or sightseeing in their plans, that should be easy to accommodate. Indiana's state parks and public properties offer plenty of opportunities. These days, families can even make their reservations online. Camping reservations and cabin rentals can be made in advance on the state's Web site, www.camp.IN.gov.

Here are some topnotch choices to consider for this year:

JUNE
Hardy Lake SRA
Hardy Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) is a very scenic property in southeastern Indiana's Scott and Jefferson counties. The property is situated near Scottsburg, about six miles east of Austin. It covers a total of 2,449 acres, including the popular 741-acre Hardy Lake. This impoundment is nestled among mature stands of oak, hickory, maple and beech trees, making it perfect for fishermen and nature-lovers alike.

The fishing on Hardy Lake is usually quite good, and that is one of the reasons that families come here to spend their free time. Largemouth bass, bluegills, crappies, sunfish and channel catfish are all targeted by the lake's anglers. Many people fish from their own boats or you can rent a rowboat, but there is also good shorefishing access, including two fishing piers.

Larry Lehman, one of District 8's fisheries biologists for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said that the fishing has been improving here for the last few years.

"We did a creel survey in 2007," he said, "and people are more satisfied with their fishing experience now than they were back in 2003 (during the last survey). More anglers fish for bass here than any other kind of fish, but panfish always dominate the harvest."

Although the fishing here is good, there are plenty of other activities for busy families, too. For those who are interested in other forms of outdoor recreation, Hardy Lake SRA offers an archery range, basketball and volleyball courts, a swimming beach and a picnic area. There are also several hiking trails, featuring groves of hardwood forest and beautiful views of the lake.

There are two campgrounds on the property that are popular with campers. The Shale Bluff campground offers 149 electric sites with gravel pads, water fountains, hot water, flush toilets and showers. The primitive Wooster campground is much smaller and only features 18 sites. It also has just one pit toilet.

Hardy Lake SRA is also a great place for families to set up a base camp and do some exploring in the surrounding area. Just to the east, the historic town of Madison beckons with its shopping district, antique shops and other points of interest. Clifty Falls State Park is also located just outside of Madison. To the north, interested travelers will find the Wells Woods Nature Preserve and the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.

For more information, call the Hardy Lake office at (812) 794-3800.Willow Slough FWA

Families that like to get away from the city and do some serious fishing would do well to plan a vacation at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) near Morocco in Newton County. This state-owned property consists of nearly 10,000 acres, including a 1,200-acre lake that is teeming with game fish like largemouth bass, bluegills, sunfish and northern pike.

Although Willow Slough FWA is popular with hunters in the fall, the fishing on J.C. Murphey Lake is the main reason that people visit this property in the spring and summer. This shallow lake (average depth is 3 feet) was recently renovated to remove rough fish, and the newly stocked game fish are doing extremely well.

"June is a great time for families to visit Willow Slough," said Mike Schoonveld, assistant property manager. "The fishing for bass, bluegills and redears is still excellent since the lake's renovation back in 2004, and on most weekends we are not crowded at all." Crowds are usually only a problem here on Memorial Day weekend and the July 4th holiday, so June is a safe bet.

Fishermen and boaters should be aware that no outboard motors are allowed on the lake, but electric trolling motors are permitted. You may launch your own boat at the ramp near the headquarters building or you can rent a rowboat from the concession. Canoes are especially popular here, since weed growth often makes rowing a johnboat a bit difficult by midsummer.

The campground at Willow Slough includes 75 Class B sites, and campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is also a picnic area where families can enjoy a nice lunch on a warm summer day. Shooters will appreciate the shooting range that is located on the property, complete with a range officer and shooting benches for rifles, handguns and trap shooting.

Nature lovers and bird watchers love this property, too. The mature oak woodlands attract mammals and birds of all kinds. At night, great-horned owls can be heard hooting throughout the property. Coyotes can even be heard howling in the distance at times. During the day, a wide variety of birds can be seen in the trees and over the lake, including red-tailed hawks, kingfishers, goldfinches, red-headed woodpeckers, and various species of waterfowl.

For more information about Willow Slough FWA, call the headquarters building at (219) 285-2704.

JULY
Pokagon State Park
Pokagon State Park (SP) is in Steuben County off Interstate 69, almost due north of the town of Angola. This beautiful park is nearly surrounded by water, since Snow Lake and the three distinct basins of Lake James form much of the western and southern boundaries of the property.

Besides Lake James and Snow Lake, which are located on the shores of the park, there are also several other lakes in the immediate vicinity that attract the attention of summer vacationers, such as Jimmerson Lake, Crooked Lake and Lake Gage (just to name a few). All are excellent fishing lakes, for many popular species, such as largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegills, sunfish and crappies.

Fishing takes center stage for many people, but there are plenty of other water sports to pursue, too. Swimming is always popular here, and the park includes a swimming beach complete with a bathhouse. Pleasure boaters and skiers spend a lot of time out on Lake James, but keep in mind that there are no launch ramps on park property.

Campers have plenty of choices at Pokagon. There are 200 electric sites and 73 non-electric sites, and each site has a fire ring and a picnic table. The campground is equipped with flush toilets, hot water and showers. There is also a group camp and youth tent camping available. For the less adventuresome, the Potawatomi Inn has all the comforts of home, including an indoor swimming pool and sauna.

There are so many things to do here that it is unlikely that most families will have a chance to experience everything that the park has to offer during a single week's vacation. The Nature Center has many exhibits on the park's natural history and inhabitants. The saddle barn features horses for hayrides and even ponies for a pony ride.

Hiking enthusiasts will love the nature trails that wind through the park, including some that meander through different areas of the Potawatomi Nature Preserve. There are more than 12 miles of trails in Pokagon SP, offering views of dense woodlands, wet marshes, gently rolling hills and green meadows filled with wildflowers.

For more information, call the park office at (260) 833-2012.

Turkey Run State Park
Hoosiers who like to fish and hike will really love Parke County's Turkey Run State Park north of Rockville. The property covers a total of 2,382 acres, including deep sandstone canyons and rocky ravines that can be explored by use of several hiking trails. The cool water of Sugar Creek also beckons to anglers as it flows gently by through the stony streambed, hiding schools of fish in the shadowy depths.

Hiking is probably the most popular activity for visitors to Turkey Run SP, mainly because of the majestic sandstone formations and rocky cliffs that greet hikers here. Trails span all difficulty levels, from easy to very rugged, and many require climbing wooden stairs and even wooden ladders at certain points. The longest trail is three miles, and during the heat of the summer, the deep stony canyons are especially cool.

Some people might think that fishing opportunities are limited at Turkey Run, and they are correct. Fishing is basically limited to Sugar Creek. However, Sugar Creek is well known for good fishing for bass, rock bass, bluegills, sunfish and other species. The fishing for rock bass is especially good, as proved by the fact that the Indiana state-record rock bass was caught from Sugar Creek. It weighed a whopping 3 pounds!

Luckily, fishing the creek is easy since it is neither wide nor swift. Many fishermen like to stand on the edge of the creek banks and simply drop a baited line into the current. Rocky ledges along the shoreline provide shady hiding places for bass and rock bass, and each crevice might hold multiple fish.

The campground at Turkey Run features a camp store, 213 electric sites and a youth tent camp. Most campsites can accommodate trailers, and the campground is equipped with flush toilets, hot water and showers. However, there are no individual water or sewer hookups. The famous Turkey Run Inn can provide lodging for those who don't want to rough it. Cabins are also available.

Besides hiking and fishing, Turkey Run SP offers visitors several historic buildings and structures to explore and learn about. The Salmon Lusk home and mill, the Lieber cabin (circa 1840s), the Log Church (1871), the saddle barn and the well-known covered bridges spanning Sugar Creek should definitely be seen by the park's guests.

There is also a swimming pool, tennis courts and picnic areas for families to use. For more information about Turkey Run SP, call the park office at (765) 597-2635.

AUGUST
Harmonie State Park
Another great place for a family vacation is Harmonie SP in Posey County. Located about four miles south of the small town of New Harmony on the banks of the Wabash River, Harmonie SP is perfect for camping, fishing and hiking aficionados. The facilities of this 3,465-acre property are among the best in the state.

Fishing for catfish is excellent on the Wabash River, which is only a cast away. Channel catfish, flatheads and bullheads are all common on the Wabash. Since the river's water is often murky, many catfish anglers opt for stink baits like chicken livers, prepared baits or cut fish. Others use the traditional glob of night crawlers.

Although fishing from the bank is often productive, boaters typically score the best catches. The park offers a boat ramp and parking area near the southwest edge of the property, so fishermen can launch their own boats and fish along the banks of the river at their leisure. Channel catfish usually average a pound or two, but flatheads can push the scale to 30 or 40 pounds or more!

The park also includes more than 10 miles of hiking trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to rugged. The most difficult trail is No. 7, and it's also the longest at 3.5 miles, but it is worth the walk. There is also a nice bike trail that runs from the campground to the swimming pool (about three miles).

The campground here includes 200 electric sites and a youth tent camp. Most of the electric campsites can accommodate trailers or tents. A nature center and 11 rental cabins (with air conditioning) are also available near the campground. Keep in mind that no pets are allowed in or around the cabins.

For more information about Harmonie SP, call (812) 682-4821.

Patoka Lake Project
Patoka Lake in southern Indiana is inside the boundaries of the Hoosier National Forest in Dubois, Crawford and Orange counties. The reservoir itself covers 8,800 acres, making it the second-largest lake in the state. It is also one of the best fishing lakes in Hoosierland, so it attracts many families in search of quality fishing during the summer.

Fishing is excellent on Patoka, whether your favorite fish is largemouth bass, crappie or catfish. Local fisherman Tim Gibson from Paoli has fished Patoka for years, and he knows that the fishing

is topnotch.

Although fishing is the No. 1 activity on the lake, there are plenty of other water sports to enjoy, too. Pleasure boating, waterskiing, tubing, sailing and swimming are just some of the other things to do on a hot day. After a relaxing day on the water, some family members may want to explore the nearby towns and other attractions. French Lick and West Baden Springs are located just to the north, and the quaint town of Jasper can be found just to the west.

Patoka Lake lies adjacent to seven state recreation areas covering a total of 25,800 acres. Because of this, there are plenty of opportunities for campers to find the perfect campsite. There are 455 electric campsites with asphalt pads, water, flush toilets, hot water and showers. There are also 45 primitive campsites available, and there is a youth tent camp, too.

Not everyone likes to sleep in a tent, and if your family would rather rent a cabin, they are in luck. There are several options available near the lake, including rental houses, cabins, floating cabins (at the marina), or even large houseboats. The floating cabins are very popular and can accommodate up to six people. They also include a private boat slip. Call Patoka Lake Marina & Lodging (888-819-6916) for details.

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