Magnolia State Family Affair

Magnolia State Family Affair

Summer and the vacation season are fast approaching. Is this

your year to add fishing adventure to the family getaway? If so, give one of these locations a try!

With the summer vacation season fast approaching, now's the time to start planning your family getaway. But how do you please all of the family all of the time?

Sure, it can be a bit of a juggling act -- but organizing the "perfect vacation" isn't impossible. With forethought and planning, the family holiday can be a terrific opportunity to share the great outdoors together, and can even turn it into a rewarding fishing adventure as well. Happily, angling opportunities in the Magnolia State are so diverse and so plentiful that fishing can easily be combined with virtually all other sporting and eco-themed activities.

Nature tourism is the hottest trend these days, and Mississippi has it all. And that's the real quandary: With so many parks, angling honeyholes, wildlife areas, and eco-adventures to enjoy, choosing what to do and where to go can get complicated. To streamline your decision-making process we've put together the following menu of ideas.

JUNE

Fishing With The King

In early June, the rock-and-roll vibes of the Elvis Presley Festival transform downtown Tupelo into one gigantic concert, though for diehard fans the most important venue is the two-room shotgun house that is Elvis' birthplace. While the King will always rule -- this year's festival celebrates the 50th anniversary of Elvis' first homecoming performance -- the Tupelo area has much more to offer, especially for vacationing anglers.

After all this urban music activity, the lakes and forests in the surrounding area will offer a welcome respite, and the fishing spots in the vicinity can be as much fun for novice anglers as they are for experienced fishermen.

The first and most obvious is Elvis Presley Lake, newly acquired by the state and stocked with bass, bream, crappie and catfish. Fishing the 368-acre lake just northeast of Tupelo off U.S. Highway 78 is a very apt way to honor the memory of one of the Magnolia State's greatest artists!

Davis Lake in the Chickasaw Wildlife Management Area and the Tombigbee National Forest to the southwest of the town is another option. The fishing there is expected to yield some super-lunker largemouths this year.

To the northeast of Tupelo lies 330-acre Lake Lamar Bruce. Part of the State Lakes system, it offers good bream action; it also boasts a lake-record largemouth, caught in 1992, that weighed 11 pounds, 2 ounces.

Due west of Tupelo is Trace State Park, which contains 600-acre Old Natchez Trace Lake, considered one of the best small reservoirs for bass in the Magnolia State.

If the fish aren't biting, the family will have a couple of other options for fun in the area. The first is Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo, where the nation's largest herd of buffalo east of the Mississippi River roams. Open barely five years, more than 100 American bison -- including Tukota, one of only three true white specimens in the country -- reside on nearly 200 acres, with 25 calves being born in the park each year.

The herd is the pride of local businessman Dan Franklin, who turned his fascination with bison into one of the region's best family destinations.

"Three hundred years ago, there were millions of buffaloes roaming the American plains, but by the early 1900s, due to homestead settling and unbridled hunting, there were fewer than 1,000 remaining," Franklin explained. "Livestock farmers and dedicated conservationists have helped restore their numbers to more than 250,000."

The park also features a petting zoo, a variety of exotic animals including, zebra, camel, lion and a pair of giraffes, alongside a Chickasaw Indian village. For more details, call the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo at (662) 844-8709, or visit their Web site at www.tupelobuffalopark.com.

The next attraction to consider for your itinerary, and the first of its kind in Mississippi, is the Tupelo Automobile Museum, a 120,000-square-foot multimillion-dollar facility packed with more than 100 state-of-the-art automobile displays with interactive speakers detailing the history of each car. Also in the museum are a number of other vehicles in various stages of restoration, as well as open-viewing restoration bays, hundreds of antique automotive signs, an old garage replica and a gift shop.

For more info, call (662) 842-4242, or visit the museum's Web site at www.tupeloautomobilemuseum.com.

JULY

Exploring The Pine Region

The creeks, rivers and lakes in the Meridian area are a good bet for getting in both some serious fishing and some quality time with the family.

Okatibbee Lake, just northwest of Meridian, offers abundant action for largemouth and striped bass as well as catfish, crappie and bream. The lake's numerous fish attractors are always hotspots, although you can also meet with success by working from the fishing platform at the tailrace below the dam.

The commotion of water-skiers and boaters doing what they do is the only impediment to full enjoyment of the lake's great fishing. That said, the recreational contingent tends to hit the water later on in the day, when the blazing summer sun makes fishing less productive anyway. Besides, if you've skiers in your brood, there's a tradeoff to be had here -- right?

The park features fully developed camping, spurs with electrical service and, for the less adventurous, four new vacation cabins and a 25-room motel.

Dunns Falls Water Park in Enterprise is a pretty spot to visit and, if you don't mind primitive camping, even to hole up in for a day or two. Here, along a shallow stretch of the Chunky River, the bluffs of the eastern bank rise to treetop level. From this lofty perch, the stream's flow provides a natural source of power for a functional water wheel -- it once powered a gristmill -- before making its 65-foot descent to the river below.

The original millpond, now stocked with channel catfish, is great for a picnic and family fishing. Later you can try your hand at the largemouth and spotted bass in the river, tackle the nature trails, go for a swim, or canoe along the stream.

For more on Dunns Falls Water Park, call (601) 655-8550.

Other fishing sites are close by. Archusa Creek, at nearby Quitman, offers large quantities of largemouths, catfish and b

ream, as well as quite serviceable camping facilities and cabin rentals. In Jasper County, Lake Claude Bennett brims with bass, bream and crappie, as do Lake Mike Conner, west of Laurel, and Lake Tom Bailey, at Toomsuba. All three are part of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' state lake system. Tom Bailey is notable for having produced the state-record channel catfish, 51.75-pound fish taken in 1997.

While you're in the area, plan to visit the Causeyville General Store. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the establishment opened in 1895 as a general store and gristmill. It still produces stone-ground cornmeal on the premises --the staff conducts demonstrations -- and retains many of its original fixtures. Also on site: a fascinating mechanical musical museum. For details and operating hours, contact the store at (601) 644-3102.

If you've bikers in the family, the 20 miles of well-maintained trails at Bonita Lakes in Meridian are some of the best in the state, suitable for pedaling by the entire family. The main trail starts behind the Bonita Lakes Shopping Mall and quickly leaves the urban shadow to circle the lake for some seven miles, weaving through sun-dappled forest and past views of the water. You'll probably be sorely tempted to adventure down some of the many off-the-beaten-path tracks. Separate trails for ATVs and off-road motorcycles are available. Whether you're operating on pedal power or motorized, these trails are really fun to explore.

Lying on 815 acres of gently rolling woodlands, Clarkco State Park offers more cycling opportunities along with many other recreational activities, all complemented with camping, RV sites, and cabin rentals.

Other family activities are disc golf or tennis, which leave you to escape the family shenanigans by visiting the bass, bream and catfish in Clarkco Lake.

AUGUST

Head For The River

The Mighty Mississippi, with all its tributaries, oxbows, rivers and creeks, makes the westernmost edge of the state an inimitable region for summer fun.

Warfield Point Park is one of the few locations on the banks of the Mississippi furnished with camping, RV hookups and picnic facilities and is accordingly recognized as an established family favorite. Just outside Greenville near the confluence of the Mississippi and the outflow from Lake Ferguson, the park also offers some fun fishing opportunities.

The river's summer levels reveal any number of sandbars from which to tightline for catfish. Just be sure to bring heavy tackle -- the Big Muddy holds some gigantic flathead and blue cats!

Meanwhile, at nearby Lake Ferguson, the bass are usually bunched up when August's heat brings in lower water levels. Target the cover that's still in the water and you may find largemouths clustered around.

Leroy Percy State Park, the largest and oldest of Mississippi's state parks, is another good family choice. The allure of the park's bubbling hot springs, cypress trees and ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss is topped only by the exotic spectacle of its alligator population, which you can view safely from a raised boardwalk over the big reptiles' hot artesian home. Cabins, fishing, RV and camping sites are plentiful.

Just south of the park lies the Delta National Forest, which holds the state's only deltaic floodplain. The Delta bottomland forests have changed little since the days of Teddy Roosevelt and his famous bear hunt in the region that led to the creation of the "Teddy bear."

The area is quite heavily managed; levee controls have helped to reclaim the landscape from what was once regular, devastating flooding. Today, management plans continue with active restoration and control of waterfowl populations and the forest of green ash, sweetgum, and sugarberry.

Amid these stands of timber, the Big and Little Sunflower rivers and the sloughs draining into them offer a variety of wilderness adventures ranging from kayaking and canoeing to fishing for bass, bream and catfish.

Depending on your family's preferences, either Vicksburg or Greenville can make for a good "base camp" for exploring the western reaches of the Magnolia State. But be forewarned: Vicksburg has so many museums, antebellum homes and historical sites, including an impressive military park, that you may never get the time to cast a line!

For an online look at the range of options you have in the town, visit www.vicksburgcvb.org; for specific details, call 1-800-221-3536.

Greenville too is home to gracious antebellum homes and plantations, and fascinating museums and historic sites, But it can boast another, more unusual claim to fame: It's the birthplace of Muppets creator Jim Henson, Seriously: Can you really pass up Greenville and nearby Leland, the official home of Kermit, the world's most famous frog?

The Mississippi River levee is at Greenville's downtown waterfront. Taller than the Great Wall of China, this engineering marvel is a pretty impressive monument to walk along, and bears mute yet eloquent witness to the Delta's long-fought battle with the mighty river.

For more on Greenville attractions and activities, call (662) 378-1500, or go online to www.greenville.ms.us.

* * *

If we've sparked a few ideas for your upcoming vacation and you'd like a little help with pulling together an itinerary, the Mississippi Development Authority is a great resource, even if you know the state well. Give them a call at 1-866-733-6477 and ask for a copy of The Mississippi Tour Guide, as well as the new Adventure Guide, which provides a ton of information on hunting, wildlife, fishing and other eco-adventures. The agency can also be contacted through its Web site, www.visitmississippi.org.

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