Magnolia Family Fishing Fun

Magnolia Family Fishing Fun

It's vacation time in Mississippi, so pack up the kids and get ready for some adventure. Let's take a look at some places that can turn the venture into a fishing trip as well.

By Jill J. Easton

Summertime memories are made of cane poles, fishing holes and picnics. Think back to all the things that equaled family fun when you were a kid, and you're likely be retrieving some special times. Whether your first fish was a 4-inch bream, a whiskered catfish or a shining speckled trout, it was still a trophy, and everyone made a big fuss over the fish - and you.

Well, June is upon us again, so it's time to make some vacation plans. And working some family fishing in as part of that plan can be a great idea. Even the fifth grade's most electronically savvy video gamer or most competition-crazed soccer champ can still get a thrill out of seeing a first bass jump, or be the hero at the dinner he or she helps to provide. In these high-tech, busy times, a fishing trip can be an occasion that will stick with a youngster for a lifetime.

In every part of our state, you can find fabulous places to fish that don't require boats, fancy equipment or years of angling experience to bring in a keeper. And to a 6-year-old, a minnow caught on a grasshopper is just as exciting as that 6-pound bass you brought in during the club tournament.

FISHING WITH KIDS

Before you start on that family trip, there are a few things to remember. Most of the time, a young person won't have the same value system as you. Bass, crappie, catfish - in your child's eyes, all exciting to catch, and all equally worthwhile. If the first fish your daughter catches is a croaker or a buffalo, it's still thrilling and wonderful. Admire that fish!

No matter what, be sure to praise the fish and the child's catching ability. Let them touch the fish or hold it if they want to, but be very conservative about letting your kids take fish off the hook.

Fishing Biloxi's Back Bay pier. Even a small speckled trout can put a smile on a young angler's face. Photo by Ken Fanning

Many kids will want to take the fish home and keep it. Bad idea! The fish will eventually die or go bad even in the freezer, and then a fish-pet-flush relationship is all that will remain in the youngster's mind. (To this day my brother won't eat fish because of his first fishing trip.) Either let the fish go immediately - after explaining that the fish needs to grow up and be there for other people to catch - or, if it's to be eaten, put it straight in the ice chest. After a half-day of watching a fish swimming in the livewell, most kids get very attached to the animal.

Don't plan a daylong angling trip the first time out. Young people have short attention spans and an overlong day of fishing - and, especially, of not catching - can spoil the experience forever. Including one of the child's friends may be a good idea, but remember that each fish that's caught has to be taken off the hook by someone, and the commotion of multiple kids may be more than you want to handle.

Make sure to carry plenty of snacks and drinks. And most important of all: When the child gets tired of fishing, do something else.

Here are three great fishing spots in Mississippi that don't require a lot of equipment or planning to take advantage of. They're all low-tech locations that offer a high probability of there being enough bites to keep you and your new fishing partner busy. And at each of these destinations are activities that can be entertaining for the family if you need a break or the weather turns bad.

JUNE

Biloxi

Hidden by the Palace Casino on Point Cadet in Biloxi is one of the most underused fishing piers in the state. The old bridge spanning Back Bay is a great spot for a fun day of fishing for youngsters and their parents.

Vehicles can be driven out on the bridge, so ice chests, chairs and many of the comforts of home can be only a few feet from your fishing spot. Although the bridge has a chunk taken out of the center, it's still long enough to offer a variety of fishing from the shallows to the deep-water channel in Back Bay.

In spring and early summer, it's not unusual to catch both freshwater and saltwater species from the bridge. The most common saltwater catches are speckled trout, flounder and sheepshead, but redfish and sharks are also hooked from the old span. Unfortunate for serious anglers but a boon to kids are the hardhead catfish found plentifully there; they're often hooked by bottom-fishers. The usual freshwater catches are largemouth bass, crappie and bream.

Shrimp both live and frozen are the baits most bridge-anglers use, but bright-colored soft-plastic artificial lures can also bring in decent fish. Most rigs employ a 1/2-ounce weight tied on to a dropper line off a three-way swivel; the bait, attached to the other eye of the swivel, swims or floats a few inches off the bottom, which keeps the catfish from being such a bother.

Since the bridge is high enough to allow boats to pass underneath, stronger lines are helpful for dragging bigger fish through 20 to 30 feet of air. On the other hand, anglers with lighter rigs can drop a crab net down, lead their catch into it, and then haul both net and fish up to the bridge.

Crabbing with nets - which are sold at most coastal hardware, tackle and variety stores - is another popular pursuit off the bridge. Chicken necks and dead catfish are the most usual choices for luring in the crustaceans.

Currently there are no bathrooms or portable units on the bridge. The closest bathrooms are across the new bridge in Ocean Springs at Burger King and Hartz Chicken.

When the kids get bored, the newly remodeled Seafood Industry Museum is nearby; it offers a look at how things were during the early days of seafood harvesting along the Gulf Coast and has lots of touchable displays. The museum also has two Biloxi schooners. Berthed nearby, the George M. Sekul and the Glenn L. Sweatman have regular walk-on sunset cruises and can be chartered for birthday parties and special events.

Just across U.S. Highway 90 from the old bridge and about a half-mile south is the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center. On view are freshwater, brackish-water and saltwater fish, as well as snakes, turtles, alligators and other coastal critters. A visit to the center can give kids an up-close look at many of the animals that they've been trying to catch. The circular 10,000-gallon main tank holds record-book size speckled trout, cobia, redfish, snapper and other saltwater species. Also in the tank: large sea turtles, moray eels and sharks.

At v

arious times during the day, visitors get hands-on experiences from touching tidal-pool creatures like anemones, urchins and horseshoe crabs. There are also opportunities to touch and learn about non-poisonous snakes and bamboo sharks.

The Schooner Restaurant, close by the end of the fishing pier, prepares the best pressed seafood po'-boy sandwiches on the Mississippi coast. The Palace, Isle of Capri, Magic and Grand casinos, all within 1 1/2 miles, have buffets or restaurants to suit any taste.

There are no signs leading to the pier. To get there, take U.S. Highway 90 from Biloxi to the last stoplight before new the bridge to Ocean Springs. Turn north and follow the road until it curves between the Palace Casino and Schooner Restaurant; then turn right between the casino and its parking garage. A barricade's set up halfway across the bridge access; drive around it and onto the bridge.

JULY

Wall Doxie State Park

Natural beauty, a gem of a lake and lots of attractions nearby make this park near Holly Springs a great place to spend a family weekend.

The 60-acre spring-fed lake is stocked with bass and panfish and has fishing piers to make the catching easier and more fun. There is also plenty of room for kids to run and explore the woods and water.

The most promising bank-fishing sites will be found around the downed trees along the edge of the lake. Worms and crickets are the favorite bait for crappie and bream. Cane poles work well here, as will a light-action rod-and-reel rig, which can generally cover most of the productive water.

Since the lake's spring-fed, it's unusually clear, so avoid casting shadows out on the water when fishing - these fish are wary and educated. The bite is best in the morning, in the evening and on cloudy days.

Catfish can be lured in using cheese or soap, although chicken livers and other bloody stuff will work better. But don't expect the kids to appreciate that fact - or to want to handle the bait! Fishing near the bottom can yield results; when the rod starts bending, set the hook. Obviously, the catfishing rig needs to be something heavier than a Snoopy rod, since the next cat can be a hefty one.

Bass mostly hang in the deeper water during the summer, but at sundown, a topwater buzzbait tossed around cover in the shallows can draw strikes. Try sinking crankbaits around downed trees and piers, using orange, silver, blue, white and red color combinations. In weedy areas, try a plastic lizard or a soft-plastic jerkbait, casting the baits to any holes in the vegetation. Motor oil, chartreuse and red are favored colors.

Boat rentals are only $5, which includes life jackets. You'll need to bring your own motor; otherwise, plan to paddle. If you're bringing a boat, ramps are available, but given the small size of the lake, only a canoe or a johnboat with a trolling motor is needed to cover the water.

A nature trail, paddleboats, disc golf course and modern playgrounds give the kids plenty to do when the fishing slows down around midday. Shaded picnic areas are scattered throughout the park, and there are several pavilions available to rent.

There are nine air-conditioned cabins that face the water or woods, tent camping areas and RV campsites with power and water. The bathhouse, within easy reach of the camping areas, has running water, including hot showers.

Holly Springs has the usual fast-food restaurants, plus Phillips Grocery for great hamburgers, and Victors Pizza.

The nearby town of Oxford offers the possibility of some side trips from the park. Writer William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oaks, and the Ole Miss campus are both sightseeing prospects, as are the many antebellum homes and the Marshall County Museum. Don't forget the golf courses in the vicinity.

Wall Doxie State Park, seven miles south of Holly Springs off state Route 7, is marked by a sign at the entrance. The entry fee is currently $2 per car. For more information, call (622) 252-4231 or log on to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Web site at www.mdwfp. com/parks.asp

AUGUST

Lake Okatibbee

For catfish and panfish excitement for the whole family, this 3,800-acre impoundment near Meridian is tops. Bank-fishing with everything from minnows and worms to the latest in spinnerbaits and crankbaits offers satisfying summertime sport. Those who want to venture out in a boat will find a boat ramp and several spots along the old riverbed where decent-sized bass hang out.

Often, summer crappie and bream frequent the nearshore shallows. Put your bait or lures near areas with downed trees or other brush in the water. If you're not using worms or crickets, white, chartreuse and green in-line spinners seem to work best.

If you stay in the Okatibbee Water Park on the east side of the reservoir, night-fishing for panfish can be fun. Simply hang a light over the water; when bugs attracted to the glow fall in the water, panfish will start zooming up from the depths in a feeding frenzy. Dropping any dark-colored baits into the frenzy can provoke a bite!

Bass too abound in the lake. Anglers meet with success by fishing Carolina-rigged plastic worms and lizards. Minnow-shaped plastic grubs fished on white, chartreuse or light brown jigheads also coax strikes. Spinnerbaits with willow-leaf blades and sporting yellow or white trailers will catch bass as well.

When the fish stop biting, you can head for the picnic areas under shade trees. In the Splashdown Water Park on the lake are adult and children's water slides and a beach with lifeguards on duty. The lake is also popular for water-skiing and personal watercraft activity; a nature trail is present as well.

The park has areas for tent and RV camping, as well as four newly completed rental cabins. Getting reservations for the cabins in summer, however, is nearly impossible. You need to plan ahead for next year to take advantage of that option.

When the kids want a break from Mother Nature, fast food will be found nearby. Also within 10 miles is the Ultimate Fun World, with miniature golf, batting cages and arcade games. Highland Park, home of a world-famous antique carousel that still offers rides on its prancing horses, is another good bet for a midsummer afternoon.

A slower pace on entertainment is offered by the Jimmy Rogers Museum, a memorial to the legendary "Singing Brakeman" of early country music fame, is also located in the park.

A few miles south of Meridian is Dunns Falls Water Park, which contains one of the few waterfalls in rock-poor Mississippi. The waterfall is regulated through a series of holding ponds near the park entrance and can be viewed from on top and alongside by following a winding path to the bottom on the Chunky River.

The park has a working water-powered gristmill that is al

so a museum to the early history of the area. Fishing is allowed on the Chunky River.

The Okatibbee Water Park is located northwest of Meridian off state Route 19, via Pine Springs Road. For more information call (601) 737-2370 or check out the Pat Harrison Waterway District Web site at www.waterparkin. com on the Internet. The number for cabin rentals is 1-800-748-9403.



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