Great Family Fishing Vacations
September 29, 2010
New England boasts some of the finest fishing waters in the U.S., plus many top-rated historic sites sure to satisfy the wanderlust of vacationing families at every level. The adventures start right here!
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
It's time to start planning your summer family vacation. Figuring out how to wet a line while keeping the rest of the family entertained can be challenging, but picking the right place to go will be well worth the extra effort. After all, being cooped up with bored kids all day is bound to put your other half in a bad mood, and as the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
New England has always enjoyed a mix of tradition and innovation, and those traits combine to make the region a great destination for a sporting summer vacation. Historical, cultural and natural resource-based experiences for families are plentiful here, many built around great fishing waters that have been drawing anglers for over 100 years. Anglers can enjoy fishing while families learn about their natural world through a wide variety of hiking trails, historical museums and local landmarks.
Hiking trails can be all about the climb, but many offer a little natural resource or historical education along the way. Playgrounds, old-fashioned ice cream parlors, museums and unique shopping opportunities are just a puddle jump away from hungry trout, salmon and bass.
Campgrounds range from the truly rustic to plush accommodations with a host of amenities and organized family activities. Best of all, much of the region is still peaceful enough to allow visitors to enjoy scarlet sunsets and star-filled skies, attractions that draw us back to nature every year.
The following is a roundup of family-friendly lodging and activities near some of the best fishing in New England.
Moosehead Lake Region
The Moosehead Lake region of Maine offers 250,000 acres of water in which to wet a line. More than 1,000 lakes and ponds are home to trout, landlocked salmon, bass and perch. Tributaries offer the chance to hook a hefty brook trout. Anglers can find what they want here, but they have to know where to look.
Moosehead Lake, 40 miles long and 420 miles around, is the largest such body of water in New England. Early morning or evening fishing, or sinking baits down to the cooler depths, gives anglers the best chance of hooking salmon or togue here. Salmon may also be found in Chesuncook Lake, Sebec Lake and most rivers here.
Nearby Indian and Prong ponds are well known for hungry bass and white perch.
For more information about fisheries in the region, call the regional Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 695-3756, or check the local newspapers for frequent fishing reports by IFW fisheries biologists.
For families who like to stretch their legs, there are several scenic trails in the region. Prong Pond, just off the Lily Bay Road, is near the entrance to the crash site of the B-52 bomber that went down on Elephant Mountain in 1963. Big Moose Mountain, with an elevation of 3,196 feet, was the site of the first fire tower in the United States. The cliff face of Mount Kineo rises 800 feet above the lake, and can be reached by three scenic trails. A short drive brings hikers to Gulf Hagas, The Hermitage, Katahdin Iron Works, the terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the Borestone Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary.
For those who want scenery without sweat, Big Squaw Mountain Ski Resort's ski lift operates throughout the summer, offering panoramic views. The historic steamship Katahdin cruises Moosehead Lake daily, with knowledgeable captains sharing tales of the region's history, while passengers enjoy lakeside vistas.
The Golden Road offers a great loop tour from Greenville to Kokadjo, past Ripogenus Dam into Millinocket. From there, visit Baxter State Park or head back down Route 11 toward Brownville Junction, which leads to Katahdin Iron Works. This route almost always yields wildlife sightings because deer, moose and rabbits are plentiful.
Professional wildlife safaris are also offered around the region in every mode imaginable -- by foot, car, canoe, bus, airplane or pontoon boat.
Family lodging ranges from scenic bed and breakfasts to rustic campgrounds with a little of everything in between. For more information, or a copy of the current visitor's guide, contact the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce at (888) 876-2778 or visit
Maine State Parks
The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands maintains over a dozen parks that offer campsites. The reservation hotline can dispense general information about campsites throughout the state. Call (888) 332-1501 from within Maine and (207) 287-3824 from out of state.
Gero Island, located on Chesuncook Lake, offers water access sites popular with anglers who like to hit the West Branch Penobscot River, as well as trying for Chesuncook's landlocked salmon. Call (207) 434-7963 for more information.
Lily Bay State Park, in the tiny town of Beaver Cove, features 91 campsites and two boat launches with slips. Call (207) 695-2700 or, in the off-season, (207) 941-4014.
Little Moose offers remote campsites on the shores of several ponds. Sites are also available on Sugar Island, Farm Island, at Days Academy and in Kineo Township. For any of these, call (207) 778-8231.
The Moosehead Lake region of Maine offers 250,000 acres of water in which to wet a line.
Nahmakanta, at 43,000 acres, is the largest in the public reserved lands system. Vehicle access and lakeshore sites are available. Call (207) 827-1818.
Seven Miles of Sand
At times the stripers along Maine's southern coastline hit almost as fast and furiously as the amusement park rides along its shores. The seven-mile beach curves from Camp Ellis through Ocean Park and Old Orchard Beach northward toward Cape Elizabeth, offering some of the best salt-water fishing and family activities in the state.
Anglers may hike out onto a jetty or hire a sport-fishing charter. The half-mile breakwater at the head of the Saco River in Camp Ellis is a particularly good spot to try for stripers during the summer months. Tuna, ground fish, blues, stripers and sharks swim in the deep waters off Maine's coast.
Enjoy the festive atmosphere in Old Orchard with a stroll down the historic pier and a twirl on the amusement park rides. Be dazzled by their Thursday evening fireworks displays. For a more genteel pace, visit the neighboring town of Ocean Park, where a gazebo and old-fashioned ice cream parlor beckon.
For seafaring adventure, take to the waves for one of the many whale-watching cruises available. Humpback, finback and minke whales, white-sided dolphins, sharks, seals and a vast array of sea birds are all part of the area's marine wildlife.
Try exploring Maine's largest salt marsh in Scarborough by canoe. Landlubbers may view critters from shore at Ferry Beach State Park in Saco, where there are 117 acres of beach and nature trails. Trails and field trips are also available through the Maine Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth. Or visit the Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve for bird watching or self-guided tours.
Families with an eye toward history will never be disappointed along Maine's coast. Museums and lighthouses stand as reminders of Maine's rugged nautical past. Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth sits on 41 acres of rugged headland with sweeping views of Casco Bay. The pair of 1828 lighthouses there were the first set of twin lighthouses built in Maine. Picnic tables, grills, shelters, hiking trails and wide-open spaces for kite flying make this a great family destination. Goat Island Lighthouse, built in 1834, is best viewed off Route 9 from the Cape Porpoise Pier. Portland Headlight, Maine's oldest lighthouse, guards Portland Harbor and features a museum in the 1891 keeper's house. Visit
www.lighthouse.cc/me.html for a virtual guide and accounts of rescues at sea.
Campgrounds abound in the Old Orchard area, catering to family fun with pools, Jacuzzis, horseback riding, miniature golf, arcades, shuttles to the beach and weekly lobster bakes.
For more information, contact the local chamber of commerce at (207) 934-2500, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the agency's Web site at
Head For The Hills
Nestled in the northwest corner of Massachusetts are the Berkshire Mountains. Waters here yield award-winning brook trout, channel catfish and perch. The Windsor area is especially nice for a family fishing vacation. Camping is available at nearby Windsor State Park.
The park's 48-acre pond has a maximum of 53 feet. Fish species include rainbow and brook trout, brown bullheads, chain pickerel, yellow perch, pumpkinseed sunfish, killifish, golden shiners and white suckers. Trout are stocked annually, and when available, so are brood-stock salmon.
MassWildlife biologists report that anglers willing to do a little scouting and experimentation can tap into some good trout action here through July and August. Last year, a 5-pound, 10-pound brookie and an 18- pound, 2-ounce channel catfish pulled out of Windsor were both leading contenders for the state's annual sport fish award.
While at the Windsor State Park, hike to the spot where Windsor Jambs Brook rushes through a 25-foot-wide gorge with granite walls rising 80 feet on either side. The park has miles of hiking-mountain bike trails. Take a dip at the sandy beach on hot summer days. Limited service campsites are available, but no showers or flush toilets.
South of Windsor, near the town of Becket and October Mountain State Forest, are Center, Shaw and Yokum ponds. Species include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, white perch, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, white suckers and golden shiners. Most anglers will hook abundant white or yellow perch here, but those lucky enough to hook some serious game fish are likely to land big ones.
One of the largest yellow perch of 2004, at 2 pounds, 9 ounces, was pulled from Shaw Pond. Also near Becket is the Buckley Dunton Reservoir, which offers some of the better bass and pickerel fishing in the region. Greenwater Pond, a two-story trout pond sandwiched between Route 20 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, is also worth a visit. Rainbow and brown trout are stocked here each fall and spring, and 3- to 5-pound browns are not uncommon.
Becket is also home to the Berkshire Fishing Club, with a 125-acre pond on 850 acres of undeveloped natural surroundings. Trial memberships are available. Call (413) 243-5761 or visit
www.Berkshirefishing.com for more information.
October Mountain State Forest has 46 campsites and is a great location for family hiking, canoeing and fishing. There are more than 25 state parks and preserves in Massachusetts. For information about each, visit
For more information about the Bay State fishing waters and award-winning lakes, visit the Mass. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Web site at
The Berkshires have long been a family vacation destination, offering a wide variety of activities, including swimming, rafting, kayaking, biking, rock climbing and more.
For more information about family fun, visit
Hooked on Manchester
Despite the fact that Manchester is New Hampshire's largest city, there's good fishing to be had nearby. The city grew up around Amoskeag Mills, circa 1838. The mills closed in the 1930s, but the buildings still sprawl for 1.5 miles along the banks of the Merrimack River. Access to the river is available at several locations, including Arms Park, which has a boat launch and shore access below the Amoskeag Bridge and at Moore Falls in Litchfield.
Lake Massabesic is the trophy in Manchester's fishing line-up, offering some of the best shore-fishing around. Because the lake is also a town water supply, there is no wading or swimming allowed. At the Front Park access area, there is a large park with plenty of shoreline. The best fishing is at the south end near a drainage culvert.
At Deer Neck Bridge, try fishing the channel connecting the two sides of the lake. Take time to hike nearby nature trails. Clair's Landing in the village of Auburn is a great spot for a family outing, with excellent fishing and more good spots just down the river.
Local ponds include Stevens, Little Massabesic and Tower Hill, all of which offer perch, chain pickerel, sunfish, bass and more. North of Manchester at the Piscataquog River, anglers will find trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and other fish.
New Hampshire has 1,300 lakes and ponds and 40 rivers that flow a total of 41,800 miles.
For information about wh
ere the fish are biting, check the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Web site at
The advantage of seeking a family camping experience near a metropolitan area is that you get the best of both worlds. Enjoy the bright city lights or not. Auburn, a village with fewer than 5,000 people, is six miles outside Manchester. Camping, boating, biking, the McIntyre Ski Area and the Massabesic Audubon Center are all at hand for family fun.
For more information about family activities, visit
Vermont's Brunswick Springs was named "The Eighth Wonder of the World" by Ripley's Believe It Or Not in 1984.
The Northern Kingdom
Vermont's state record lake trout, a 35-pound, 3.2-ounce giant, was pulled from the quiet depths of Lake Willoughby in 2003. The lake is the jewel of the tri-county region of Vermont known as the Northern Kingdom. Lake Willoughby, a national natural landmark, covers 1,653 acres to a depth of 300 feet, the deepest in the state. In addition to lake trout, rainbows, browns and landlocked salmon may be found here.
There's plenty for on-the-go families to do in the region. Willoughby State Forest covers 7,300 acres. Take to the South Trail, a 3.5-mile hike of moderate difficulty, for sweeping views to Mt. Hor and beyond. Nesting falcons and alpine flora may be observed along Willoughby Cliffs. Diversions include boating, fishing, hiking, swimming and scuba diving. Good fishing ponds include Newark and Bald Hill, east of the forest. To the west are Crystal Lake and Crystal Lake State Park.
The Connecticut River, New England's longest and most powerful, winds through New Hampshire and Vermont. The Connecticut River valley is well known for its rich farming and railroad heritage, as well as the network of highways, byways and waterways that make up the Connecticut River Scenic Byway.
Vermont's Brunswick Springs was named "The Eighth Wonder of the World" by Ripley's Believe It Or Not in 1984. Six springs bubble forth here, allegedly containing nine separate minerals. The springs have a history rich with tales of curses, miracles, greed and sorcery. The springs flow into the Connecticut River 65 feet below.
Learn more about these and other Vermont ghost stories and offbeat activities at
www.vermonter.com and click on the "Weird Stuff" link.
Vermont has no shortage of scenic spots, with more than 100 covered bridges, most built prior to 1912. Fox Hall Bed and Breakfast, a circa-1890 cottage revival structure listed in the national registry, is nestled along the shore of Lake Willoughby.
The state has no shortage of campsites. Of 52 state parks, 39 offer camping. There are also nine Green Mountain National Forest campgrounds and 75 private campgrounds to choose from.
For more camping information, visit
www.travel-vermont.com or call the Vermont Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation at (802) 241-3655.