Texas Family Fishing Fun

Texas is a state that's bursting at the seams with fabulous vacation opportunities for the whole outdoor family. We submit a few for your consideration.

Photo by Tom Berg

Family vacations are always the most fun when everybody has something to do. Combining fishing with a family vacation is one sure way for Dad to enjoy his time away from work, while Mom and the kids maybe do a little fishing, and maybe do something like building sand castles, kayaking or even spending time on a water slide.

The possible combinations of fishing and family vacation fun are endless in Texas. Read on and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Vacationing along the Gulf Coast is an option that hundreds of families go for each summer. And one of the favorite destinations is Padre Island, on the southern end of the coast. Here, the famed Laguna Madre can be found on one side of the island, and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Fun for the kids is limitless. One of the big thrills here is the water slide. It's a heck of a plunge down the slide, and the kids -- and plenty of grown folks, too -- love it.

Another very well-liked deal for the entire family is an afternoon boat tour along the jetties. Dolphin tours are the most popular: The boats run up the jetty channel and a couple of miles offshore to find schools of dolphin playing on the surface. It's a rare day when you don't see a dolphin or two here.

And there's always the option of spending time on the beach. The wife can soak up the rays, while the kids ride the waves and frolic in the surf, which more often than not is a beautiful blue-green.

The fishing around the Padre Island area is outstanding. Anglers have the option of working the Laguna Madre flats, the jetties, the surf, offshore or even a lighted pier. The sprawling flats are the Laguna's main fishing attraction. Fly-fishing is a big thing here, and conventional angling is scarcely uncommon. On the flats you can fish for tailing reds; in the deeper guts you can ply soft-plastic jigs or even live shrimp for trout and flounder.

There's no shortage of fishing guides on the Laguna, and going with a guide is often a smart decision. Since much of the Laguna Madre is 1 to 2 feet deep, you'll need a flats boat to access some of the most profitable fishing. But if you bring your own boat, you can run the deep-water channels and fish the adjacent flats.

Fishing at the jetties is an awesome experience. Here, a lot of anglers troll for king mackerel. Feather jigs, spoons and even live baits will catch big kings.

Live shrimp or mullet fished up close to the rocks will likely put a variety of fish in your cooler. These are deep-water jetties that attract a wide variety of fish such as trout, redfish, mangrove snappers, tarpon, jacks, ling, sheepshead and Spanish mackerel. It's not at all unusual to hook up with a tarpon along the Port Isabel jetties, which is on the south end of Padre Island.

The offshore fishing past the end of the jetties can be fantastic. Since the depth drops off in a hurry, you can begin trolling live, dead or artificial baits within a mile or so of the jetties. What can you catch? How about a sailfish, giant sharks, ling, kings and even blackfin and yellowfin tuna!

Finding a place to stay on the island is just a matter of contacting a travel agent or checking the Internet.

At the opposite end of the Texas Gulf Coast is Galveston Island. Millions of vacationers have traveled to Galveston, 45 miles south of Houston, and there's no better time to bring the family to this island retreat than early summer. It's still cool, there are all sorts of activities for the family, and, of course, the fishing on the surrounding bays, jetties and in the Gulf is perennially impressive.

The needle on the fun meter will be pegged in the red for the whole family at Galveston. Moody Gardens is the go-to spot for family entertainment. It's got an aquarium, an IMAX theater, a paddlewheel boat and a rain-forest pyramid. Or how about renting a bicycle or three-wheeler and just cruising down the sea wall? And if all else fails, you can hit the surf. There are miles of surf along Galveston Island. Fun in the water is the name of the game here. You can rent a surfboard or go windsurfing or kayaking. Don't forget to check out the personal watercraft rentals as well.

There are many angling options at Galveston. You can fish West Bay, the surf or the jetties. And the offshore options are endless.

During the summer months, fishing the surf is big-time popular. Most anglers just walk right in and start fishing -- provided that the waves aren't too big, of course!

Another surf option is to fish off one of the many piers. The piers along the Galveston sea wall are perfect for family fishing fun. The cost to fish on a pier is cheap, and you don't have to bring a thing: All the needed tackle can be rented. Ample bait, both live and dead, will be for sale. Food and drinks are also available. Or if you like, you can bring your own tackle and a cooler.

When the surf is green to the beach, the fishing in the surf can be fabulous. On a green tide you can use lures, live and dead baits to catch speckled trout, reds, flounder, sharks, sand trout, croaker and whiting. A few anglers even hook up with king mackerel and ling.

The fishing for reds, trout and flounder is excellent in West Galveston Bay, and you don't necessarily need a boat to tap into the action. Toward the west end of the bay, you can park your vehicle and wade straight in.

At the west end of the island, West Bay empties into San Luis Pass. This is a topnotch area to fish, with or without a boat; you can fish from a pier there as well.

If you head to Galveston with a boat in tow, an assortment of options awaits. On West Bay, fish jigs over the many shell reefs; along the shorelines and in the coves, you'll do best with topwater plugs early and late in the day; as the sun begins to shine on the water, consider using slow-sinking mullet-imitation plugs in the deeper water in the coves.

Fishing the Galveston jetties is a marvelous way to entertain the entire family. You can either walk the rocks and fish wherever you take a notion, or work them from a boat: Either's good. The only drawbacks in walking the jetties are that you'll have to haul all your gear, and that walking the rocks can be a task for kids. Slipping on the rocks is not a good experience.

Expect to have plenty of company at the jetties. On any

given weekend you can have as many as 50 boats working the north and south jetties. The best way to fish the rocks, especially if you've got the kids along, is to anchor and fish with live shrimp or mullet under a slip-cork. A slip-cork allows you to cast the rig out and fish 8 to 10 feet deep. On most days the prime jetty areas to fish will be from about midway out and to the end.

A few party boats work out of Galveston. Some fish in the bays; others will take you offshore for snappers, ling, grouper, kings and sharks. Williams' Party Boats has been working out of Galveston for years. Their 12-hour day trips for snappers are a blast. If you do the party-boat thing, don't forget to take the kids along, as all of your tackle and bait is furnished on party-boat trips.

There's no way to talk about family vacation fishing trips without mentioning the Guadalupe River. During a day of fishing on the Guadalupe you can expect to catch bass, perch and even a stray rainbow trout or two. Wading is the generally the method of choice, and the lower areas of the river are usually optimal. Fly-fishing is the way to go on this river.

The Guadalupe is best known for its winter trout fishing and its summer recreation for tubers and rafters. At times there are so many people floating down the Guadalupe that they look like colorful confetti. Typically, float trips range from 1 1/2 to 6 hours in duration.

The best fishing will be from about a half-hour before sunrise until the first tubers, kayakers and rafters show up. Best flies will be black or olive wooly buggers. A No. 10 yellow or chartreuse popper will catch perch and bass all day long. If you're not into fly-fishing, carry along a couple of ultralight spinning rods and reels. Spool them with 4- to 6-pound-test line and you'll have a ball catching fish. The most effective lures will be 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jigs or spinners.

Tourist attractions in New Braunfels are abundant. For example, you might check out Natural Bridge Caverns, the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch and Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort. In nearby San Marcos, you can go to Wonder World Park.

Just a few miles south of New Braunfels is the historic town of Gruene. There are historic markers throughout the town. You can dine on the river in Gruene, and shop the day away at the many antique and specialty stores. One of my favorites is the Orvis store, where you can get updated fishing reports from the river. And if you want to hear some great Texas music, get yourself some tickets to Gruene Hall.

There are more state parks in Texas than you can shake a stick at. Some of my favorites are situated on lakes, so not only can you fish, but you can also camp, and let the kids swim or paddle around in a rented kayak or canoe.

Choke Canyon State Park, about an hour and a half's drive south of San Antonio, is one of the most interesting and fun places you can visit. It lies on 26,000-acre Choke Canyon Reservoir. The Calliham Unit of the park covers 1,100 acres; the South Shore Unit contains 385 acres.

The fishing at Choke Canyon Lake is as fine as it's ever been. After being about 25 feet low for years, the lake's back up to normal pool. The water's clear, and the spread of hydrilla is just extensive enough to conceal plenty of largemouth bass.

I've fished Choke a good bit over the years, and on my last couple of trips, the bassin' has been outstanding. Guide Jerry Dunn says that the bass fishing is as good as or better than it's ever been, adding that in June, the spinnerbait bite will be great.

"We've got an abundance of aquatic vegetation on the lake," Dunn offered. "It's perfect bass habitat. There are three ways to fish it. One is with a spinnerbait. Another is with a buzzbait. Or you can flip jigs to pockets in the grass. All will produce lots of bass. The jig tactic is usually best for big bass."

A lot of people are unaware of the noteworthy catfishing at Choke Canyon. The trotlining is fantastic, and fishing under roosting cormorants right about daylight can get impressive results. The crappie fishing around the many areas of flooded timber is great, too.

Choke Canyon State Park is a kids' wonderland. Inside the park is a 90-acre lake that's perfect for kayaking and canoeing. Sadly, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department won't open it to anything but bank-fishing. I can't get a straight answer as to why you can't fish it with a small, motorless boat or even a float tube. However, the bank-fishing for catfish, bass and bluegills is quite decent.

This park is akin to a zoo, loaded with all sorts of critters like deer, pigs, javelinas, coyotes, armadillos, raccoons and even its share of rattlesnakes and alligators. Wildlife-viewing trails stretch all through the park; there's also a birding trail. In addition, you'll have use of a swimming pool, softball complex, amphitheater, shuffleboard, tennis courts, volleyball and full basketball courts.

Huntsville State Park, about 50 miles north of Houston and just a few miles south of Huntsville, is another top-of-the-line family vacation destination. Inside the park is Lake Raven, covering 210 acres. The park itself covers 2,083 acres of forestland adjacent to Sam Houston National Forest.

Lake Raven is good for largemouth bass, crappie, perch and catfish. The bass fishing is especially fine in June, during which you can ease along the bank and work spinnerbaits and topwater lures for bass pushing the 12- to 13-pound mark. Over the years, this lake at which catch-and-release bass fishing is mandatory has become a favorite for bass fans. It's particularly well known for its great fly-fishing potential: Fly-fishers can ease along the shoreline and catch perch and bass all day long. And the night-fishing is fantastic! A few years back I caught a 9-pounder while I was working a buzzbait off a point on Raven at about midnight.

An assortment of lures will catch bass at Raven. Early and late in the day, you'll want to use topwater plugs and buzzbaits along the shorelines. As the sun gets up, you'll probably do best with a white/ chartreuse spinnerbait. During the heat of the day, worms and jigs are best. The deep-water area near the dam is a creditable spot for working worms, jigs and crankbaits.

There are two boat ramps at the lake. Any size of boat can be launched, but there is a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit.

Two fishing piers jut into Lake Raven, both lighted and both offering fishing by day and by night. They're perfect for the kids. I've seen catfish, crappie, bream, bass, turtles and even small alligators caught by kids on those piers.

At Huntsville State Parks there's no shortage of family fun. Biking trials are everywhere, one of the best being a 10-mile loop around the lake. Hiking's also popular. The hiking loop around the lake can take the better part of a day, but if day hikes are what you like, this one's perfect. There are nature trails, too. And close to the entrance of the park is a nature center.

There is a designated swimming area and park adjacent to

a concession stand. The kids will have a wonderful time diving off the swim platform.

And don't forget to bring the kayaks and canoes, as that's what most people use to get around on Raven. An evening paddle around the lake is very enjoyable. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the lake.

So there you have it: more family vacation (and fishing) fun than you can shake a stick at! The only bad thing about all this is that it will take far more vacation time than you're likely to have available to get around to all of the possibilities. But that's a great problem to have in Texas!

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