Family-Friendly Fishing

Family-Friendly Fishing

If that's your goal for this summer's vacation, then check out this great lineup of Texas destinations. (June 2009)

Schools out! Kids of all ages go busting out the door for summer vacation, a break generally lasting 2 1/2 to 3 months. Naturally, the small fry to teenagers are ecstatic. On the other hand, for some parents the combination of summer and vacation may be something to be dreaded, perhaps even a little feared.

What will the family do, where will they go, how will they occupy their time? And, of course, in these days and times, how much will it cost? All this and more instantly come to mind.

Family summer vacation . . . ah, memories come bounding back of energetic children, long hot days, the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers on a grill, loud laughter, and starlit nights with a small campfire to roast marshmallows. Depending on where you may have gone, you also might have encountered mosquitoes, poison ivy, bugs drawn to night lights, sunburn, bad weather and a dozen other not-so-enjoyable things that can appear out of nowhere. Most often, though, it's the fun that's so easily recalled -- and rightfully should be.

Summer vacation frequently brings to mind fishing, as in a family fishing holiday. That sounds really entertaining and eventful. But what if some family members don't want to fish the entire time? Perhaps they don't care to fish at all, but everyone still wants to go on an adventure as a family. What then?

PLAN AHEAD

It's simple. Choose a place that offers choices. No one knows your family better than you do. Let your children provide input as to what they would like to do in addition to fishing. Anyone not desiring to fish will have some ideas, too. Alternatives to either need to be thrown in as well.

It will help your family bond together while building anticipation and excitement. Depending on the length of time you have for your adventure, perhaps family members could have their own day. The family would participate in the events or visit the places the individual chose.

To ensure a great vacation you should always have plans A (first choice), B (second choice) and C (if all else fails) in place. For whatever reason, if someone gets sick or it rains nonstop, for example, you have a backup resolution. It will lessen the chance of someone moping around complaining about what could have been! This is equally important regardless of your children's ages. Let's explore some possibilities.

Texas being so vast and wide, there simply are too many places to name where a family can go fishing but also enjoy sightseeing and participate in various other activities. There are, however, a few places that may possess less desirable choices. Keep in mind that you want to include some fishing. To start, get out the map or get on the Internet. By doing your research first, you'll save time and effort later!

For that reason, West Texas may not be the best place. There is limited water and other activities, and it's a long way between stops. The same may also be said about certain areas of the Panhandle. The Hill Country has endless possibilities. Many places have their own private fishing holes or access to other private waterfront property. East Texas and deep South Texas possess many places to go including numerous rivers and lakes both big and small.

CONSIDER THIS

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversees our state park system. It is a fabulous resource many vacationers fail to use. A multitude of state parks and recreation areas offer great fishing opportunities, as well as assorted activities not only within their confines but also just a short drive down the road.

There are primitive areas to pitch a tent, sites for various sizes of travel trailers and motor homes, and some even offer cabins for rent. Be advised that reservations in advance are highly recommended.

Many of our state parks are host to a variety of trails on which to hike, bike and explore the great outdoors. Some parks feature Olympic-sized swimming pools, while others have freshwater rivers and lakes or saltwater beaches. Wildlife is often relatively tame allowing abundant amateur and professional photographic opportunities. And of course, there is the option of doing nothing except relaxing.

As an incentive to use the Lone Star State's parks and to encourage fishing, the state has designated free fishing on public waters inside park boundaries. More than 70 state parks offer what is truly a great deal. There are no fees and no license requirements once you've paid your park entry. However, all fish species size and creel limit regulations do apply. You only have to decide what type of fish you want to attempt to catch. (Note the use of the keyword "attempt.")

In addition, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center near Athens is the best deal yet. Athens is southeast of Dallas between Tyler and Corsicana. The TFFC will provide fishing tackle, bait and instruction for the whole family. You can choose to catch and release or harvest fish for a fee. Ten dollars allows the harvest of five catfish (but not the big ones), or in wintertime, $5 allows you to keep five trout. Those limitations are necessary because 30,000 people a year fish the 1.5-acre pond and it would run out of fish rapidly otherwise.

But you will have fun, guaranteed!

You may want to plan an entire day or more at TFFC, as it also has a huge Visitor Center, aquaria, indoor hatcheries, dive tank aquarium and a wetland trail. The Budweiser ShareLunker Program is housed there as well. One or more ShareLunker (largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more) usually is on display.

Exhibits feature 56 species of fish, reptiles and mammals displayed in their natural habitats. In addition, there are hundreds of plants, shrubs and trees with seasonal wildflower displays at the facility. Many educational seminars take place at various times. A number of contests and special events are put on year 'round, not just in the summer. It's quite an adventuresome and entertaining place to visit. Check out the Web site at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/visitorscenter/tffc.

THE BEST FOR LAST

The Gulf Coast of Texas stretches more than 360 miles from its border with Mexico on the Rio Grande River to our neighboring state of Louisiana. Barrier islands Galveston, Matagorda, San Jose, Mustang and Padre protect thousands of miles of bay shoreline. There is much to do along the Lone Star Coast, with or without fishing involved. However, since you do want to fish on your vacation, once again pull out a map or surf the Internet to start investigating possibilities.

Because of Hurricane Ike this past year, much of the coastline from Freeport to Port Arthur suffered damage

. Surfside, Galveston Island, Bolivar Peninsula and High Island were devastated. Some areas are beginning to open back up, while others will be out of commission for quite some time. It would be wise to call ahead to any resort or place you may want to go in those areas before heading that way.

From Freeport south, the options are almost unlimited. Saltwater fishing may be done in bays, the surf or by going offshore. Want to fish fresh water? There are plenty of rivers and lakes, too. Depending on the tide or recent rainfall, some areas offer both! If you have your own gear, then go for it. If not, most all areas host professional guides who provide fun and adventure for a fee. That said, you should book a trip as early as possible.

Whether you and your family are experienced fishermen and ladies and own your own boat, or not, you still may want to consider hiring a professional guide. If unfamiliar with the waters, you may run aground on a shell reef or sunken barge, or even venture too far into the shallows. By hiring a guide, you simply bring your snacks and walk onboard his or her boat. All else is furnished, even cleaning and packaging your catch of the day. And there's no boat and tackle to wash and clean up later!

One of the best-kept secrets of the Texas Gulf Coast lies in Matagorda County. The tiny towns of Sargent and Matagorda are growing quite rapidly. New businesses, vacation rental property and guide services are increasing. Both towns have public beaches; at the mouth of the Colorado River is a long pier and jetty for fishing and bird watching. East Matagorda Bay offers some outstanding fishing from kayaks, a rapidly increasing sport in that area.

Many coastal fishing villages host fishing tournaments big and small throughout the summer. Some are combined with sizable festive activities, such as arts and crafts, cooking contests and fireworks displays. There are a wide variety of festivals and jamborees with indoor and outdoor celebrations along the coastline, as well as a few miles inland. You and your family may want to attend.

Padre Island is a national seashore with highly populated, as well as totally remote areas along its entire length. It's possible to become stuck in the sand and have no cell phone capabilities, so you might want to be careful when considering how far you venture from civilization.

If beachcombing and shell searching is enjoyable, this is the place to do it. More items come ashore on Padre Island than at any other place along the entire Gulf of Mexico. Sad to say, trash is a lot of it. At the same time, you may stumble across a truly unique or possibly valuable treasure.

It's important to point out here that many beaches require licensed vehicles to have a beach permit, available for a nominal fee. Some are for an entire year, while others may be for only a certain time period. There also are beaches with traffic and other restrictions, such as no glass containers allowed or no swimming in a certain area due to undertow currents. Be sure to check beforehand to prevent any misunderstandings.

A TASTE OF BOTH KINDS OF WATER

Want a little of both freshwater and saltwater fishing prospects? Once again, the state offers a variety of places under the care of the TPWD parks system. Private campgrounds are pretty much everywhere as well. A prime example is Lake Texana near Edna, less than two hours from Houston. There is a fine state park on the north side of Highway 111, while across the road is Breckenridge Plantation Campground run by the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority.

Lake Texana has wildlife for viewing along with abundant catfish, crappie, sunfish and bass fishing in its waters. Within an hour's drive are Palacios, Port Lavaca, Seadrift and Port O'Connor. Also, look for numerous small fishing communities scattered along the various bay shorelines. You'll find equal freshwater and saltwater opportunities and activities close by. Shop the local towns or travel to nearby Victoria for malls, chain stores and multi-selection movie theaters, if the need arises.

Another example of fresh water near its salty counterpart is Lake Corpus Christi near Mathis. This 21,000-acre body of water is just 35 miles northwest of the city of Corpus Christi. The saltwater bays of Nueces, Corpus Christi, Copano and Aransas are only a short jaunt away. Rockport and Fulton are nearby as well. Professional fishing guides work these regions, but again, reservations are recommended.

Hidalgo County's Delta Lake, between Edinburg and Raymondville in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, offers great catfishing. No boats are allowed on this 2,321-acre reservoir; it's all bank-fishing. Head east or southeast toward the Gulf and you'll end up in Port Mansfield or Port Isabel for fabulous saltwater angling.

WHAT ELSE TO DO

The cost of things to do on your family fishing vacation can run the gamut, starting at free and going all the way up to quite costly. From camping on the beach or in a park to renting simple cottages to lounging around a luxurious 5-star resort, the choice is yours. Some places are easy to get to while others require a bit more time and effort. And that's just a place to stay!

There are numerous historical places to visit along the Gulf Coast or a short distance inland. Check out the Fulton Mansion in Fulton, the famous King Ranch outside Kingsville and the only lighthouse open to the public, the Port Isabel Lighthouse on South Padre Island. The World War II aircraft carrier USS Lexington is a historic floating museum resting in Corpus Christi Bay at Corpus. It offers a great place to self-tour and explore.

Many towns and cities have their own unique museums that may be free, but a donation is always most welcome. It may surprise you what can be found if you just look. And don't overlook dining along the way. There are just too many good places to eat to list them here. It simply depends on what you're hungry for at the moment.

For nature lovers, and especially bird watchers, there are countless places to wander and watch, just one of which is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell. Many coastal towns, especially the larger ones, offer various types of other water options. Dolphin tours, party boat sunset rides in the bays and Gulf, wind surfing, personal watercraft rentals, parasailing and deep-sea fishing adventures are only a few.

The chamber of commerce in a town or city is a wealth of free information. An area visitor's bureau is too. It's the staff's job to know what's available in their domain, plus they welcome the prospect of bringing visitors as well as income to their area and local businesses. Sources of recreation, entertainment, lodging, dining, etc., may be broken into separate categories, making it simple and easy to check out. If you're unable to find information on a tiny town, go to the next largest one closest to it.

So, what are you waiting for, now that you've read about so many possibilities? Don't wait until the last minute, start planning now. Gather the family together to pick where you want to go and start from there. The rest will fall into place.

Take plenty of sunscreen, perh

aps some insect repellent, and don't forget the camera. Memories are sure to be made. Each time you see that favorite photo on the wall, desk or coffee table you'll think, "Now that was some family summer fishing vacation!"

Then get ready to do it again!

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