Texas' Great Family Getaways

It's the season for our guide to some of the finest fishing opportunities that the Lone Star State has to offer you and your family for vacation fun.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Bud McDonald

Fishing and vacation go hand-in-hand in Texas. As a matter of fact, it'd be difficult to imagine that vacationers couldn't find something to please every family member in the Lone Star State.

Those whose interests tend toward freshwater fishing will have no difficulty picking one of the 500-plus reservoirs in which to wet a line, and that's not to mention the many rivers, creeks and streams that crisscross the state. Although not all publicly accessible waters contain line-stretching bass, all contain catchable fish of one species or another. And many of these offer areas of interest to those family members whose leisure pursuits don't normally include fishing.

While every Texas family has its own favorite places to visit in the state, we've compiled a listing of some sites that perhaps will point to something a little bit different without diminishing the focus on fishing. Bear in mind that the following is at best only a short list for a state with so many places to see and things to do.

If the vacationing family likes camping in either a recreational vehicle or a tent, campgrounds are present at or near virtually every fishing spot. From our well-kept and beautiful state parks to the myriad private campgrounds, vacationers will find every type of space from the extremely isolated and primitive sites in the Black Gap area along the Rio Grand to those upscale sites with full hookups within shouting distance of such metropolitan areas as Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and others. For those whose "roughing it" interests do not include cold showers or black-and-white television, hotels, motels and various vacation spas to fit every budget will be found in plenty.

At the top of our fishing vacation list we offer houseboat rental, which is available at two of the larger Texas lakes. Although somewhat pricey, these floating "Taj Mahals" feature all the comforts of home - full kitchens, entertainment centers, and hot water, plus fishing and swimming from the rear veranda.

Since the larger craft will sleep up to 12 people, it is possible for several families to pool their resources and enjoy the fishing vacation of a lifetime. Full-service houseboat rentals are a feature of Forever Resorts - call 1-800-255-5561, or go to the Web site, www.fbreverresorts.com - at Lake Amistad on the Rio Grande near Del Rio, and at Lake Meredith on the Red River north of Amarillo. Houseboats are very popular, so it'll be a good idea to make reservations as far in advance as possible.

For those whose interests tend toward saltwater pursuits, Texas offers hundreds of miles of bays and estuaries along our Inland Waterway from Orange to Port Isabel. One highly favored vacation spot is South Padre Island, at the southern tip of Texas and across the bay from Port Isabel. There the vacationer will find numerous rooms and cabin rentals ranging from the luxurious to the offbeat.

Fishing reigns supreme (except for a brief period when college kids on spring break take over) in both bay and offshore habitats. Bay fishing fans will find redfish (red drum) and speckled sea trout plentiful, with wade-fishing being the most common method of catching them. Since most of the bay waters average about 2 feet in depth, all that you'll require will be a good-quality 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot spinning or baitcasting rod fitted with a reel loaded with 10- to 12-pound-test line and a selection of artificial lures or live bait. Newcomers will find that hiring an experienced guide is extremely helpful, owing to the abundance of places to fish along the ICW.

Where to go along the ICW varies from the upscale cities of South Padre Island and Corpus Christi to the laid-back fishing villages of Port Mansfield, Rockport and a score of other small towns. The only certainty is that the bay fishing is just about uniformly great. Again, redfish and speckled sea trout are the most popular species along the Gulf Coast, with a few others such as flounder, black drum, whiting sprinkled in.

In terms of possibilities for side trips, bird watching is one of the favored pursuits along our coastal estuaries and bays. For instance, over 400 species of birds have been identified at the Welder Refuge near Rockport, the Laguna Atascosa Refuge, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and others. The ANWR is seasonal home for the famous whooping crane, visible by tour boats operating out of Rockport. For further information about lodging, fishing or bird watching, contact the Rockport Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-242-0071.

Families who like a little adventure in their vacations should consider Far Flung Adventures, which specializes in rafting and canoeing trips on the Rio Grande. The trips vary from several hours to several days - depending upon how much adventure you can stand.

On the longer trips the river winds through the Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River; here, the canyon walls soar over 1,500 feet above the river in places. Operators of the trips say that although there are occasional rapids, the river is not known for wild whitewater. Contact Far Flung Adventures at 1-800-359-4138 or visit their Web site at www.farflung.com.

Continuing southward on the border river, we meet with the 67,000 surface-acres of Lake Amistad, which offer outstanding fishing for both largemouth and striped bass, plus some line-stretching catfish and a variety of other species. Amistad, just upriver from Del Rio, continues to have problems with low water levels, but local fishermen contend that there's still enough water to suit any angler's taste.

The reservoir is dominated by rocky structure, with many ledges, dropoffs and rocky points and shorelines. Aquatic vegetation is sporadic, although several coves have become infested with hydrilla in recent times. Sightseeing in the Amistad-Del Rio area includes Seminole Canyon State Park, an area that early humans first visited 12 millennia ago. The early fossils of the area indicate great herds of now-extinct species of elephant, camel, bison and horses.

Other area attractions include Langtry, where the famous - or infamous - Judge Roy Bean held often-ludicrous court, the Val Verde Winery (in continuous production since 1883), Fort Clark and Alamo Village, site of John Wayne's epic movie The Alamo and still an active movie location open to the public. For further information on Lake Amistad or the Del Rio area, contact the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-889-8149. Current fishing information may be obtained from guide Doug Yeargain at (830) 775-0892.

The next impoundment on the Rio Grande is Falcon Reservoir, weighing in at 78,000 surface-ac

res. Again, sporadic rainfall in the border river's watershed keeps the otherwise huge lake's water levels low. Still, plenty of promising opportunities for largemouth bass, catfish and white bass will be found here. Fishing guide Jimmy Murray - (956) 848-5630 - says that good fall rains drastically increased Falcon's water level and inundated a lot of new grass and brush that had grown around the shorelines. Thanks to all of the new hiding places, he believes, bass fishing should be worthwhile at the lake for years to come. For further information on the area or a list of fishing guides, contact the Zapata Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-292-5253, or visit the Web site at www. zapatausa.com.

With the capital city of Austin as a hub, fishing and vacationing in the state's south-central area is likely to involve the seven reservoirs damming the Colorado River. Known as the "Highland Lakes," the chain consists (in order) of Buchanan, Inks Lake, LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, Lake Austin and Town Lake. All abound with great bass and striper fishing, as well as provide vacationers with unlimited places to see and things to do. Wildlife - such as white-tailed deer and bald eagles and many other bird species - abounds along the lakes' shorelines, while fields of wildflowers like bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush keep the area in its Sunday best through most of June. For further information on lodgings, state parks, fishing guides, houseboat rentals and more, visit the Web sites www.highlandlakes.com and www. highlandlakes.net.

Near San Antonio, anglers can find several large and small reservoirs with exceptionally good fishing. Within the city limits is Lake Braunig, a small impoundment that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department keeps liberally stocked with a variety of finny fare. Besides solid populations of largemouth bass and several species of catfish, Braunig contains several exotic species including red drum, corvina and even a few flounder. Nearby Lake Calaveras is also small (3,400 surface-acres), but it teems with bass, catfish and crappie. Additionally, within short day-trips from San Antonio are lakes Canyon, Medina, Coleto Creek and Choke Canyon.

History and tradition reign supreme in San Antonio. Settled by Spanish missionaries in the early 1700s, the Mission San Antonio de Valero - better known today as the Alamo - was the site of a famous battle between defenders of the fledgling Republic of Texas and the Mexican Army under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Other sightseeing attractions include the famous River Walk, the San Antonio Zoo, Majestic Theater and many more. Further information on the city and surrounding vacation spots may be obtained by visiting the Web site www.sanantonio.com.

Just a short ride north of Houston, bass and big-water fanatics will find lakes Conroe and Livingston, both home to wonderful fishing. Located off Interstate Highway 45, Lake Conroe features a world of bass haunts such as rocky shorelines, boat docks, riprap, stumps and laydowns. Fishing is especially good inside the marina areas, which abound with cover and tasty food sources such as bream and shad.

After a picturesque jaunt from Lake Conroe through the Sam Houston National Forest, fishermen will have no trouble finding gargantuan Lake Livingston. Damming the Trinity River and covering vast amounts of real estate in three counties, this 90,000-surface-acre impoundment is a bonanza rife with nearly every species, including largemouth and striped bass and blue, channel and flathead catfish. Worthy of special note is the fishing for big white bass, which is some of the finest to be found. The early-spring months are best for white-bass fishing in the many creeks that feed into the lake. Livingston boasts six public boat ramps and a number of privately-owned ramps; camping is available at Lake Livingston State Park - (936) 365-2201 - and many private resorts along the shoreline. Fishing information may be obtained by calling guide John Payette at (713) 781-91759.

Farther northeast, but still within a day trip of Houston, are two of Texas' largest and most productive reservoirs: Lake Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. Either's size may seem intimidating to many anglers, but they're manageable if you know how. The trick is to obtain a reliable lake map and talk to the locals about smaller inlet sand bays that offer both worthwhile fishing and reasonable safety.

Sam Rayburn offers vacationers Rayburn Country Resort, a huge fishing and golfing mecca near Jasper. Besides the access it affords to some of the lake's best fishing, the resort features a conference center, condominiums with up to three bedrooms, a 27-hole golf course, a swimming pool and tennis courts. For further information or reservations call the resort at 1-800-882-1442 or visit its Web site, www.rayburnresort. com.

Its more than 205,000 surface-acres straddling the Texas-Louisiana border - the Sabine River channel marks the border between the two states - Toledo Bend is over 70 miles long from north to south. A reciprocal licensing agreement allows anglers licensed in either state to fish the lake. Again, to compensate for the lake's enormous size, newcomers should get an accurate lake map and confer with local anglers in order to find smaller spots. Local fishing guides say that in June the fish will normally suspend after the spring spawn, making fishing more difficult. Anglers should back off from the shallow water and fish the main-lake points. For fishing guides, try Scott Soisson at (409) 698-9430, Gary Newell (409) 625-4928 or Charlie Shively at (409) 368-2542; for lodging and sightseeing information, visit the Web site, www.toledobend.com.

Within a 100-mile radius of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex are several outstanding fishing spots. First on the list has to be Lake Fork, a 27,700-acre impoundment about 90 miles east of the Metroplex. It was there in 1992 that Barry St. Clair battled the state's largest bass to a conclusion that saw the Klondike angler bring the 18.18-pound bass aboard his boat to set a record that's remained in place for over 10 years. But the diehards who fish the reservoir daily are certain that a larger bass lurks somewhere under the surface. For further information, call fishing guide Dean Stroman at (903) 383-7214. Lodging information can be obtained by calling Pope's Landing at (903) 765-2385.

Traveling southward from the Metroplex, you'll come across Lake Whitney, which dams the Brazos and Nolan rivers northwest of Waco. This 23,560-acre impoundment is a favorite spot for tangling with line-stretching stripers, as well as very respectable largemouth and white bass. The lake has plenty of structure and cover such as willow, bulrushes and pondweed.

Among the nearby attractions is Waco's Dr. Pepper Museum, the oldest surviving headquarters for a major soft drink. It was here that Dr. Charles Merton first mixed the flavors to concoct the popular soda. For further sightseeing information, visit the Web site at www.wacocvb.com. Lake Whitney State Park may be reached at (254) 694-3793.

North from Dallas/Fort Worth and bordering Texas and Oklahoma is Lake Texoma, an 89,000-acre impoundment on the Red and Washita rivers. Texoma is probably known better for its healthy population of stripers than for its largemouth bass, although there's definitely no lack of the latter. The lake also is renowned for its huge blue catfish, as well as for spotted and smallmouth bass.

Anglers who fish Lake Texoma should be aware that Texas has no reciprocal licensing agreement with neighboring Oklahoma, meaning that Texans fishing on the Oklahoma side of the river channel must possess a valid Oklahoma license. However, a Lake Texoma license, which can be purchased for $7.50, allows fishermen from either state to fish the entire lake. There are also several special retention regulations in force over the entire lake, such as a daily bag limit of 10 striped and hybrid bass (only two may be longer than 20 inches) and the combined bag limit for Guadalupe, spotted, largemouth and smallmouth bass, which is five fish per day. Anglers should obtain a free copy of the Lake Texoma fishing regulations before venturing on the water.

Accommodations abound on both sides of the huge reservoir, including Eisenhower and Bonham state parks on the Texas side, plus Lake Texoma Resort and others on the Oklahoma side. For further information, call the Denison Chamber of Commerce at (903) 465-1551, or visit the Pottsboro Web site, www.pottsborotx.net; for fishing information, call fishing guide J.B. Webb at (903) 786-5271.

The preceding list of places to fish and vacation in Texas is only a partial directory of great places to go. There are literally hundreds more large and small reservoirs, rivers, creeks and streams for the enjoyment of both the experienced and beginning angler. For a more detailed listing visitors can request a free copy of the official Texas Travel Guide, which contains accommodations and a highway map, by visiting the Web site at www.state. tx.us, or by calling 1-800-888-8839.

See you in Texas!



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