May is a great month to plan for a family fishing vacation, whether you’re going for a weekend trip or planning a longer adventure after the end of school. The following North Carolina destinations provide both good fishing and family-friendly things to do.
RANDLEMAN REGIONAL RESERVOIR
Randleman Regional Reservoir is a 3,007-acre water supply lake located near Asheboro owned and operated by the Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority. It has two parks, with the Guilford County Southwest Park located at the north end of the lake on Southwest Park Rd. and the PTRWA Park and Marina located at the south end of the lake on Adams Farm Rd. Both parks have fishing piers and picnic areas and have a small assortment of fishing tackle and bait for sale.
Randleman is the state’s newest large, public water supply reservoir, having opened to fishing in 2010. As with most new lakes, Randleman’s bass, panfish and crappie benefit from an expanding forage base of gizzard shad. The predatory fish grow fast and fat, so it is a great place for catching plenty of bass weighing 2 to 4 pounds in a morning of fishing. Anglers have landed bass topping 6 pounds, catfish weighing more than 10 pounds and crappie weighing more than 2 pounds from the piers.
The 500-acre area of the lake located upstream of the N.C. Highway 62 Bridge is off-limits to powerboats and is accessible from the Southwest Park Ramp. That area has some of the best fishing because it is shallower and has plenty of stumps and rocks sticking out of the water. These obstructions to powerboat navigation are the main reason for the fuel-engine prohibition. The other reason is providing a place where families can paddle along in beautiful scenery, catching lots of fish without worrying about powerboat wakes.
Young anglers can fish worms, minnows, crickets or other live baits from the public piers and expect to catch a variety of fish. Older children who are learning to fish for bass can catch them by casting soft plastics rigged on Carolina rigs, topwater lures, crankbaits and spinnerbaits from the piers. The main casting targets for anglers who are fishing from boats are rocks, points, cut-and-cabled trees and standing timber. Anglers may also see schooling largemouth bass anywhere, but the best places to look for them are near the bridges and rocky points.
Along the Way: Southwest Park has nature trails, picnic shelters, playgrounds and a dog park. Anglers can launch their own non-fuel powered watercraft at the park ramp or rent boats and canoes at the visitor center. The park is open daily March through November. For information, visit myguilford.com/parks/southwest-park/ or telephone (336) 641-2050.
PTRWA Park has a picnic area and fishing pier near the powerboat launch. It is open March through November except Mondays and Tuesdays. For information, visit randelmanlake.com or telephone (336) 498-5282. The powerboat launch fee is $15. Anglers in boats cannot touch the bank and must have a human-waste container aboard. Many other regulations and restrictions are in place to ensure the safety of the water supply.
The Petty Museum has exhibits that feature Petty Engineering’s stock car racing legacy, as well as historical exhibits and artifacts and antiques from the local area such as knives, watches, toys and agricultural tools. The museum’s centerpiece is one of Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 stock cars. Admission prices are adults, $10, seniors over 60, $8, children 7-16, $5 and children 6 get in free. The Petty Museum is located at 309 Branson Mill Rd., Randleman, N.C. and is open Monday through Saturday. The museum website is rpmuseum.com.
Located in Columbus County, 8,938-acre Lake Waccamaw is the largest of the state’s Carolina bay lakes, which acquired their name from several species of bay trees that grow in the elliptical depressions of mysterious origin. Carolina bays’ depressions are filled with peat and only a few are large lakes like Lake Waccamaw. While most Carolina bay lakes have extremely acidic water that limits their fishing potential, Lake Waccamaw has a limestone outcrop that neutralizes its pH, making it the best Carolina bay lake for fishing. Its finfish species include largemouth bass, chain pickerel, black crappie, white perch, yellow perch, bullhead, channel, blue and flathead catfish, and pumpkinseed, redear, bluegill and redbreast sunfish.
The lake has an average depth of 4 feet and maximum depth of 9 feet. It has a firm, sandy bottom. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Lake Waccamaw Boating Access Area is on the west side along Canal Cove Rd. A second boating access is located on the east side at Lake Waccamaw State Park on Bella Coola Rd.
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Anglers fish from powerboats, kayaks and canoes. Many people troll for white perch, crappie and other game fish from pontoon boats, which is a great way for a family to spend the day on the water. Another popular activity is anchoring a boat at one of the sandy stretches along the southern shoreline where state park ownership precludes private piers. Kids can fish, swim or wade in the shallow water. The edge is so shallow that anglers easily wade the grass beds, fishing with fly rods, spinning rods and cane poles to catch panfish and bass.
At the park’s picnic area, a 700-foot boardwalk leads to a 375-foot swimming and fishing pier with a gazebo. Anglers can fish from the pier or descend a ladder from the pier to the water for wade-fishing adventures.
Along the Way: Lake Waccamaw State Park has a visitor center with interactive exhibits that explain some theories about natural processes that may have created Carolina bays, the park’s native and nuisance vegetation, its unique mollusks and fish, and the history of its human inhabitants. The visitor center is also a wonderful place for families seeking air-conditioned comfort on a hot day.
The park has 2,274 acres of uplands with four nature trails, including the 0.75-mile Sand Ridge Trail, 2.5-mile Pine Woods Trail, 1-mile Loblolly Trail and 5-mile Lake Trail. Another boardwalk winds from the visitor center through the bay forest all the way to the lake’s shoreline and it two covered shelters. It also has four primitive tent-camping areas that have fire circles and pit toilets. A new feature is a yurt that sleeps six campers. The picnic area has a bathhouse with drinking water. The park hosts special events throughout the year. For more information, visit ncparks.gov/lake-waccamaw-state-park.
A 1904 Atlantic Coastline Railroad Depot houses the Lake Waccamaw Depot Museum. Exhibits include marine fossils, natural history and antique forestry and agricultural tools. A Native American dugout canoe found in the lake is also on display. Located at 201 Flemington Rd. in Lake Waccamaw, the museum is open Wed. – Fri., 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Telephone (910) 646-1992. Admission is free.
MERCHANT’S MILL POND STATE
Located within the 3,500-acre Merchant’s Millpond State Park in Gates County, the 760-acre Merchant’s Millpond has excellent fishing for largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill sunfish and chain pickerel. It is one of the best places in the state for combining a canoeing and camping trip with great fishing.
Seeing the unique tupelo trees with their outlandishly large trunks when compared to their tiny canopies is a memorable part of any fishing trip to Merchant’s Millpond. During the summer breeding season, anglers may also see alligators and hear the males bellowing.
Anglers can fish from the trails that wind along the shady shoreline. Other great places to fish are the catwalks over Bennett’s Creek that are located downstream of the spillway and the piers located at the public launching area and the rental boat area. Anglers can cast topwater lures and soft plastics for bass. However, the most popular fishing activity is catching crappie with live minnows and jigs.
Along the Way: Merchant’s Mill Pond State Park has 9 miles of hiking and paddle trails, with campsites located along the trails. The park hosts ranger-led canoe trips for families that need a bit of education before setting out on their own.
The park has different types of campsites that campers reserve for small fees. A canoe that can seat up to three anglers costs $5 per hour or $30 for 24 hours. Depending upon season, the nightly fee for a canoe-in campsite is $13. The park also has drive-up campsites and hike-in campsites. At the hike-in and canoe-in campsites, campers pack everything they need in and pack everything out again, including drinking water and trash. The paddle trail along Bennett’s Creek downstream of the spillway has campsites with raised platforms.
The park also hosts many ranger-led interpretive programs and most of them have no participation fee. For information, visit ncparks.gov/merchants-millpond-state-park.
CAPE HATTERAS NATIONAL SEASHORE
Everyone who lives in North Carolina and beyond wants to make a trip to the fabled Outer Banks. Some of the best surf fishing in the world occurs along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which covers 30,000 acres in Dare County and stretches for 70 miles from Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet. Fishermen can catch larger sport fish including red drum, black drum, flounder, bluefish and striped bass by standing in the sand or wading into the surf and casting whole or filleted menhaden and mullet on super-sized Carolina rigs, which surf fishermen call fish-finder rigs. Smaller fish such as whiting, croakers and spots will bite bloodworms, shrimp, and artificial bait strips fished on two-hook bottom rigs held in place with 2- or 3-ounce pyramid sinkers.
Some species of fish is biting all year long in the surf. However, the best fishing occurs in spring and fall, when vehicles by the dozens line the oceanfront beaches whenever a good run is occurring.
While families can park their SUV’s and pickup trucks along N.C. Highway 12 and walk to the beaches to go fishing, most visitors who head for the park drive their four-wheel-drive vehicles onto the sand. The park has 14 public off-road-vehicle access points, some of which are subject to closures during the peak nesting seasons for birds and sea turtles. Signs and roped off areas are prominently placed to tell anglers when and where to avoid these nesting areas.
Beach drivers must purchase vehicle permits that cost $120 for the entire season or $50 for ten days. Permits are available online or at one of the park’s four visitor centers. Bodie Island Visitor Center and Bodie Island Lighthouse are located at 8210 Bodie Island Rd., Nags Head, N.C.
Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Hatteras Lighthouse are located at 46375 Lighthouse Rd., Buxton, N.C. Ocracoke Island Visitor Center is located at 38 Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke, N.C.
The park has four campgrounds – Ocracoke, Ocracoke Inlet, Cape Point and Frisco. The campgrounds are open either the second or third Friday of April depending upon the campground. All of them remain open through the first Friday after the last weekend in November. The campsites have modern restrooms, potable water, unheated showers, tables and grills. The campsite occupancy is limited to two vehicles, with a towed pop-up camper considered one vehicle, and six people per campsite.
Along the Way: Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are open for climbing and both of them allow spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound and the beach strands. Children must be at least 42 inches tall to climb the lighthouses. Children 11 years and younger must be accompanied by an adult. The lighthouses are open from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day.
Anyone visiting the park should plan their trip to include at least one ride on one of the three NCDOT ferries that serve the area. The Cedar Island to Ocracoke ferry trip takes about 2 hours, 30 minutes, the Swan Quarter to Ocracoke ferry trip takes about 2 hours, 15 minutes and Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry trip takes about 45 minutes to complete.
For information about Cape Hatteras National Seashore, visit nps.gov/caha. To see the NCDOT ferry schedules and to make reservations for the ferries, visit ncdot.gov/ferry.
Editor’s Note: Mike Marsh’s new book, “Fishing North Carolina,” shares expert tips and maps for fishing these places as well as more than 100 other fishing destinations. To order an autographed copy, send a $26.60 check or MO to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409. For credit card orders or to purchase “Inshore Angler – Carolina’s Small Boat Fishing Guide” and “Offshore Angler, Carolina’s Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide,” visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.