Fishing is the best way to explore the great Rocky Mountains as a weekend break or full summer vacation.
Because kids today have so many options for activities, parents who want to develop their kids’ interest in the outdoors must be sure to make their outings fun. In recent years, the Rocky Mountain States have begun developing family friendly fishing sites where fun is the name of the game.
Arizona manages 39 sites in its Community Fishing Waters program, designed to enhance public fishing success. The CFW Guidebook (online at azgfd.com/Fishing/Community) provides detailed information on these waters. Youngsters 10 and older need a fishing license.
Among these, state fish-and-game official Marc Dahlberg recommends two sites for taking a kid fishing. Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located near Cottonwood, offers a river and lagoons stocked with trout throughout winter. Bass and bluegill are stocked during warm months. Some really large bass are taken here occasionally. Power Bait, worms and artificial lures are usually successful. An entry fee is charged. Facilities include campsites and cabins, as well as showers and restrooms. A boat launch services non-motorized boats.
Dahlberg also suggests Willow Springs Lake east of Payson. Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, some reaching trophy proportions, are present, and the state stocks trout weekly. A paved ramp provides access for boat fishermen. Successful bank fishermen use Power Bait or night crawlers for trout. Trolling with lures is best for boat fishermen. Dahlberg recommends bass anglers cast spinnerbaits, jigs or night-crawler rigs around subsurface structure. Lures and flies should imitate over-populated crayfish. Nearby campgrounds provide camping.
Along the Way: Nearby Cottonwood, the Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle national monuments highlight ancient Sinaguan history. Cliff dwellings provide families both educational and recreational opportunity.
Tonto and Canyon Creek hatcheries near Payson are worth a visit. Creeks below the hatcheries also offer great fishing opportunities. Bring quarters to buy hand-feed for Tonto Creek fish. The scenic, historic Water Wheel Falls is also nearby.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife department website identifies “101 places To Take a Kid Fishing.” Among these, CPW’s Alicia Cohn recommends sharing your family fishing time at James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park — a five-segment section of the Colorado River extending from Island Acres to Fruita. Each segment is a separate facility differing somewhat from the others, but all of them feature several successful kids’ fishing locations. Cohn suggests Corn Lake near Grand Junction as a top spot for all kids. It receives heavy year-round stockings of trout, crappie and bass and features sheltered picnic sites, access for disabled anglers, restrooms and many fishing sites on the Colorado River. Licenses are required for all anglers 16 years old and older.
Bear Creek Reservoir in Wheatridge is a full-service park facility with many activities besides fishing. Many varieties of fish inhabit the lake including trout, bass and sunfish, making success likely for anglers of all ages and skillsets. Bear Creek offers quality trout fishing upstream for more sophisticated fishermen. Beaches, trails, bike path and other park activities can be locally enjoyed. Picnic areas, camping and rental cabins are available.
Along the Way: Don’t miss the red rock formations and cliff walls of Colorado National Monument, just south of Grand Junction. Ridgway State Park, south of Montrose, yields magnificent views of the San Juan Range. Bear Creek near Wheatridge makes an excellent center for a family weekend. Buffalo Bill’s Grave, several museums around Denver, and Elitch’s Theme and Water Park are short drives away.
Nevada’s Department of Wildlife highlights several kid’s fishing sites. Many of these locations are in urban settings, but one good spot is a little more remote.
Wilson Common Pond is a small, 1-acre pond between Carson City and Reno. Periodic spring/fall stockings provide small rainbow trout for kids. May through July and September through October are the best time for kids to catch trout and crappie. Boats and float tubes are prohibited, and three-fish creel limit stands in place for game fish. Kids under 12 years old don’t require a fishing license. Children 12 to 15 years old require a junior fishing license and a trout stamp, while those over 16 need a regular fishing license.
The grassy cottonwood tree-filled setting at Floyd Lamp Park looks misplaced in its Las Vegas environs. From a fishing perspective, four ponds lay in wait of anglers. Only the upper pond is stocked with trout and catfish, but bass and crappie are also resident in these and the other ponds. Several park attributes — shelters, picnic tables and BBQ grills — are available on a first-come basis. Camping and floating of any kind in the ponds are prohibited. Common lures and baits catch fish easily, and it’s even possible to connect with trophy-sized bass here. Imagine the life stories for a youngster who hooks a monster bass here!
Along the Way: One mile north of Wilson Common Pond is Bower’s Mansion. Built in 1863, it is part of Nevada’s precious minerals history. A fortune won, then lost, took the owner from laundry lady to world traveler then back to the streets again. The Carson City-Reno area is a treasure trove of Old West and mining history, including the Nevada State Museum and Nevada Railroad Museum.
Twenty miles south of Floyd Lamb Park Pond, the Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas has fun-focused, seriously educational exhibits. The Adventuredome at Circus Circus is 5 acres of Las Vegas’ best indoor amusement park fun and excitement.
Idaho’s comprehensive Family Fishing Waters program is described on the website of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game — IDFG.idaho.gov/fish/family-fishing-waters. IDFG’s Roger Phillips suggests Fernan Lake near Coeur d’ Alene as an easy place to take kids fishing. It’s a popular site, just 10 minutes from downtown, with floating docks and miles of shoreline. The variety of fish — including trout, perch, bluegills, and bass — enhance a kid’s chances for success. Boating is also popular. Idaho kids 14 and over require fishing licenses.
Phillips also recommended Ryder Pond in Idaho Falls. Frequently stocked with trout and managed with a restricted bag limit of two fish, the pond produces high catch rates that keeps the interest up for young anglers. Boats, motors, wading, and swimming are prohibited.
Along the Way: The Rockin B Ranch in close-by Liberty Lake, Washington, hosts a fun supper and cowboy-music show. High quality fly-fishing, hiking/biking trails, and water sports abound throughout the area.
If your travel takes you through Boise, stop by the Idaho History Museum, which features an outstanding kid’s Discovery section for hands-on exploration of many topics.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department representative Ken Frazier recommends Lake Elmo Pond in Billings as a prime kid’s fishing area. It is heavily stocked with rainbows and some large cutthroat trout, as well. Bass, sunfish, and catfish round out the “catchables.” The Park has full amenities. Fishing bait on the bottom is probably the best option for catching fish in numbers. Kids’ success is good with the stocked rainbows trout. A minimal fee is charged for fishing, and kids 12 and older require a fishing license.
Brown’s Lake, south of Ovando and just a couple miles west of Highway 200, is a prime location for families with older kids. Some really big rainbow trout swim these waters, especially in spring when spawning fish cruise the shallows. Orange scuds for fly-fishing work well on these shrimp-fed trout. Younger anglers do better on sunfish and perch.
Along the Way: Pictograph Cave State Park in Billings focuses on the origins of human habitation in Montana. A well-preserved collection of 2,100-year-old pictographs is viewable there.
The Montana Natural History Center in nearby Missoula focuses on the natural history of western Montana. The Dragon Hollow Play area in Missoula is a fun place divided into areas for younger and older kids.
Karl Moffatt of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish recommends kids’ fishing Tingley Beach Children’s Pond complex in Albuquerque. Three sites provide fishing. The first pond is perfect for younger kids, while the larger, central pond is open for all ages and features access, too, for disabled anglers. Fishing in the third pond is restricted to artificial lures only, and catch-and-release rules. Rental pedal boats are allowed (no private watercraft). Trout are stocked in the winter, and catfish are introduced in the summer. Common baits are most successful.
Scenic 130-acre Maloya Lake, northeast of Raton in the cool forest of Sugarite Canyon State Park, is a very popular trout-fishing destination. Gas-powered boats are not allowed. Camping, and picnic facilities are available. Using Power Bait along the dam and by the boat dock should lead to success for youngsters.
Unless otherwise stated (published), kids 12 and older require a fishing license when fishing on all waters in New Mexico.
Along the Way: Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. Carved art, 400 to 700 years old, from Native Americans and Spanish settlers is featured. Take time to explore this very scenic park.
The NRA Whittington Center in nearby Raton is the nation’s premier shooting facility and a great place to responsibly introduce kids to shooting sports.
Utah’s Urban Fishing Program introduces youth, ages 6 to 13, to fishing by creating kids’ fishing clubs. You can find a list of these clubs online at Wildlife.utah.gov/cf/clubs.php. The clubs’ young anglers are mentored, and the waters they fish are managed to ensure fishing success. Licenses are required for 12 and older.
Pioneer Park Pond in Brigham City is a 2 1/2-acre pond with a swimming pool, playground, covered picnic tables, restrooms and wheelchair access. Youngsters will catch rainbows and a variety of other warm-water fishes. Typical baits bring success. Boating and floating are prohibited.
Cove Pond in Herriman is a popular 1 1/2-acre city fishing hole for all. Bait and artificials will attract trout, catfish, bass and sunfish. Local folks like to see the bass released. There are many comfort, picnic, recreational facilities and disabled-angler assets. Swimming and boating are prohibited.
Along the Way: Golf, fishing, camping, and hiking abound throughout this region of Utah. Myriad spectacular scenic venues exists across the area, as well. Box Elder Natural History Museum (and other history museums) is located in Brigham City.
Plenty of kid-friendly fishing sites provide not only fishing, also hiking, camping, wildlife viewing and more — something for the whole family, you might say.
Bud Stewart of the Wyoming Fish and Game Department recommended beautiful Tie Hack Reservoir, 20 miles west of Buffalo, for family fishing adventures. Tie Hack is stocked with rainbow trout and also holds brook trout and brown trout. All of them willingly accept flies, bait and small spinners/lures. Boats are allowed with electric motors only. A picnic area and campground nearby round out the local outdoors facilities.
Granite Springs Reservoir offers excellent fishing for rainbow and kokanee (landlocked) salmon, while Crystal Reservoir also contains brown trout. Bluegills keep the youngest kids entertained, ready to gobble up worms suspended under a bobber. Older kids can stalk or troll for trout or salmon. Boat docks, good camping and a visitor center are added attractions.
Along the Way: Curt Gowdy State Park lies between Laramie and Cheyenne, about 25 miles west of Cheyenne. An access pass is required.
At BLM’s Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, near Shell in Bighorn County, you can imagine yourself walking along an ocean shoreline 167 million years ago with dozens of other dinosaurs. BLM’s Dry Creek Petrified Forest, about 9 miles east of Buffalo, is a fun hike into the past for kids.
Before you go, take time to visit state game-and-fish websites to discover ahead of your trip which rivers, lakes, streams and ponds best fit your family characteristics. Plan your adventure so you can make it an enjoyable trip for the kids, who might think they would rather be playing on their Xbox during vacation time. Make your family adventure fun, and you may build some outdoor partners for life.