Fishing is fun for the entire family, but kids can get bored without other activities to keep them entertained. If you want to do some fishing with the family, here are some of the best kid-friendly ideas.
Carolina Beach has a wonderful array of opportunities for families. Carolina Beach State Park has a fishing pier on the bank of the Cape Fear River. It also has foot access to the south side of Snow’s Cut. These places are known hotspots for catching flounder, red drum and many other species of saltwater fish. The park has an excellent campground plus a trail system that hikers use to walk along the high bluffs, including Sugar Loaf, a high sand ridge that was once a Confederate battery placement during the Civil War.
A trip to Carolina beach must include a trip to one of the ocean fishing piers, which are Carolina Beach Fishing Pier and Kure Beach Fishing Pier. The pier houses are kid-friendly with games and souvenir shops and anglers catch many species of saltwater fish from the piers, including speckled trout, red drum, black drum, pompano, whiting, pinfish, pigfish, spot, croaker and flounder. All it takes is buying a pier pass and walking out onto the pier with a spinning rod, some two-hook bottom rigs, artificial bloodworm strips or shrimp for bait and a bucket or cooler to carry the fish home.
A great surf-fishing opportunity exists at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. While anglers who want to fish from the beach or sunbathe can simply park and walk through a public access point, those who want to drive on the beach to view the scenery and surf fish can purchase a pass at the ranger’s office at the entrance. A bathhouse, restrooms and a lifeguard station are also located at the park’s beach driving entrance.
Just to the north of the recreation area’s beach driving entrance is the Fort Fisher state historic site. Anglers can park at the Confederate monument and fish in the surf for on either side. This is one of the few places where anglers can surf fish, yet still walk a few steps to get out of the sun and cool off in
the shade of live oak trees, which are near Fort Fisher’s educational center. The center has exhibits and displays about the battles for Fort Fisher as well as the weapons, gear and photos of the original fort. Fort Fisher was one of the largest earthwork forts ever constructed. The view from the top of the mounds is spectacular, sparking the imaginations of kids over blockade-runners moving upriver after sneaking through past Union ships.
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To the south of the recreation area’s beach driving entrance is the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. It is a great place to get out of the sun and see all kinds of exhibits, from saltwater and freshwater fish to alligators, birds, butterflies and amphibians. A kids’ touch pool has sea urchins, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs and other sea animals. Programs are ongoing, with video presentations and tours that include surf fishing and other activities that can entertain the whole family for hours.
Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head is a state-owned and operated ocean-fishing pier with many programs that cater to families with children. Every Tuesday, the pier holds a “Catch it, Clean it, Cook it” program, which teaches all the basics of fishing from a pier. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m. instructors teach a Family Fishing Program, with everything needed to fish from a pier provided. Another popular program is the Surf Fishing Workshop, held on Thursdays.
In early summer, many species of saltwater fish are biting well and the weather is mild. Kids can anticipate catching whiting, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, black drum, red drum, pinfish, pigfish, croakers and many other species, some of which are very strange — like the northern puffer, stingrays and skates. A child may even land a shark.
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Any family visiting the pier should also take a side trip to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Besides exhibits of living saltwater fish and wildlife, the aquarium hosts monthly day camps with themes such as animal migrations, birds, sea turtles and the sea turtle rescue center and hosted aquarium tours. For information or to register for classes, visit www.jennettespier.net.
For more information about the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island or to register for day camps, visit www.ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island.
The Fort Bragg U.S. Army Post at Fayetteville boasts some excellent fishing with a strong emphasis on youth opportunities. More than a dozen lakes are open to fishing. Several of them have been closed recently for dam repairs, so anglers will have to check at the Hunting and Fishing Center for those that are open to fishing. Each lake has specific fishing regulations that are posted on the shorelines and in fishing regulations on the Fort Bragg website .The lakes are classified as Intensively Managed, Managed and Intensively Managed Catfish Lakes.
McFayden Lake was recently set aside as a youth-only fishing lake open to children up to age 15. Children may fish at the lake with a non-fishing adult, who does not have to purchase a Fort Bragg fishing permit. For fishing at all other lakes adults must possess a daily or annual fishing pass in addition to the applicable state fishing license.
Excellent fishing for catfish is available at Lower McKellar’s Lake and Wyatt Lake, which are two of the post’s intensively managed catfish lakes. These lakes are stocked at a high rate with channel catfish that are large enough to keep. The catfish limit is three daily. Good fishing is available from the banks and piers of these lakes.
Many of the other lakes good bank fishing for other species, including bluegill, largemouth bass, warmouth and chain pickerel. Several have some good campsites on the shoreline. Many of them allow boats, with motor and horsepower restrictions that vary from lake to lake. All of the lakes are fun to visit and explore, with some of the most remote lakes the most fun to visit and to hike along their shorelines.
For more information, visit www.bragg.army.mil/.
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Fyetteville has more things for families to do than can be listed here, but the 82nd Airbourne Division Museum presents a history lesson from WWI to the present and makes a great side trip (82ndairbournedivisionmuseum.com). Another place the kids will enjoy is the Fascinate-U Children’s Museum, where everything is kid-sized and is organized like a village. If you don’t want to leave nature behind, you can visit the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens (capefearbg.org).
Last year, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and City of High Point renovated the public fishing area at the marina on 800-acre Oak Hollow Lake. The universally accessible, T-shaped fishing pier is 60 feet long and has a 48-foot wide T-section, plus high and low handrails to make it easy for children and anglers in wheelchairs to fish.
The lake offers a unique opportunity for anglers to target striped bass and hybrid striped bass, which are not typically available at most of the small, city lakes. The Commission stocks these fish every year, but anglers will also find the lake has excellent fishing for naturally reproducing largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill and catfish.
Oak Hollow Marina provides free loaner rods and reels for day-trippers through the Commission’s Tackle Loaner Program. Anglers of all ages can register at the marina or at other sites across the state to receive their loaner ID card. The card allows them to check out a rod and reel for the day. After returning the loaner rods and reels, first-time participants 15 and younger receive a free mini-tackle box containing lures, hooks, sinkers, bobbers and a stringer.
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Oak Hollow Marina is a 1,500-acre park that offers year-round boating and fishing opportunities, sailing classes, sailboat and picnic shelter rentals, restrooms, playgrounds, grills and other family-friendly amenities. Visit highpointnc.gov.
Located in Gastonia, 80-acre Rankin Lake is the centerpiece of 242-acre Rankin Park. The lake has two large fishing piers and a paved perimeter trail to make it easy for anglers to catch fish from the bank. Once a primary drinking water supply lake, the lake has become a significant recreational lake, with major renovations occurring since 2012 to make it more user-friendly to families.
The lake is one of the best bass fishing lakes in the lower piedmont, with lots of bass that grow very large. Many keeper-sized largemouth bass of greater than 14 inches swim in the lake. The Commission recently installed some fish attractors and gravel spawning beds to ensure good bass fishing. The lake also has excellent fishing for bluegill and other sunfish.
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The park has a clubhouse with tables and chairs to accommodate group rentals, a kitchen, restrooms, three large picnic shelters and eight small picnic shelters, an 18-hole disc golf course, two horseshoe courts, an outdoor classroom and a trailhead with a connector to the Highland Trail system.
There are two boardwalks crossing Kaylor Creek and a boardwalk over the lake’s spillway, two fishing piers, a viewing pier and an office that handles fishing permits and boat rentals and loans fishing tackle through the Commission’s Tackle Loaner program. Boaters and anglers must use only boats available as rentals, which include johnboats, canoes, kayaks and pedal boats.
Visit www.cityofgastonia.com/rankin-lake-park.html for more information.
SOUTH MOUNTAINS STATE PARK
Located near Morganton, 100,000-acre South Mountains State Park offers great trout fishing in some beautiful scenery. All streams within the park are designated Wild Trout, Wild Trout Catch and Release and Delayed Harvest waters, with the waters stocked with fish by the Commission.
Rainbow and brown trout are most abundant, but anglers can also catch brook trout. The best bet for young children to catch trout for eating is Jacob Fork beginning the first Saturday in June, which is when the Delayed Harvest waters transition to regulations for Hatchery Supported waters. The use of natural baits, except minnows, is legal at that time and a creel limit of trout seven trout of any size is in effect until October 1, when Delayed Harvest regulations revert to allowing only single hook, artificial lures with all fish released.
The park has many miles of trout streams that are easily accessible by a 47-mile trail network. The degree of difficulty ranges from easy to difficult, with many of the streams available only after a lengthy hike. The River Trail is a half-mile easy foot trail along Jacob Fork River beginning at Jacob Fork Parking area and ending at the Cicero Parking lot.
The Kids Track Trail is located at the east end of River Trail. Pre-teens and teenagers who are comfortable casting spinners and flies will have no trouble accessing and fishing many of the Wild Trout streams from the more difficult hiking trails at the higher elevations.
While it is tempting when seeing Clear Creek Lake on a map to view it as a potential fishing spot, access is by a rugged, four-wheel-drive road through private property that leads to the lake along the northwest corner of the park boundary. Clear Creek Lake and the surrounding streams may have some trout, but anglers must check at the park office for road conditions and driving directions. Trout numbers in that area have declined because of drought conditions in recent years.
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The park has many campsites available, with the family campground the preferred site for camping with young children. It has water spigots, restrooms and shower facilities. Some other campgrounds are more remote and require hikes of one-half to five miles from the parking areas.
The park is popular for horseback riders and many of the hiking trails also serve as equestrian trails. Families with horses can enjoy riding and fishing during a weekend expedition to the equestrian campground. All campsites must be reserved in advance and campers can make reservations at the park office or online. Visit ncparks.gov/south-mountains-state-park
Editor’s Note: Author Mike Marsh’s new book, Fishing North Carolina, gives detailed information and maps for fishing these and 100 other fishing destinations across the state. To order a copy, send a $26.60 check or MO to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409.