2017 Great Plains Family Fishing Destinations

2017 Great Plains Family Fishing Destinations
The many lakes and rivers across the plains offer diverse angling options. Phot By Ron Sinfelt

Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota offer plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Last year in Great Plains Game & Fish, we highlighted some great family fishing destinations that featured several easy access fishing opportunities designed for kids and beginning anglers that combined shore fishing with other kid friendly activities and events.

Some of the destination family fishing adventures included events like the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, combined with the kids fishing pond staffed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Other destinations included some of the popular put-and-take channel catfish ponds in Nebraska and Kansas or the stocked trout lakes in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

This season, we'll once again highlight some great fishing waters that combine fun family destinations, such as zoos and parks, with fisheries that fish big for kids and families. Think of this list as great fishing water that combines the fun family fishing vacation with a few side trips.


This massive natural lake in northeast North Dakota tops a lot of lists, like one of North America's top walleye fisheries and a great ice-fishing destination. But if you are looking for a great place to introduce kids to what can be incredible fishing '¦ Devils Lake is tough to beat.

While this lake is huge, what can make Devils Lake easier to fish is the fact that Devils Lake is made up of many bays and arms that can become important for avoiding the wind. There are boat ramps located throughout the lake, so long boat rides are usually not necessary.

The program for kids is simple, anchor next to weed beds and underwater points, using slip bobbers and leeches. Typical depths range from 8 to 14 feet of water most of the summer. Other kid friendly programs include running the edges of the weed line with bottom bouncers and spinners tipped with a night crawler throughout the summer. For kids that can cast, many of the bays have large numbers of pike that can be caught by casting shallow running lures like spinner baits and spoons. Big walleyes can also be found by casting up into shallow water, along with the tenacious schools of white bass. One final kid friendly program is to live-bait fish or vertically jig in front of the bridges where there is current moving under the bridge. Walleyes, pike and white bass can all be found in front of the bridges.

According to Kyle Blanchfield, from Woodland Resort, numbers of fish can be caught throughout the summer, and late summer (July and August) can often shine for anglers looking for a lot of action, which is perfect for kids.

"We see a lot of families come in July and August because when the water warms up, the fish get a lot more active and you catch more fish during that time," explained Blanchfield.

Several resorts are located on the lake, which typically offer both guide services and rental boats. There are some surprisingly good shore fishing access areas located on the lake, including a pier near the Henagar Landing on the north end of Creel Bay and another pier located on Channel A. There is also some shore fishing access off the highways along the embankments.

Along The Way

There are a wide variety of hotels available in Devils Lake, many which have indoor swimming pools. Besides great fishing, spend a rainy or windy day checking out the movie theater, several museums and nearby Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, which has elk and buffalo along with a neat interpretive center.

SOUTH DAKOTA Lake Poinsett

This popular natural lake near Brookings has long been a popular fishing destination for adults but is very kid-friendly because of the number of fish and variety. You can usually find action on Poinsett. One of South Dakota's largest natural lakes, this body of water boasts high numbers of walleyes, along with smallmouth bass, white bass and crappies.

According to guide Jarrod Fredericks, Poinsett has a lot of great options for kids and is a bait shop's dream because anglers typically use up so much bait on this lake catching fish. "Just drifting a bottom bouncer and spinner or live bait rig will catch all kinds of fish on Poinsett," explained Fredericks.

For consistent numbers of fish, focus on the 10- to 14-foot range along the south end of the lake where there is a gravel and sand bottom. This is a body of water where anglers can routinely catch 40 or 50 walleyes and other fish per day when the bite is on.

While boat angling can often be phenomenal on Poinsett for catching numbers of fish, there are some good shore fishing opportunities also available on the south end of the lake located within the state park, where there is also camping. Anglers often target walleyes from shore in the evening or after dark and can do quite well.

Within five miles of Lake Poinsett there are also a handful of other lakes that can produce good fishing for walleyes and pike, which provides good backup options if Poinsett is slow or if there are strong winds. Lake Albert, in particular, offers good walleye and pike fishing and also provides good shore fishing for pike that can reach up to 8 pounds.

Along The Way

Nearby attractions in the area include the Terry Redlin Art Center, located in Watertown, and the Bramble Park Zoo and Discovery Center in Brookings. There is also the South Dakota Art Museum, McCrory Gardens and the Children's Museum of South Dakota.

NEBRASKA Lake Wanahoo

This recently completed lake has exploded with fish. According to Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager at the Nebraska Game, Fish and Parks Commission, fisheries biologists created a lot of habitat before the lake was flooded and left much of the standing timber to create additional fish habitat.

This reservoir boasts good numbers of largemouth bass that range around 18 inches but is also loaded with both bluegills and crappies. While anglers might not find large fish in the lake yet because the lake isn't that old, the productivity is off the charts. And the numbers of fish present make this a great venue for kids and beginning anglers.

For catching both panfish and bass, Bauer recommends tying off to a tree and using small bobbers and jigs tipped with a piece of night crawler. Panfish are particularly abundant and can be caught throughout the lake. Anglers often target bass by casting spinnerbaits and plastic worms around cover.

While many anglers fish Wanahoo from a boat, there are also fishing piers available and this exciting body of water is located near both Omaha and Lincoln.

Along The Way

Nearby family attractions include Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, Wildlife Safari Park and the Platte River State Park.

Box Butte Reservoir

This 1,600-acre lake is located on the western edge of the Sandhills and includes a campground. Boasting good water quality and high water levels, this lake has strong numbers of panfish along with catfish, smallmouth bass and walleyes. Panfish include perch, bluegills, crappies and even pumpkinseeds.

Bobbers, small jigs and a piece of worm fished around the flooded cottonwood trees produces a variety of fish. Anglers can also drift along the deeper weedlines with live bait rigs or bobber rigs to catch panfish. But what can make this lake exciting is that chance encounters with other species like catfish, rock bass, smallmouth bass and walleyes are fairly common while fishing for the numerous panfish.

Family Fishing Banner

Along The Way

Besides fishing, the Sandhills region of Nebraska offers several activities for families, like tube and kayak rentals down the Niobrara River, the Kearney Area Children's Museum and scenic driving tours of the Nebraska Sandhills, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge and the Snake River Falls.


Kansas has a very successful urban stocking program that manages many urban lakes and ponds in Kansas with frequent stocking of adult channel catfish every two to three weeks. But another successful program is the Community Fisheries Assistance Program that manages community lakes.

These CFAP fisheries can range from 200 to 600 acres and can provide a lot of action for families and kids. According to David Breth, fisheries program specialist for Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, there are about 120-130 community lakes in Kansas. And these lakes offer free fishing access.

"While these lakes can be quite large, we manage these lakes with high densities of fish and these lakes have a small lake feel where the lakes are typically protected, offer piers and in some cases swim beaches and campgrounds," explained Breth.

Many of these lakes also have paved boat ramps and are managed for panfish, channel catfish, bass and even trout. One particularly popular lake is Lake Afton, located in Sedgwick County near Wichita. This 258-acre lake offers boating, fishing, water skiing and swimming opportunities and also has camping facilities. Anglers often catch white perch, channel catfish, largemouth bass, crappies and bluegills. Note that white perch are invasive and cannot be transported alive. Catfish are stocked monthly until September.

The many lakes and rivers across the plains offer diverse angling options. Phot By Ron Sinfelt

Catfish can often be caught on commercially prepared catfish baits fished on the bottom but small bobbers and small jigs baited with a piece of worm can catch all species and this lake has high numbers of bluegills.

Located near Wichita, other nearby family attractions include the Sedgwick County Zoo, the Museum of World Treasures, Old Cowtown Museum and the Exploration Place.

Other popular and productive CFAP fisheries include Shawnee State Fishing Lake located in Topeka and the Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake in Manhattan. The Shawnee State Fishing Lake is 135 acres and offers good catch and release largemouth bass fishing, with some bass that can weigh up to 5 pounds. Crappies and channel catfish are also very abundant, and the lake is in the Urban Lake Stocking Program where it is frequently stocked with 12- to 18-inch catfish. In 2016, a total of 4,650 channel catfish were stocked in the lake. The lake does have brush piles, which can be found with GPS coordinates that are available from www.ksoutdoors.com.

The Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake No. 1 is a small 24-acre lake that has an average depth of 6 to 8 feet. The lake boasts high numbers of harvestable bluegills along with good numbers of catch and release largemouth bass. The most recent fish sample showed that 60 percent of the bass were over 12 inches. There are also some channel catfish available as well that are protected by a 15-inch minimum length limit.

This lake does offer primitive campsites, and a short hiking trail is located on the property.

Along The Way

Nearby attractions in Manhattan include the Flint Hills Discovery Center, the Wildwood Outdoor Adventure Park, Sunset Zoo and the Kansas State University Insect Zoo. Area family attractions around Topeka include the Kansas State Capitol, Kansas Museum of History and the Combat Air Museum.

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