May 03, 2017
By Terry Jones
Mississippi and Louisiana 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 actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
Summer is a great time to get outdoors with the family to fish, hike, camp, kayak and more, and Mississippi and Louisiana have some great places to enjoy. Many kid-friendly locales throughout both states offer different fishing experience for anglers, along with a variety of family activities.
LEFLEUR'S BLUFF STATE PARK
This 305-acre park is in Jackson, but the secluded setting belies its urban location. There are numerous campsites with water and electricity, plus primitive tent sites. Amenities include a bathhouse, laundry, large playground, nine-hole golf course, two nine-hole disc golf courses and five short walking trails. Some of the trails overlook the Pearl River and provide opportunities to view alligators, deer, squirrels and ducks.
The main 50-acre Mayes Lake holds a healthy population of bass, bream, channel catfish and crappie. Several hundred 1.5-pound channel catfish are stocked each year for a children's fishing rodeo, and the annual flooding of the Pearl River also restocks the park's three lakes naturally.
Most people fish from the pier or bank, but there is a boat launch. Visitors must bring their own boats, however, and only electric trolling motors are allowed.
Fishing for catfish with chicken liver or worms is popular, and younger children will enjoy targeting bream that hang out around the pier. Small hooks baited with crickets or worms can lead to fast action and a memorable trip.
Bass fishing from the bank can also be productive in the early morning and late afternoon. Plastic worms bumped off the bottom and topwater baits, such as frogs, work well, but crankbaits tend to hang up on underwater structure.
For the more adventurous, there is a boat ramp on the Pearl River. Bream fishing can be outstanding, and it is home to monstrous flathead catfish up to 40 pounds.
Along The Way
Jackson has a variety of family activities to offer. The Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum is across the street from the park, plus the Jackson Zoo, Museum of Natural History, Children's Museum and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame are nearby. Shopping areas and restaurants are also conveniently located.
PERCY QUIN STATE PARK
Located a few miles southwest of McComb, Percy Quin State Park is nestled around the 550-acre Lake Tangipahoa. It has long been a popular fishing and camping spot for families in southwest Mississippi and southeast Louisiana.
The 1,700-acre park offers both RV and tent sites with water and electricity, a convenience store, boat launch, bathhouses, an adjacent 18-hole golf course, cabins and cottages, playgrounds, swimming pool and tennis courts.
Tropical Storm Isaac damaged the reservoir dam in 2012, and officials were forced to drain the lake for repairs. During that time, bedding areas and brush piles were created and marked on lake maps. Lake Tangipahoa was then refilled and stocked with thousands of Florida bass, crappie, channel catfish, bluegill and chinquapin bream. Fishing was resumed in 2016 with great success.
Two of the better places to take the family fishing are on the pier and along the dam, both of which are near the boat launch. Fishing from the bank near the old swimming area is also a good bet.
Catfish up to 25 pounds can be caught just about anywhere, but fishing chicken liver and worms around the dam is where folks should start. While the bite can be good at any time, late afternoon is often best.
Those with boats head to the shallow water at the far end of the lake to try for bass and crappie among the brush and lily pads.
Bicycling along the park roads and walking the 8 miles of nature trails are also popular activities. Around the lake visitors can often see bald eagles, alligators and other wildlife.
Along The Way
The free McComb Railroad Museum, located at the Amtrak station, is a good place to visit. Kids especially enjoy going aboard the vintage locomotive and cars that are on display. Historic Natchez is just over an hour's drive to the west, where families can tour Natchez Under The Hill, numerous antebellum homes and the Grand Village of the Natchez archaeological and historic site.
NORTH TOLEDO BEND STATE PARK
At 185,000 acres, Toledo Bend Reservoir along the Louisiana-Texas border is the nation's fifth largest manmade lake. There's no better place for a family to enjoy what the lake has to offer than the North Toledo Bend State Park, located about six miles west of Zwolle.
Among this pet-friendly park's offerings are well-stocked cabins, boat launch and fish cleaning station, laundry, RV and improved camping sites, playground and swimming pool. Two nature trails that wind 5.5 miles through the wooded 900-acre park also give visitors the opportunity to see birds, deer, squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife that call the park home.
Largemouth bass fishing is the lake's greatest attractor, but the lake is also filled with crappie, bream, white and striped bass, and catfish.
Both johnboats and canoes can be rented at the park (paddles and life jackets are included), but boats are not necessary because guests can use two piers or simply fish off the bank.
For bass, use conventional gear with crankbaits, topwater plugs, spinnerbaits, and plastic worms to fish along the bank around stumps and other structure. Kids will enjoy bank fishing for bream using crickets or red wigglers.
During the heat of the day, set up on the shady bank with an ice chest and lawn chairs and cast out some lines baited with nightcrawlers for catfish.
Along The Way
North of the park on Highway 175 is the Mansfield State Historic Site where the Civil War Battle of Mansfield was fought. Natchitoches, the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase, is about an hour's drive to the east on Highway 6. Its fish hatchery, Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, restaurants and antique shops make it one of Louisiana's most popular family getaways.
Located on the Gulf Coast at the end of Louisiana Highway 1, Grand Isle is the state's only inhabited barrier island. There one will find a well-maintained beach where families can enjoy fishing, crabbing, sunbathing and playing in the surf.
No boat? No problem. From May through September, some of the island's best speckled trout fishing can be found right on the beach. Medium-action spinning rigs work fine, but remember to soak and rinse the reel at the end of the day to wash the salt out of the gears.
Using live bait such as shrimp and pogies under a popping cork is one of the most effective ways to catch trout, but Gulp shrimp, Sparkle Beetles, and MirrOlures are also effective. Check with the folks at Bridge Side Marina at the foot of the Highway 1 bridge to learn which baits and colors are working at the time.
Kids may prefer fishing off the pier at Grand Isle State Park or the piers at both ends of the old Highway 1 bridge. The latter have large lights that attract shrimp, baitfish and dolphins, and the fishing can be fantastic after dark.
Setting out crab lines off the beach and kayaking to fish or bird watch are also popular family activities. There is a nice kayak launch on the bay side of the island next to the LSU Sea Grant Oyster Hatchery at the end of Ludwig Lane.
Accommodations in Grand Isle tend to be rather Spartan. There are several gas stations and a well-supplied grocery store but few restaurants.
The Grand Isle State Park, Bridge Side Marina and other establishments have RV parking, and there are motel rooms and cabins to rent, although many of the rooms are small and bare. Be sure to make reservations well in advance because there are numerous fishing rodeos during the summer.
To first time visitors, it may appear that beach access is severely restricted because of the long row of private camps along Highway 1. Actually, there are many public parking areas on the beach side of the road, but they are tucked in between the camps. Look for small metallic signs with green lettering that say "Public Beach Access" or "No Motorized Vehicles." Folks can park at any of them and follow the trail over the berm to the beach. No parking is allowed on the beach itself so it's wise to bring a cart or wagon to haul gear to the surf.
Along The Way
If driving through Patterson, the Wedell-Williams Aviation & Cypress Sawmill Museum is worth a visit. The aviation museum is dedicated to the early days of air racing and has several vintage aircraft on display. The sawmill museum commemorates the cypress logging industry around Patterson, which in the early 20th Century was home to the world's largest cypress sawmill.
If coming through Houma, the entire family will enjoy a visit to the Greenwood Gator Farm and Tours in Gibson. Tours are given of the alligator farm's operation, and visitors may opt for an airboat ride in the surrounding Louisiana swamp.
If the family is looking for a more secluded fishing getaway, head to Saline Bayou in the heart of north Louisiana's Piney Woods. Located east of Goldonna, it is one of the state's 59 scenic rivers.
This cypress-studded bayou has alternate stretches of big and little water, with the former being wide and deep enough to accommodate bass boats, while the latter is narrow and often shallow enough to wade. Both are popular for fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
There are four public boat launches — the bridge on Highway 126, Cloud Crossing, the Pear Field off Highway 1233 and the Highway 156 bridge east of Goldonna. Pit toilets are located at the Cloud Crossing and Goldonna sites, and the Cloud Crossing also has a covered pavilion and primitive campground that can accommodate RVs.
One of the thrills of fishing Saline is not knowing what species of fish is on the line until it breaks the water. The bayou is loaded with both largemouth and Kentucky bass, bluegill and chinquapin bream, crappie, catfish and gar.
Walking the bank and wading is the best way to fish downstream from the Highway 126 bridge, upstream from Cloud Crossing, and at the Pear Field. Ease quietly along the bank and use a pole to dabble red wigglers around logs, treetops and cypress trees.
Another good tactic is to use a light spinning rig and a small silver spinner with a black and chartreuse tube jig. This combination will take every species of fish in Saline Bayou.
It's best to use a boat to fish for bass downstream from Cloud Crossing or at the Highway 156 bridge. This big water also has a good population of crappie, so don't overlook fishing shiners or jigs around the logs and treetops.
Along The Way
For history buffs, it's only about an hour's drive north to the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland and the actual ambush site. The entire family can also enjoy Louisiana Trails, a popular 62-mile-long ATV trail that can be accessed at Goldonna. The $25 annual permit, trail maps and information can be obtained online and the Castor General Store.