North Carolina offers 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.
Kids have short attention spans, so it pays to incorporate other activities into a fishing trip. While many county, city and state parks have play areas, and activities, few have the exciting fishing it takes to hook kids. Here are our top picks.
HARRIS LAKE PARK
Harris Lake County Park is located Near Raleigh on New Hill-Holleman Road. The Wake County Park is open 8 a.m. until sunset daily, except holidays. The 680-acre park is located on a peninsula that extends into Harris Lake, which has legendary fishing for largemouth bass, redear and bluegill sunfish, and crappie.
The park's main fishing feature attracts anglers of all ages. It is a T-shaped, ADA-compliant fishing pier that extends into Harris Lake. The pier is a great place to catch all of the lake's game fish. However, anglers can also catch fish from the bank, where a network of hiking and mountain bike trails allows easy access along the lake's shoreline. Another fantastic fishing feature is the 3-acre Harris Lake Pond, which the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission stocks once per month from May through September with catchable-sized channel catfish. The pond also produces catches of largemouth bass, redear and blugill sunfish.
The park has a car-top boat launching area and a boat landing area where anglers can loaf for a while with their canoes and kayaks hauled up on the bank. While the park itself has no launching areas for boats with trailers, anglers can launch larger powerboats at the Commission's nearby N.C. Highway 42 and Holleman boating access areas.
At the park office, anglers can checkout fishing tackle made available through the Commission's Tackle Loaner Program, through which participants register to borrow fishing rods and terminal tackle and return the equipment at the end of the fishing day with no fee (anglers do have to provide their own bait). Another great feature specific to the park is that it has two rods with battery-powered spincast reels for anglers who have disabilities that render them unable to physically unable to hand-crank a reel handle.
Along The Way
Most young children have attention spans for fishing that lasts 30 to 45 minutes. To keep kids from getting bored between bites, families should visit the park's amenities. Those include hiking and mountain bike trails, an educational center, educational walk-through gardens, a disc-golf course, playgrounds with play equipment and open play areas for kicking soccer balls, playing catch or flying kites.
The park also offers an amphitheater, picnic shelters, primitive group campsites and day camps. Use of these facilities and participation in day camp activities require fees and advance registration. Participants can register online or in person at the park office. (www.wakegov.com/parks/harrislake).
GREENFIELD LAKE PARK
The centerpiece of the City of Wilmington's 150-acre Greenfield Park is 90-acre Greenfield Lake. The lake was constructed in 1750 to power a mill and provide irrigation water for a surrounding plantation. At that time, the lake was more than a mile south of Wilmington, but the city grew until it encompassed the lake. In 1925, the City of Wilmington purchased the lake and began creating its signature park.
The lake has several fishing piers and some of them have gazebo covers. Many anglers also fish from a bridge that arches over one of the feeder creeks. Anglers can also fish from the shoreline, where an asphalt trail runs around the entire perimeter. The lake has a boating access area at the southwestern corner near the dam on Carolina Beach Road. Anglers can launch boats, but fuel-powered engines are restricted to a maximum of 2.5 horsepower. While the lake and launching area have shallow water depths with lots of downed trees and cypress knees that are hazards to navigation, many anglers simply use johnboats and bass boats while keeping the main engines tilted up and putting down their electric trolling motors. Anglers also fish from kayaks and canoes.
Anglers catch some impressive largemouth from the lake, with some bass weighing more than 10 pounds hauled in by bank-fishermen. The lake also produces great catches of bluegill sunfish, catfish of several species (including a state-record brown bullhead), crappie, chain pickerel and yellow perch. Anglers, however, should also always keep an eye out for alligators, which reach impressive sizes in the lake.
At one time the lake's fishing was inhibited by aquatic weeds. The fish in the lake are okay to eat, but the lake is listed as "impaired" because of excessive nutrients coming from fertilizers entering the half-dozen feeder streams from city lawns. The nutrients created the overgrowth of floating duckweed, duck's meal and water hyacinth as well as submerged aquatic vegetation, including coontail, that fouled fishing lures.
However, over the past several years, a program to control the weeds has been very successful. Herbicide applications, stockings of grass carp, and construction of a water quality pond on Silver Stream Branch reduced the aquatic vegetation. Also, solar-powered circulators were installed to keep the dissolved oxygen content of the lake above 5 p.p.m., which is the minimum for the lake's fish to thrive year round.
Along The Way
Greenfield Lake has a pier at the northwest corner, where Cape Fear River Watch operates a pedal boat and canoe rental concession. Kids have fun feeding the tame ducks and pedaling or paddling around the lake.
The park also has a large playground with equipment to keep kids entertained when they are not fishing. It also has a skate park. Anyone can also bike around the park on the 4-mile asphalt hiking and biking trail or along the roads that rim the lake. The park also has picnic shelters that can be reserved for groups or used by individuals if they have not been reserved.
The park has an amphitheater where live entertainment is a regular feature. The park also hosts the signature garden tour for the annual Azalea Festival that takes place in the spring of each year. (wilmingtonnc.com/Greenfield-lake-park/).
CANE CREEK PARK
Located at 5213 Harkey Road in Waxhaw, N.C., Union County's Cane Creek Park is one of the best fishing spots in the state that most anglers have never heard about. One of the most amazing features of the 1,050-acre park is the 350-acre lake that the county constructed solely for the purpose of recreation. As a result, the lake is not subject to water level fluctuations that many "city lakes" that supply drinking water experience. Thus, Cane Creek avoids the harmful effects that dramatic lake level changes can have on fishing in such small waters. The lake has an average depth of 12 feet and a maximum depth of 41 feet, which is deep enough to sustain its fish populations year after year.
The lake has an excellent forage base of threadfin shad, which sustains a population of impressive largemouth bass. Anglers catch a few bass weighing more than 10 pounds from the lake every year, with the best bass fishing occurring in the spring. In spring and fall, the crappie fishing is outstanding. The lake also has good fishing for bluegill sunfish. The park maintains several fish attractors in the lake by replenishing them with discarded Christmas trees.
Families with children will find excellent fishing access at the piers, with one located at the boat-launching area, one at the activity center and three at the campground. Families that spend the night at the group campground or family campground or in one of the rental cabins will find excellent fishing for catfish at night, with channel catfish that can top 10 pounds biting dough baits, chicken liver and worms.
Along The Way
Cane Creek Park has 108 campsites, RV camping and rental cabins. Kids will have fun at the swimming beaches, miniature golf course, hiking trails, mountain bike trails and bridle paths. The park also has fields for playing baseball and soccer, an amphitheater and picnic shelters. Families can bring their own boats or rent canoes, kayaks, johnboats and pedal boats at the park. (www.co.us.union/division/parksrecreation.aspx).
KURE BEACH AND CAROLINA BEACH FISHING PIERS
These two fishing piers offer some fun fishing for the entire family. Located just a few miles apart in Kure Beach and Carolina Beach, both have shopping areas and game rooms, where families with kids can find respite from the summer's heat or spend time together when the fish are not biting.
Both of these piers are renowned for their fabulous fishing for flounder, sheepshead, bluefish, black and red drum, whiting, pompano, spot, croaker, king and Spanish mackerel and other saltwater game fish and panfish. If you buy the kids a pier ticket, what you have really bought them is a pass to fishing heaven.
The best way to take a kid fishing at an ocean pier is to use a pier cart or wheeled ice chest to ferry ice and gear onto the pier. That leaves their hands and feet free to explore, corralled in the safety of the rails. However, pier fishing equipment can be as minimal as a spinning, spincast or baitfishing outfit with a two-hook bottom rig, some shrimp or cut fish for bait and a plastic bucket to carry spare rigs and ice to pack the fish in for the trip home.
Older kids have fun casting jerk-lures, spoons and jigs for Spanish mackerel, bluefish and other surface-feeding fish for eating or for baiting trolley rigs, which teens and adults can use to catch king mackerel, cobia and other large game fish.
Along The Way
The island also has Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Recreation Area, an N.C. Aquarium and Carolina Beach State Park. The historic site has an air-conditioned exhibit where visitors can learn about the battle of Fort Fisher. Hikers can also walk the remaining earthworks and touch cannons involved in the Civil War battles.
The recreation area has an office and an oceanfront swimming area with a shower, restrooms and lifeguard. Families with off-road vehicles can pay a day-use fee to drive on the beach, where surf fishing for many species is a good bet. Anglers who fish from the beach usually use longer "surf rods," but in fact, the same 7-foot spinning rods that kids use for pier duty will do. All you need is a plastic tube sand-spike to hold the rod.
The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher has exhibits including touch tanks with horseshoe and hermit crabs and sea urchins, as well as exhibits of saltwater and freshwater fish, birds, butterflies, reptiles and other species. Educational programs also occur year round.
Carolina Beach State Park has a marina with boat fueling and launching facilities. It also has campgrounds where families can vacation and the fees are much less expensive than hotel fees. The park provides fishing access to Snow's Cut, a section of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway with excellent fishing for flounder, speckled trout, red drum and other species. It has a fishing pier and hiking and biking trails. (http://www.carolinabeach.com/carolina-beach-fishing-pier,html; kurebeachfishingpier.com; ncparks.gov; ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher).
Lake Lucas is a 238-acre water supply reservoir for the City of Asheboro and serves as a centerpiece of Lake Lucas Park. The bass fishing is some of the best in the state, but anglers also catch crappie, sunfish and channel catfish.
The marina offers rental boat slips, and rents johnboats, canoes and kayaks. The boat launching area includes a special kayak launch. The park charges fees for anglers who launch private watercraft and restricts gas engines to 15 horsepower. The log cabin that serves as the park office provides shelter from hot, cold or rainy weather. The walls have mounts of bass from the lake, some of which weighed more than 12 pounds. A fishing pier located near the office is the perfect place to take kids fishing, with channel catfish being the mainstay species. However, all of the lake's fish are on the menu at the pier.
Along The Way
Lake Lucas Park has a playground with equipment that kids use free of charge. The N.C. State Zoo is located in Asheboro and seeing animals from all over the world makes a nice side trip. The Richard Petty Museum is also located in Asheville. Aside from its obvious attraction to racing fans, the museum also has exhibits of the area's cultural heritage. (www.asheboronc.gov.; www.rpmuseum.com).
Editor's Note: Mike Marsh's new book, "Fishing North Carolina," has information and maps for fishing 100 destinations across the state. To order an autographed copy, send a $26.60 check or MO to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409.