Texas 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.
Fishing with family is an ideal way to spend some vacation time, and Texas offers lots of opportunities, both freshwater and saltwater. Here are some places to go that offer not only good fishing, but also a variety of other things to do.
Learning to cast is one of the biggest obstacles new anglers have to overcome, whether they are young or old. Managing to hurl a barbed missile dangling from the end of a limber pole so it lands in the desired location without becoming entangled with the caster or an innocent bystander is not something that comes naturally. It's a skill that has to be practiced to be mastered, and sometimes beginning anglers get frustrated and give up before they've experienced the thrill of catching a fish.
Jimmy Cordova of San Antonio and his son Jimmy Jr. have a solution that worked well when they took daughter and granddaughter Dezarae fishing on Calaveras Lake. This reservoir on the southeast edge of San Antonio has a healthy population of both channel catfish and stocked red drum — a saltwater species — so it's a great place to go catching and hook a kid on fishing.
A planned catfishing trip took an unexpected turn when the Cordovas saw other boats downrigging for red drum, a popular technique on Calaveras. Downrigging is a form of trolling that involves using weights to hold lures — in this case Kelly Redeye Wigglespoons — at a consistent depth in the water as the boat moves along. It's an exciting way to fish, because you can see fish on the electronics as you pass over them, and suddenly one or more of the downrigged poles will begin to dance as a fish takes the lure. At that point all you have to do is reel.
Downrigging avoids another problem new anglers often have, that of setting the hook.
When the pole bends, the fish is already hooked. And likely, so is the kid. The only thing adults have to remember is to resist the temptation to reel in the fish themselves. Let the kid or kids have the fun.
Along The Way
The San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium is one of the nation's best, with an interesting outdoor connection. A benefactor donated land and animals that became the basis for the zoo, and when the animals multiplied and became too numerous, many were taken to the YO Ranch and began the transformation of the Texas Hill Country into the exotic hunting center of the United States. Situated in Brackenridge Park in the heart of the city, the zoo is a great place to spend the day picnicking, riding the miniature train, and viewing the animals. It's at 3903 N. St. Mary's Street.
And of course no visit to San Antonio is complete without a pilgrimage to the Alamo. From there it's just a short walk to the numerous shops and restaurants along the River Walk.
Pole dancing is not usually thought of as a family activity, but when it's done Matagorda Bay style, that's different.
Glenn Ging brings the boat up on the downwind side of one of the huge creosoted poles supporting a Gulf Intracoastal Waterway channel marker in West Matagorda Bay and begins a slow dance with the pole as he coaches his son Aron.
"Cast just to the left of the pole and then reel fast until the bobber is even with the pole," he advises. "Then let the current bring the bobber around the pole. He's lying right next to the pole."
"He" is a tripletail, and Aron has never caught one. "They can get up to 30 pounds and more," Glenn says as Aron tries another cast. This one is perfect. As the bobber drifts around the pole it suddenly darts right and disappears. "Set the hook! You've got him!" Glenn exclaims.
Soon after, Aron is proudly showing off his first tripletail, a 6-pounder that will make a tasty dinner for the Ging family that evening.
The catch is a fitting finale to a morning of fishing on Matagorda Bay for Glenn and Aron and Glenn's uncle — me — and my wife, Zoe Ann Stinchcomb. We've been drifting live shrimp over concrete structures placed on the bottom of the bay. Oysters need a solid substrate to anchor on as they grow, and cultch — old oyster shell — is virtually the only such material available. As dredgers removed oysters for food and for road-building material, reefs slowly declined.
It's a teachable moment for Aron, and Glenn, who is a school teacher when he's not guiding, takes advantage of the moment to point out the importance of habitat to fish. "The shell attracts fish, which feed on small creatures hiding in the crevices," he explains. Among those creatures are shrimp, which explains why we were dangling live shrimp beneath our popping corks.
While the tripletail was a welcome bonus, the real quarry on the trip was speckled sea trout, with an occasional red drum thrown in. Years of experience operating Glenn's Guide Service (glennsguideservice.com) helps Glenn position the boat in just the right place to drift across the reef with the wind as you cast out ahead and then work the bait back to the boat with a jerk, wait, reel, repeat sequence.
The jerk makes beads on the line above the popping cork emit the clicking sound that a shrimp makes as it propels itself with its tail, and when a fish comes to investigate the sound, it finds a shrimp — and our hooks. While the fish aren't huge, the action is steady.
The next morning found us enjoying a spectacular sunrise over East Matagorda Bay while fishing over natural oyster reefs — and the fish were bigger and feistier, as Glenn predicted. Both Zoe Ann and I brought in specks in the 24- to 26-inch range, and a few keeper red drum, including one with no discernible black spot on the tail. I've caught lots of reds with multiple spots, but never one with none.
Besides illustrating the pleasure of fishing with family, this trip also highlighted something worth keeping in mind when you fish with your family: People learn best, and gain more satisfaction, when they do things for themselves. Glenn could have made the tricky casts to the tripletail and then handed the rod off to Aron to complete the catch, but that would have deprived Aron of the opportunity to learn how to do it himself. More important, it would have denied him the growth in self-esteem he gained by overcoming a difficulty. Whether fishing with spouse or offspring, it's important to let them have the chance to experience personal growth and development and pride in their ability to learn a new skill.
Along The Way
The Matagorda Bay Nature Park offers horseback riding on the beach, camping, kayak rentals, and excellent birding: lcra.org. Nearby, Matagorda County Birding Nature Center is a hotspot for birding. Check mcbnc.org.
For an experience your family will never forget, book a room at the century-old Luther Hotel in Palacios and while there, tour a half-sized replica of the ship used by the explorer LaSalle in the 1600s. Get more at lutherhotelpalacios.com.
BIRDING FOR FISH
Tony Parker shuts down the big outboard in the middle of Lake Tawakoni and picks up his binoculars. I look in the direction he is glassing and see white specks circling and diving. Tony grins and slams the throttle open. As we near the birds we see splashes erupting from the water. Striped bass are gobbling up shad, and the small fish are leaping out of the water trying to escape — right into the mouths of the gulls. It's a classic feeding frenzy.
Throw any kind of lure into the midst of all those fish and you are guaranteed to get bit, which makes fishing for striped bass (plus hybrid striped bass and white bass) ideal for a family fishing trip. There will be no "Booorrring!" comments and texting when fish are biting like that.
Tawakoni is one of the few reservoirs where you can catch all three of those kinds of fish as well as largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie. For trophy striped bass, most anglers choose Lake Texoma, whose waters are salty enough to allow stripers, a marine species, to reproduce naturally. Stripers upward of 40 pounds have been caught from Texoma. Lake Buchanan receives regular stockings of stripers and offers the chance to fish amid Hill Country scenery in a resort setting.
For numbers of hybrids in the 4- to 5-pound range, Cooper Lake is a good choice. I once caught a 10-pound largemouth bass while hybrid fishing on Cooper, so you never know. And if white bass are your thing, Richland-Chambers Reservoir is hard to beat. A bonus there is the opportunity to catch catfish if the sandies aren't biting.
While there are DIY fishing opportunities at all those lakes mentioned, hiring a guide will allow you to relax and spend time enjoying your family rather than babysitting a boat and wrangling tackle. Guides know where the fish should be and what they've been biting. A Google search can turn up lots of possibilities, but here are some recommendations. For Tawakoni and Cooper, Tony Parker (tonyparkerguideservice.com). For Lake Texoma, Bill and Chris Carey (striperexpress.com). For Lake Buchanan, Ken Milam (striperfever.com). For Richland Chambers, Bob Holmes (texasfishingguide.net). All these guides are experienced at taking families fishing and making sure that everyone has a good time.
Along The Way
At Tawakoni and Cooper, state parks offer the choice of camping or furnished cabins. Texoma and Buchanan are ringed with resorts offering more upscale accommodations, and state parks are nearby. Richland Chambers is near Corsicana, which has many motels and restaurants, including Under the Bridge Restaurant, a family-friendly bar and pub located at 514 S. 7th, literally under an overpass. Check tripadvisor.com.
For a more leisurely fishing experience, consider pursuing the "lowly" catfish. I say lowly because many people think of catfish as bottom-feeding scavengers with a muddy taste. Such people need to be introduced to a plate of fresh-caught, deep-fried catfish served up at a lakeside campsite. Fortunately, Texas offers many places where your family can do just that. Lakes Palestine, Richland-Chambers, Fork, Amistad, Arrowhead and Braunig are just a few. Get started at tpwd.texas.gov/fishing.
Here's how to catch catfish. Suspend your bait under a bobber, cast it out, and then resist the urge to do something. Chill. You are on vacation. Sip a cool beverage. Chat with each other. Once in a while, look at your bobber. Wait — what bobber? It's gone! Set the hook! Reel!
Along The Way
Many state parks and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks offer bankside cabins or campsites (and fishing piers) where you can fish without a boat. In addition, parks have hiking trails where kids can work off excess energy, and some offer other activities such as geocaching and guided bird walks. Start your search for the perfect park at tpwd.texas.gov/parks or go to recreation.gov.
Think of the outdoors as a classroom, and a hunting or fishing trip as an opportunity to teach kids about the role hunters and anglers play in conservation. Campfire talks about the fun had during the day can be the introduction to mini-lessons on the fact that licenses and other fees and taxes paid by users of the outdoors support the scientific management of those resources by conservation agencies, a fact often overlooked by those who oppose hunting and fishing.
Most of the locations mentioned are located near a local, state, or national park or wildlife management area. Camping at one will let kids burn off energy hiking or biking or swimming, attend interpretive programs or walk nature trails, and learn by doing. Your all-in-one, mobile-device-friendly source for information is texasoutside.com, which features information on destinations and activities that are family- and kid-oriented.