Check out these great vacation sites around our region. Each is perfectly suited for the annual family outing! (June 2007)
Photo by Robert H. Cleveland Jr.
When it comes to summer getaways for family fishing fun, these plains definitely are great! From North Dakota south to Kansas, destinations that feature great angling and other activities for the family seem to be along any route you might choose.
Let's run down some of the best family fishing destinations in the region. We'll cover things from north to south. Listings for each state are alphabetical. All of them are worthy of consideration when you're planning a summer fishing trip for the whole family.
One of the neatest attractions about North Dakota angling is the tremendous variety of species that offer quality fishing options. You'll be able to enjoy a dynamic mix of warm and coldwater species to target.
Devils Lake is about 85 miles west of Grand Forks, N.D., along U.S. 2 Highway. Not only will you find great fishing there for perch, pike, walleye and white bass, but you'll also find some of the most interesting and unique topography in the state.
North Dakota's largest natural lake lies amid a dense hardwood forest, so the look and feel of fishing here is quite different than what you'll find at other North Dakota destinations featured here. The lake is 140,000 surface-acres and offers roughly 390 miles of shoreline.
Woodland Resort is a great spot to make your base of operations for a trip to Devils Lake. It's a full-service resort -- the only one on the lake -- and offers modern lodging with a capacity of 175 along with 15 overnight campsites. And here's a cool deal -- kids ages 12 and under stay free!
You'll find a swimming beach with a slide, floating platform, a nice playground and free kayaks for the kids, as well as miles of interior roads for walking or biking, a fishing dock, boat rentals, a modern restaurant, and a full-service convenience store.
From the Lake Sakakawea Dam downstream to the South Dakota border, the Missouri River is full of fish and adventure. Maybe the best area to target is that stretch of the river immediately below Garrison Dam, and for a couple of reasons. First, you can use places like Lake Sakakawea State Park or Fort Stevenson State Park as your base of operation. Second, both are full-service facilities with everything you and the family might want to enjoy some great outdoor fun when you want to take a break from the fishing.
Of course, given the amazing variety of angling opportunities on the stretch of the "Mighty Mo," you might find it tough to get off the water for very long. This is the kind of fishing diversity mentioned at the start of this story.
Most folks probably would expect to find catfish in the Missouri River, but what about several different species of trout -- and chinook salmon? Brown, cutthroat, lake and rainbow trout are here as well; so are walleyes and pike. Just think about all the possibilities!
Enjoying great fishing here doesn't require you to bring a boat because of access at the Garrison Dam tailrace, but having a boat will open up plenty more of the river to you. Just keep in mind that navigation can be tricky. If you're not familiar with this stretch of the Missouri, make sure to get some tips from local shops and anglers; pay attention when you're on the water; and be careful.
Garrison Dam creates Lake Sakakawea, one of several major flood control impoundments on the Missouri River. It's an amazing fishery, stretching almost 150 miles to the Montana border. The numbers are staggering when it comes to the size of the lake: more than 365,000 surface-acres, shorelines that stretch more than 1,500 miles, and the Van Hook Arm, which is 14 miles wide!
Don't let the lake's sprawl intimidate you, though. You'll find lots of great angling just about anywhere you decide to launch a boat and/or cast a line. Like the river below Garrison Dam, the lake itself offers great opportunities for coldwater species like brown and rainbow trout and Chinook salmon. You also should expect at least the chance to hook up with a giant pike.
Walleyes, saugers and the hybrid saugeyes add to the angling attraction, as do panfish like crappie and perch. The bottom line is that you're going to find something biting when you visit because the fishery is simply so diverse.
Like the entire Great Plains region, North Dakota experienced significant low-water levels during the extended drought of the late 1980s and early 1990s. During that time, work crews built and extended boat ramps on Sakakawea, creating good access all over the lake.
Lake Sakakawea and Fort Stevenson State Parks are among the best places to consider as your home during a fishing vacation here, but the upper end of the lake also features Lewis and Clark State Park, near Williston.
You've heard mostly about cold-water species so far, but North Dakota offers a wonderful trophy catfish resource: the Red River. It's internationally known for its trophy channel catfish. And you might be surprised to learn that anglers from Europe and Australia consider the Red a hot destination -- for its carp! Mostly known as rough fish in the U.S., carp are more highly thought of as game fish around the world, and that makes the Red River a must-fish destination for travelers from other continents.
From Fargo north to the Canadian border, the Red is hot for big channel cats and, if you're so inclined, carp. And since Interstate 29 never strays more than 10 miles or so from the river, you can expect to find easy access throughout the drainage. Fargo and Grand Forks make great headquarters for a Red River visit; you'll find plenty of places to stay there.
Many anglers think Lake Oahe when they hear mention of South Dakota, but Oahe isn't the lone fishing destination in the state. We're not even going to deal with it first!
Instead, get out your atlas or go online and search "Black Hills" to discover one of the neatest regions in all of the Great Plains. Custer State Park lies in the heart of the Black Hills, which is rich in trout fishing opportunities and even richer in American heritage.
You're a short drive from Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. You're a short drive from Deadwood, the frontier town recently made part of America's modern consciousness thanks to the HBO original series of the same name. But the fact is you can fill a trip to this area without getting very far from Custer State Park.
There are lots of hiking and biking trails -- including those that provide access to Harney Peak, the second highest point east of the Rockies. Just please do leave time to wade some of the area's trout streams, which offer excellent action.
All the way across the state, near Lake City, you'll find Roy Lake State Park where there's excellent fishing for bass, panfish, pike and walleyes. You'll find the park to be a gateway to a whole region full of natural beauty and fun things to do.
Just a short drive away is Sica Hollow State Park, where you can watch bogs gurgle and experience the wondrous light show created by swamp gas. If you've never seen tree stumps that glow in the dark naturally, make sure to visit Sica Hollow.
In addition to modern camping facilities at Roy Lake, the Roy Lake Resort offers cabins and lodge-style accommodations with full amenities. It's a great headquarters when you visit this part of the state.
Down I-29 a couple of hours from that area is Palisades State Park, just northeast of Sioux Falls. Here's another unique and interesting destination because it offers good stream fishing in Split Rock Creek, which flows through the park. But that's just the beginning.
Legend has it that none other than "the James boys" spent time in a cave along the creek after a bank robbery in Northfield, Minn. The area is one of the few in the nation where pipestone is found. Native Americans considered it sacred; you can still see depressions where it was once quarried.
The park offers modern and primitive campsites, with five cabins available. Even if you show up to find it a really busy time in the park, Sioux Falls is just a few minutes away, with plenty of lodging and dining options.
Nebraska's Lewis and Clark Lake is one of those out-of-the-way spots that don't feel so out of the way, because you'll find plenty of facilities nearby, along with lots of fun things to do.
OK -- we can't leave South Dakota without more information on Lake Oahe. Make the state capital of Pierre your headquarters for a visit to one of the best walleye fisheries in the Great Plains -- or anywhere else, for that matter.
Nearby Oahe Dam -- the second largest dam in North America! -- is one of the top spots in the entire region for families who want to mix more outside activities with their fishing. The state capitol building is here, and you'll also find a cultural heritage center, the South Dakota Discovery Center and Aquarium, and the Oahe Dam Visitors Center.
Nearby parks include the Farm Island Recreation Area, La Framboise Island Nature Area and the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area. There is plenty to do and see, which might make it tough to give Oahe's outstanding fishing the attention it truly deserves.
One of Nebraska's unique fishing destinations has to be Calamus Reservoir, which is in the Sandhills 85 miles northwest of Grand Island. It's unique because the reservoir offers a variety of game species, including muskies! They've been stocked there since 2000, and an encounter with a 40-inch-plus specimen is not out of the question. You'll also find black bullheads, black crappie, pike, walleyes, white bass and wipers.
And if that's not enough, nearby Gracie Creek Pond offers rainbow trout. You definitely won't run out of fishing options.
You'll find modern and primitive camping options, and several boat ramps situated around the lake.
Up on the South Dakota border, Lewis and Clark Lake offers excellent fishing for a number of species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, catfish, crappie, saugers and walleyes. The Cornhusker State's second-largest lake is seven miles north of Crofton along Nebraska Highway 121.
You'll find several camping options around the lake, and there are cabins available. This is one of those out-of-the-way spots that don't feel so out of the way, because you'll find plenty of facilities nearby, along with lots of fun things to do.
In addition to being the largest lake in the state, Lake McConaughy is home to fishing for large specimens of bass, catfish, trout and walleyes. This North Platte River impoundment lies just a few minutes north of I-80 near the town of Ogallala.
You can learn lots about the lake and its ecosystem in the Lake McConaughy Visitors Center and Water Interpretive Center, which opened in 2005. Among the educational displays are two 1,500-gallon aquariums.
And wait until you see the beaches! Martin Bay is one of four public areas around the lake, and it offers shoreline beaches like you wouldn't expect to find in Nebraska. Other spots to consider as your base of operations on a trip here include Cedar Vue, Spring Park/Otter Creek, and Spillway Bay.
Southeastern Kansas is home to some great fishing options, and Big Hill Lake is near the top of the list. One of the Sunflower State's top bass fisheries is located northeast of Independence and near Cherryvale. It's 1,240 acres, with camping and full facilities available. Although Big Hill Reservoir is the destination here, keep in mind that visiting this part of the state also will bring you close to the Mined Land Wildlife Area, a series of parcels that are chockfull of reclaimed strip mine pits loaded with great fishing.
Once you start exploring Big Hill, however, it might be really tough to leave for another nearby fishing hole. You'll find all three species of black bass (largemouth, smallmouth and spotted), along with a variety of panfish species, including bluegills, crappie, redear sunfish, green sunfish and white bass. Channel and flathead catfish prowl the lake, as do walleyes. Talk about an angling smorgasbord!
North of Big Hill and practically in the shadow of Kansas City, Hillsdale Reservoir makes for a great family fishing destination for a number of reasons. The fishing, of course, is good, and the species list includes largemouth bass, white bass, bluegills and green sunfish, crappie, walleyes, and channel and flathead catfish.
Hillsdale State Park is a full-service facility, so you can make your home for the trip right there. But Kansas City is so close and offers so many things to do that you just might want to find lodging in, say, Johnson County and visit Hillsdale as part of a trip that includes all kinds of other activities. Hillsdale sits a short drive south of I-35 and is easily accessible.
Just as easily accessible from I-70 and Junction City is Milford Reservoir, which is the largest lake in Kansas at 16,020 acres. Like Big Hill, you'll find all three subspecies of black bass here, along with a myriad of sunfish, channel and flathead catfish, wipers and white bass, and walleyes.
Facilities are among the most diverse you'll find. There are full-service marinas, cabins, RV hookups, primitive camping -- even a horse camping area. You'll also find AT
V trails that will give you a chance to literally bounce around the area if you enjoy off-roading.
Fishing is Milford's calling card, however, and adjacent to the lake is one of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks' most prolific fish hatcheries. There's plenty to see and do here without ever leaving the public land surrounding the lake.
Milford definitely is the largest lake/recreation area in the state, but Wilson Reservoir in the Smoky Hills region of western Kansas just might be the most scenic. The 9,040-acre impoundment is home to all the black bass subspecies, and it's one of the few places left in Kansas with a decent population of pure striped bass. Over the years, the KDWP has focused more and more on wipers in many state waters, but stripers are still roaming Wilson -- and some of them are pretty doggone big!
You'll also find bluegills, white crappie, white bass, white perch and walleyes in good numbers. Wilson definitely offers diverse fishing options along with scenery that truly is hard to beat.
The Hell Creek and Otoe Park areas offer modern and primitive camping, with all the facilities you'd expect to find at a Kansas State Park. And if you're into bicycling -- especially mountain biking -- don't leave the bikes at home when you come to Wilson. The Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail is 13 miles long, and a wonderfully challenging ride.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For more information on all of these great family fishing destinations, visit the following Web sites.
North Dakota: www.gf.nd.gov;
South Dakota: Sdgfp.info.com;
Find more about Great Plains fishing and hunting at: GreatPlainsGameandFish.com