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Family-Friendly Fishing

Family-Friendly Fishing

If that's your goal for this summer's vacation, then you'll surely want to check out these Great Plains destinations. They are bound to please! (June 2009)

The great part about vacationing in the Great Plains is the variety of attractions available in this part of the country. If city life is your family's desire, that can be accomplished. If it's a close-up look at history, that can be found too. Sports? Done! You might even find that one of the best places to vacation is right in your own back yard.

It's easy to see that Mace Fowler is pleased with this largemouth bass that he and his dad, Eric, caught while fishing the Wildwood State Recreation Area north of Lincoln, Nebraska. Many similar locations offer backyard getaways all across the Great Plains.
Photo by Eric Fowler.

I live right outside of Omaha, so I understand that last statement to be true. As good a place as Omaha is to live, it could be an even better place to visit. Omaha is a little big city. It's easy to navigate and has limitless opportunities for kids of all ages. The Omaha Children's Museum is downtown for little ones, the CoCo Key Water Resort is an indoor water park for all ages, and there are multiple Frisbee golf courses in the Omaha area.

Even die-hard golfers can steal a morning away west of Omaha at Quarry Oaks Golf Club, one of the top public courses in the nation. With multiple shopping areas, including three malls and outdoor shops in Omaha's historical Old Market area downtown, this city has a little something for everyone.

This month also includes one of Omaha's largest events, the College World Series. From June 13 through 23-24, the nation's best college baseball teams will descend upon Omaha. Even if you're not a baseball fan, the atmosphere around the ballpark and throughout the city is tremendous. And if you are a baseball fan and have never been to Omaha, there's no better time to go. Especially when tickets are usually still available the day of the game.

Because of the series, lodging in Omaha itself is a fight. Instead, rent a cabin at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park or stay at one of the area's surrounding campground areas, including Two Rivers State Recreation Area (SRA), Louisville SRA, and Fremont Lakes SRA. Yet, regardless of where you stay, Mahoney is the one-stop shop that deserves your attention.

Located west of Omaha, Mahoney has a water park, miniature golf course and hiking trails. Next door is the Strategic Air and Space Museum, and within a couple of miles is the Wildlife Safari, an attraction that features elk, deer, turkeys and other wildlife in a natural environment. In addition, Omaha also has the Henry Doorly Zoo, known as one of the top zoos in the country. With its orangutan forest, desert dome, butterfly/insect pavilion, cheetah valley, and a number of other exhibits, the zoo is an entire day's trip itself. Plus, it has an IMAX theater and Rosenblatt Stadium, the current home to the College World Series, is next door.


There is also fishing close by. Two Rivers has five fishable lakes, accessible from both land and by boat, and one of their lakes is stocked with rainbow trout. Fremont Lakes has 20 fishable lakes, and Louisville has five. Most of these have been stocked with largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish, but wipers, blue catfish and crappie are caught in these lakes as well.

If you are a beginning angler yourself, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission offers Family Fishing Nights throughout the summer. On these evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. at area lakes, including Prairie View, Holmes, Halleck Park, Bowling and Pawnee, commission fisheries biologists provide instruction and equipment to visitors to learn how to fish. For more information on this program, visit

Also on this Web site is the 2009 Nebraska Fishing Forecast. This gives sampling results for Nebraska's public waters, many in the Omaha and Lincoln area. Because Lincoln is less than an hour away from Omaha, it should also be on a vacationing family's radar for activities. By enjoying what eastern Nebraska has to offer, both off the water and on, your family will be sure to visit a place that is large enough to have limitless options but small enough to feel, after a few days' visit, like you've been there before.

Bismarck, the capitol of North Dakota, also has a familiar, small-town feel to it. Birding, water-skiing, boating and biking are just a few available activities. Multiple theme parks are also in the area, including Raging Rivers Waterpark and Speedworld Golf & Games. Also, visit the Super Slide Amusement Park or take a cruise on the 150-passenger Lewis and Clark, a riverboat on the Missouri River that runs cruises from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Bismarck is also home to North Dakota's Hawktree Golf Club, another one of the top 100 courses in the nation, the state's largest zoo, and Gateway to Science, the state's only hands-on science museum. Kids can participate with activities involving electricity, air pressure, water and a number of other experiments.

Another great idea while in Bismarck -- or for that matter any of these cities -- is introducing your child to geocaching. I wish geocaching were around when I was a kid, and when my daughter is old enough to participate, it will be how we spend many of our summer vacations. Geocaching brings in the "treasure hunt" aspect for a kid, and, to be quite honest, it's pretty darn fun for adults too.

A "cache" can be multiple things, but is usually an army ammunition box. These boxes are hid in various public areas throughout the country, and gives GPS coordinate sites to locate these caches. The ones I have found have been hidden in natural areas, and visitors use a hand-held GPS to locate these cache sites. Inside each is a sign-in sheet and maybe a small toy of some sort for a child to take. However, the finders must also give something back to the cache as well, such as a toy of their own.

Geocaching gives kids something else to do in the outdoors and also learn how to use these hand-held navigational systems. Each of these cities has geocaches, including the Bismarck area's 111. There are also several hundred in each of the other cities in this list of vacation spots. Visit the geocaching Web site to get you and your family started.

For a place to stay near Bismarck, you can camp at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park along the Heart River. This area was once an important military post, and it was from this fort that Custer left for his ill-fated expedition against the Sioux at Little Big Horn. Earthlodges, depicting the Mandan Indian lifestyle, also are on-site. Concerning fishing, there are multiple options near Bismarck as well, including Sweet Briar Lake and Crown Butte Dam. Both have multiple fish species, including largemouth b

ass, and are within a short driving distance of Bismarck.

When introducing a young angler to new lakes and fish species, fish quickly. What do you have to lose? If you do not have a boat, then bank-fishing is a must, and there are multiple techniques for fishing these lakes. The first thing that needs to be accomplished when fishing with a kid is getting a fish to the boat or bank.

Use an ultralight spinning reel with 6-pound-test line, and a 1/64- or 1/32-ounce jighead with a two-tone green curlytail grub. Fish this rig around the crooks of fallen trees, docks or contour changes, using a steady retrieve to keep the curlytail wiggling. Because children usually do not set the hook as hard as adults, this rig is good for their beginning fishing careers and can be used for multiple fish species.

A guide might also be an option on the Lake Oahe portion of the Missouri River close to Bismarck. That's definitely an equipment-free opportunity for a family car already strapped with gear for a weeklong vacation.

For a different type of vacation, visit a place not necessarily known as a "family" destination, Deadwood. Deadwood is in the Black Hills of western South Dakota and was originally founded following the discovery of gold in 1876. A place known for outlaws, gambling and historic figures, such as "Wild Bill" Hickok, Calamity Jane and Wyatt Earp, it's a true Old West town where much has been preserved for visiting tourists.

While in Deadwood, the Broken Boot Gold Mine allows adults and children to take underground tours and pan for gold while walking "in the footsteps of thousands of faceless miners who sought their fortunes in the dark and explosive atmosphere of blackpowder and candlelight," as stated at

At local Mad Mountain Adventures, located six miles south of Deadwood, kids and their parents can rent ATVs to ride, or dress up in Old West garb for pictures at Woody's Wild West Old Time Photos, or watch the daily shooting re-creation of Wild Bill at Old Style Saloon No. 1.

A fun alternative to the Old West is a trip to the Boondocks, where re-creations of the 1950s and 1960s come alive. However, let's be honest. A trip back to this era may be more for you than your kids. But that's OK, you're going to take them fishing tomorrow.

Trout Haven, located 19 miles south of Deadwood, is a 15-acre resort with cabins, Lakota teepees and camping opportunities. There are two stocked trout ponds on-site, and no equipment or license is needed to fish. However, Trout Haven is by no means the only fishing opportunity in the area.

At Bear Butte State Park's Bear Butte Lake, northern pike, crappie, and bullheads typically are the catch of the day. At Roughlock Falls Nature Area, Little Spearfish Creek offers brown and brook trout fishing from the lower trailhead to the bridge below Roughlock Falls. These are just a couple of examples of fishing opportunities in the Deadwood area, because the list is long. Start fishing in the Deadwood area by visiting and searching under western South Dakota fishing.

However, limiting a Black Hills trip to Deadwood would be a bit shortsighted. Start the vacation in Deadwood, and then make your way farther south to take advantage of Wind Cave National Park's nature trails and Custer State Park's horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and fishing.

However, don't think that Deadwood isn't enough. I like knowing something is right down the street for my family to visit, but I like it even more when my vacation destination has everything I need. For that little historian in the family, or that child or inner-child still interested in the Old West, Deadwood fits the bill. And when the spouse and kids are back at the cabin or hotel room for a midday nap, that's a good time to sneak away for a little gambling at the casinos.

It is always easy to highlight Kansas City on the list of Kansas' vacation spots, as I have before and probably will again in the future. With such a long list of activities for vacationers, from Oceans of Fun, concerts and baseball games, as well as great fishing nearby, it's hard not to talk about it. Yet, what many don't think about are the great opportunities for families in Kansas' other cities, including the little-known vacation spot of Wichita.

Kids as well as parents can visit Wichita's Laser Quest, an entertainment center featuring a multi-level laser tag experience. "Do something different," is Edge Paintball Adventures in Wichita. Guns and other equipment can be rented on-site. In addition, the Wichita Art Museum, the Kansas Aviation Museum, the Great Plains Nature Center, multiple bowling lanes, places to shop and movie theaters are just a few of Wichita's offerings.

Another option is to rent a fishing guide working at El Dorado Lake, which is less than an hour east of town, or at Cheney Reservoir, located less than an hour west of the city. Wichita is a great place to take advantage of Kansas' urban fishing program. With at least 24 community lakes in the Wichita area, people can stay close to an urban area while also keeping fishing close to mind. Log onto for more information about that program.

Outside of the light-tackle technique mentioned earlier, there are at least two more ways to keep children interested in fishing while in Wichita. One involves allowing them to cast topwater lures. The casting keeps them active, like with the spinning tackle, and the topwater lures allow them to watch lures work on top. Prop lures, stick baits, buzzbaits and jitterbugs have a lot of action. Encourage kids to throw them near thick cover, including stickups, grassbeds, or other types of cover. Too many times, kids, even when casting, work water in the middle of nowhere. Teach them to work close to structure, which will turn their fishing into a game of seeing how close they can actually cast to structure.

Another technique is to fish with a bubble, leader and popping bug. If panfish are active, and they should be this time of year, youngsters will catch fish. The leader on such a rig should be a few feet in length, long enough to keep it away from the weighted bubble but close enough so as not to make casting too difficult. This is what kept me in the boat as a child, and will most certainly do the same for your kids if they have even a little interest in fishing.

Regardless of which city your family visits, each has a long list of opportunities for vacationers. Coming from near or far, not one is a one-pony show. Attractions are available at each, and fishing can be a successful part of each vacation. Whether on a river, resort lake or public lake, each of these areas has enough fishing to take the big boat and its outboard, a johnboat or canoe in the back of the truck, a small pile of fishing gear, or no fishing tackle at all. Regardless of the room in the car, one of these cities has the type of fishing vacation action you're looking for.

There's no reason why this year can't be the best vacation you've ever had. A couple rods and reels, road map and a GPS, and your treasure hunt might just start as soon as you leave the house.

For more information, visit each state's fishing division or tourism Web site, or call the following numbers if interested in visiting: Bismarck: call the Bismarck-Manden Visitor Center at 1-800-767-3555; Deadwood: call the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-999-1876; Omaha: call the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-866-937-6624; Wichita: call the Greater Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-288-9424.

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