6 Best-Bet Family (Fishing) Vacations

No matter where you live in our state, great family getaways are closer than you think. Read on for six top-rated places for family fishing -- and a whole lot more!

When kids experience the fun of fishing early in their youth, many are hooked on angling for the rest of their lives. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Mark Crowley

Families and fishing seem to just go together. Think about it. When was the last time you saw wives and children running about deer camp? Now think about nearly any Hoosier state park, reservoir or fish and wildlife area campground in the summer. Just about everywhere you look you'll see families enjoying the summer on a trip that revolves around sportfishing. And, when the fishing gets a little slow, there's generally alternate recreation nearby that will appease the kids just as much as it will the adults.

Hoosiers need not travel too far from their own back yard to discover quality fishing and a whole lot more. Scattered throughout Indiana are lakes known for topnotch angling, and this is particularly true when singling out specific species. But when it comes to planning a family trip, it takes more than just fishing to keep the family happy. So, Indiana Game & Fish has found six such destinations worth considering for your next family fishing excursion.


Hybrid Stripers At Lake Shafer

For many families, especially those with kids who love amusement parks, lakes Shafer and Freeman near Monticello has to be the ultimate destination in Indiana for fishing and family fun in June. These lakes and the Tippecanoe River that feeds them have produced the state-record hybrid striped bass - and this area is the home of Indiana Beach, our state's largest amusement and water park.

Hybrid stripers have become an Indiana favorite over the last 20 years or so, due to a successful hatchery program that has introduced this voracious feeder in several lakes around the state. And while there are now numerous places anglers can encounter this rod-yanking species of game fish, lakes Shafer and Freemen have come to be known as perhaps the top lakes in Indiana for trophy hybrid stripers.

Since 1985, 18 of 19 state-record hybrids have been pulled from these lakes or out of the Tippecanoe River just below either the Norway or Oakdale dams (the dams that form these two lakes). Most of these records were caught between late April and June, which are the peak times for hybrid striper activity.

Hybrid stripers can generally be found cruising areas where shad congregate. Once a school of shad is located, the hybrids are generally close by. Because shad are the favorite forage of hybrids, these fish can be caught using a variety of methods and baits. Most often, wipers are caught using crankbaits and other similar baits.

As summer progresses and water temperatures rise, many anglers will switch off to trolling deeper water since wipers tend to find the deeper, cooler waters more to their liking. Those who prefer not to troll will do well using chicken livers, bait more likened to catfishing than to seeking members of the striper family.

Because the Tippecanoe River feeds these two lakes, a great number of these hybrids have found their way into this waterway and supply more than ample fishing action downstream of these lakes. Tailwater fishing has long been thought of as an extremely effective method of angling, since those wipers that have escaped the lake have found the churning tailwaters ideal locations to set up and take advantage of shad being expelled through the dam.

But dynamic wiper excitement isn't the only entertainment to be found in this area of Indiana. Exciting and dynamic thrill rides are an ideal catch for members of the family seeking alternatives to the rod and reel.

Indiana Beach Amusement Park and Camping Resort lures a great number of families to Lake Shafer each year. The park features five giant roller coasters and another six waterslides sure to appease those members of the family who are interested in activities other than fishing. And for those adults who prefer rides that move a tad bit slower, a ride on the Shafer Queen paddleboat is an excellent way to enjoy the scenery Lake Shafer affords.

Campers will find plenty of space to park their RV in one of two campgrounds that offer a combined 1,200 sites, and for those who prefer more modern accommodations, the area plays host to numerous motels and cottage rentals for those who prefer not to camp.

For more information on Lake Shafer, contact the Greater Monticello Chamber of Commerce at (219) 583-7220. For more information on Indiana Beach, check out their Web site at: www.indianabeach.com.

Smallmouths Of The Blue River

If scenery, seclusion and smallmouth bass are what you're seeking, then the Blue River in southeastern Indiana is the place to be looking. Not only does this small waterway produce some of the finest smallmouth bass fishing to be found in the Hoosier State, it also cuts through some of the most scenic natural areas to be found, as well.

Late May and on into June are prime times for Blue River smallies. Although the river is fed by springs that keep the water cool for most of the year, as summer progresses, the waters warm just slightly and the action can taper off. Water levels are also another factor that lead to less smallmouth action. Heavy spring rains can push the stream up making it difficult to locate smallies in the murky water.

Most of the smallmouth action is found either by floating the river in canoes or by wading. In fact, the Blue River has been labeled as one of the top streams for canoeing in Indiana and has numerous canoe liveries. A float down the Blue River affords ideal family time and some breathtaking scenery.

Ultralight gear with crawfish imitators is the best approach to catching Blue River smallies, which frequently bump the 12-inch mark. Fly rods are another popular method for seeking Blue River smallies, but this is best left for experienced fly-rodders, since the banks of the Blue River are heavily forested, with tree limbs being an obstacle to be dealt with.

But the Blue River is more than just a smallmouth stream. Recent fishery surveys indicate that this stream harbors one of Indiana's largest populations of rock bass.

When it comes time to beach the canoes and put away the rods, visitors to this area will find an abundance of other recreation - most of which is centered on Indiana's natural geologic features.

Wyandotte Caves, Squire Boone Caverns and Marengo Cave are all within a short distance of the Blue River as it traverses through Clark, Cr

awford, Floyd, Harrison and Washington counties. Located along its path is the Harrison-Crawford State Forest. Forty-five miles of the Blue River as it flows through Washington, Harrison and Crawford counties have been designated as a State Scenic River due to its natural beauty.

Also, within a short distance are Holiday World, a large amusement and water park and Indiana's newest state park, Falls of the Ohio at New Albany.

For more information on the area, contact the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce at (888) 738-2137.


Stripers Of Cecil M. Harden Lake

Although hybrid striped bass can be found in numerous lakes throughout the state, only a handful of waters offer angling for pure-strain striped bass. Cecil M. Harden is one such lake.

Harden Lake is a 2,060-acre impoundment located east of Rockville in Parke County. The lake has exploded onto the Hoosier striped bass scene with some pretty impressive catches. Recent fishery surveys indicate a strong population of stripers, with some of these fish reaching 36 inches and weighing more than 20 pounds. Indiana fisheries biologists anticipate that striper fishing at this reservoir will continue to improve over the next several years.

Because the lake also has a substantial population of white bass, many anglers frequently confuse them with stripers; learning to distinguish between the two is a necessity. White bass are a deeper bodied fish and have a single tooth patch on the tongue, while stripers are more streamlined with two distinct tooth patches on the tongue. Indiana's fishing guide at http://www.in.gov/ dnr contains drawings to aid anglers in determining the difference in these two species.

Catching stripers can often be as easy as casting shad look-a-likes from the shoreline in the early morning and late evening. Boating anglers will fish the same types of baits over schools of shad, the primary forage species for stripers on Harden Lake.

When it comes to family time, visitors to this area will find a tour of Rockville and its multitude of antique shops an ideal diversion. Also located nearby are Billie Creek Village and the Mansfield Mill, an actual gristmill still in operation and maintained by the Division of Reservoirs. One other diversion is a driving tour of Parke County's numerous covered bridges, which draw thousands of visitors each fall during the Covered Bridge Festival.

Accommodations are also plentiful with several bread and breakfast homes, in addition to the reservoir's own campground, which has been described as one of the most beautiful in the state.

For more information, contact the reservoir office at (765) 344-1412 or the Covered Bridge Capital Convention Tourism Bureau at (765) 569-226.

Brookville Reservoir's Catfish

More famous for its striper and walleye fishing, this 5,200-acre flood- control lake also plays home to one of Indiana's largest catfish populations, in addition to providing numerous tourist-based attractions.

It goes without saying that catfishing is an Indiana favorite once the weather and water heat up. Brookville is one lake where anglers will find ample numbers of whiskerfish. In fact, channel cats are the No. 2 fish caught by numbers and first when it comes to weight.

A fish survey conducted in 2003 indicates that the average size for Brookville cats was just over 14 inches, with numerous fish reaching well over 28 inches. In terms of the future, managers anticipate that fishing for channel cats should continue to be outstanding over the next several years, simply based on the sheer numbers found here.

When it comes to finding things to do once the boat is moored for the day, there's no shortage on this front either.

Whitewater State Park was recently renovated, making it an ideal camping destination. Tourist attractions include a large water park located just outside of the state park and numerous historical attractions, as well.

Perhaps one of the most popular visitor highlights is the village of Metamora, a historic canal town where visitors can find horse-drawn canal boats still in operation today. Also nearby is a working gristmill and steam locomotive that visitors can enjoy as it makes its way from nearby Connersville to Metamora and back. Accommodations are also ample with numerous bed and breakfast locations, cottage rentals and private campgrounds.

For more information on the area, contact the Whitewater State Park at (765) 647-2657.


Eagle Creek Reservoir's

Largemouth Bass

While most Hoosier travelers look for areas that offer more of an outdoor experience, some are beginning to discover that one of the state's up- and-coming largemouth lakes is found in the heart of Indiana at the state capital.

Eagle Creek Reservoir located on Indianapolis' northwest side is rapidly becoming a destination for largemouth bass anglers due to its increasing population of bass exceeding 16 inches. And, since it's located just outside of Indianapolis, there are countless other activities close at hand to enjoy once the fishing is done for the day.

Recent fishery surveys show that the number and size of largemouths found in this city-owned reservoir is on the increase. This can be attributed mostly to the large forage base of shad found in the lake. However, the recent survey also indicates that the number of shad appears to be on the decline due to large winter die-offs over the last several years. With fewer shad in the lake, most of the bass will be hunting for new food sources, making bait presentation that much more attractive.

Because the lake is surrounded by homes, outboard motors are restricted to 10 horsepower or less. The upside to this is that anglers will not be fighting recreational boat traffic that can often create rough waters and less-than-enjoyable fishing.

Access to the lake can be found at Eagle Creek Park located on the north end of the lake. This large park also provides ample recreation for those who don't fish, including canoe rentals, a swimming beach, archery and shooting ranges, hiking and biking trails, a bridle trail, golf course and nature interpretive center.

Once these possibilities have been exhausted, our state's capital affords countless possibilities that include the Indianapolis Zoo, Children's Museum, Indiana State Museum and more attractions than can be listed. The best for discovering what all Indianapolis has to offer is to obtain a copy of Discover Indiana from the Indiana Department of Tourism, or call the Indianapolis Visitors Center at (317) 630-4663 or on the Web at: www.indy.org.

Potato Creek Panfish

Going north in August is often one escape for Hoosiers looking to escape the stifling heat of summer in the southern reaches of Indiana. And although the heat is st

ill with these travelers, the intensity is somewhat less. One of the best spots to find respite is Potato Creek State Park near South Bend.

One of the biggest drawing cards to this state park is the prolific panfishing that is found in Worster Lake. This 327-acre manmade lake has become known for its good population of redears, in addition to bluegills.

The lake is limited to electric motors only and visitors will find that bringing their own boat to be a big benefit, although rowboats, canoes and paddleboats are available for rent.

Potato Creek is also one of the most popular state parks found in Indiana. Taking advantage of the new computerized reservation system is highly encouraged. In fact, the family cabins found here are extremely popular and often require reservations be made several months in advance. For more on Indiana's new computerized camping reservations, visit the DNR's Web site at www.in.gov/dnr.

Because Potato Creek is located in the natural lakes region, Worster isn't the only lake visitors will find quality angling. After all, there are over 20 lakes and parks in addition to the St. Joseph River within fairly close distance. Many of these parks also offer other diversions to fill the day, such as bridle trails, biking trails, swimming area and nature preserves.

But outdoor activities aren't the only forms of recreation in the area. The large city of South Bend affords numerous forms of entertainment as well. From cultural programs to fun for the kids, South Bend is a great destination for August. Some of the highlights worth visiting include the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Studebaker Museum, Japanese Gardens, and of course, Indiana's Amish country. The added bonus to this area is the fact that Chicago is located an easy drive away.

For more information on the South Bend area, contact Potato Creek State Park at (219) 656-8186 or the South Bend Tourism Center at (800) 282-2330.

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