Remember when your parents loaded up the station wagon and took the family on a summer vacation? Times have changed, but it's still your job to carry on the tradition. Plus you can even get in some fishing at these destinations.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
It's hard to say when the transition took place because it was an evolutionary process.
The shift from a focus on just fishing to developing a setting that encompasses other activities didn't just spring upon us, but slowly adapted to compensate for the changes that the family unit required to maintain the customer base. Resorts that catered to the fishing-only crowd found that adding some video games and touting their close proximity to hiking trails and golf courses could generate interest in families who wanted more options. Toss in a children's program and some nearby shopping opportunities, and the something-for-everyone resort became the status quo. There's still a huge benefit to being on a body of water that affords anglers the ability to "bring home the bacon," but when it comes to shopping for the best family fishing getaway, there needs to be an adequate array of options or your family's interest will be limited.
I may have just hit 50 years on this planet, but I can still remember my Dad, my Mom, the other seven siblings and the necessities to keep us moderately amused on the trip packed into the old station wagon and headed up to the Alexandria area for a week of fishing at one of the resorts on Lake Mary. All of the luggage was strategically tied to the roof of the car, and if nature called for one of us kids before Dad was ready to gas up, we were handed an empty milk bottle. It was just one of the minor inconveniences that we incurred on our annual road trip on the summer vacation.
My parents would still be checking into the resort and us kids would be down on the shoreline chasing frogs or skipping rocks. We weren't allowed into the resort's store unless we were with Mom, so the dock became the next best place to hang out. It seemed like forever before Dad had the boat ready so we could get out and catch some walleyes and pike. Fortunately for me I was the second born so I was at the top of the list to get out on the maiden voyage.
Dad would fish from early morning until sundown, and when we weren't part of the group in the boat we amused ourselves by fishing off the dock or by catching frogs, which we used for bait, and harassing Mom to buy us treats at the store. It was a big deal when I finally got old enough to take a rowboat with no motor out with a couple of the other brothers because then we could fish all day from a boat -- and we did!
On one of my recent trips to a resort with my brother-in-law and his three small kids I noticed that the store has now become the game room, and the kids just come and go as they please. Quarter-eating video games get a lot of play. The next best place to hang out was the big floating trampoline just out from the beach. The only people hanging out on the docks were the grizzled old anglers (ourselves) who were swapping potential hotspots. Our wives spent quite a bit of time shopping for antiques and visiting local specialty shops, which meant us anglers had to take time out from our fishing schedule to watch the kids play on the trampoline.
Is this a bad thing? Not at all! Having a lot of options on a vacation is a great thing because then everyone has fun and will want to come back for more. We had plenty of time to fish and take boat rides, and when everyone was packing up to go home, there was a hint of remorse that the week was ending, and the entire group -- kids included -- was already anticipating the following year's vacation. That's how a great family fishing vacation is supposed to end.
Let's look at some destinations where you could find the getaway that will have you counting down the next 51 weeks, yearning for that time when you load up the spouse, the kids and the necessities to keep everyone moderately amused on that once-a-year trip for some sun and fun.
Lakecrest Resort is a full-service family fishing resort with 17 units on 360-acre spring-fed Long Lake by Detroit Lakes. The lake is well developed, so it gets a lot of attention in the summer months, but it's a great place to take the family because it's what I call a family-friendly lake. There are a lot of small bluegills and northern pike in this lake, so the young anglers will never be without some action. There's also a respectable population of walleyes that are decent-sized for serious anglers.
For the golfers, Detroit Lakes has nine championship golf courses, so your hardest decision will be which course to play. Lakecrest has worked out discount programs at several local courses to make it even easier to enjoy Detroit Lakes golf.
Lakecrest has 500 feet of sand beach, and the water quality of this lake is excellent. The town of Detroit Lakes is always catering to visitors with some event going on, and if you schedule your vacations for early August, you can attend WE Fest, one of the country's biggest outdoor country music concerts.
For more information, visit Lakecrest Resort's Web site at
Lake Vermilion up by Tower is just big enough that there doesn't seem to be many people using the lake, even when there is. One of the prettiest resorts on the lake is Everett Bay Lodge. The anglers will like it here because the fishing is always good. If the walleyes don't bite, go chase the smallmouths up on the docks and rocks. If the smallies aren't accommodating, then hit the weedbeds for some largemouth bass and muskie action.
Everett Bay has something a lot of resorts don't, like an outdoor pool. With all that water in the lake, why a pool? Maybe it's because of the muskies, but more likely it's because people like clean, chlorinated water surrounded by concrete. It's a popular spot at this resort.
What about the non-anglers in the crowd? The resort is next door to Minnesota's first and richest underground ore mines, which is actually a great family tour. Pop up to Ely and visit the International Wolf Center. If you like slot machines and blackjack, check out Fortune Bay Casino, which has also opened a great 18-hole golf course called The Wilderness.
For more information, visit Everett Bay Lodge's Web site at
Moose Lake north of Cass Lake is an easy lake to fish. It's only 600 acres, so you can learn it in a day. There are plenty of walleyes, bass, pike. A lot of panfish, too. It's a clearwater lake, so some anglers find it a little tougher to fish
. But there are plenty of spots and something is always biting, so don't be too particular about what you catch and you'll have fun.
Gamblers will like being close to the Cass Lake casino, and those who like to be in close proximity to a larger town can always head west to Bemidji. If you've never been to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, then that's a trip worth taking. Hikers have many options since there are miles of trails in the nearby woods.
Paradise Resort is a great vacation option. The resort has a big sand beach, paddle bikes and you can spend the afternoon on a tournament-sized volleyball court or enjoy a cool drink while pitching horseshoes. The cabins are right on the water and very comfortable.
For more information, visit their Web site at
Nest Lake outside of Spicer is one of my favorite fishing lakes, probably because I like catching smallmouth bass, and there are a lot of them there. I also like catching largemouths, walleyes, big crappies and bluegills, and there's no shortage of these either. A lot of vegetation, some quality structure and the lake is less than 1,000 acres, so you can find some good fishing spots real quickly.
A great resort on Nest Lake is Island View, which has a nice beach, comfortable cabins, and they'll let you bring your dog if he doesn't bark much or bite. Most resorts have a no-pet policy these days, so one where you can bring your best friend is hard to come by.
With your cabin you get the boats, the grill, the wood for the campfire and all kinds of other stuff, too. It's nice when you don't have to be surprised by a bunch of hidden charges at the end of the trip. That won't happen at Island View.
For more information, visit their Web site at
As far as I'm concerned, the best fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is out of Ely. The lakes in this neck of the woods are loaded with walleyes, big pike, smallmouth bass and you even stumble into the monster bluegills and crappies at times. One of the drawbacks to a trip to the BWCAW with family is the packing and portaging. It's not a fun thing to do with younger kids, and there's not a lot for them to do when limited to a wilderness campsite on a lake.
Moose Lake north of Cass Lake is an easy lake to fish. It's only 600 acres, so you can learn it in a day. There are plenty of walleyes, bass and pike. A lot of panfish, too. It's a clearwater lake, so some anglers find it a little tougher to fish. But there are plenty of spots and something is always biting, so don't be too particular about what you catch and you'll have fun.
There is one way to enjoy what this area has to offer and not have to deal with the arduous task of a canoe-camping trip. Set up a base camp at one of the campgrounds or resorts just outside the BWCAW and make day trips into the Boundary Waters, or just enjoy the lake you're on.
The campground on Fall Lake is a great option, and the fishing on this body of water is great. You can easily portage into Basswood Lake where the fishing is second to none. Another nice camping spot is on Fenske Lake off the Echo Trail, with access to some wilderness locations from there.
If camping doesn't suit you, try one of the great resorts in the area. There are resorts that are on lakes that have direct access to the BWCAW or you can set up your stay at a resort that features all the amenities you need and take a day or two to explore the wilderness when the weather is pleasant.
For more information, check out Ely's Web site at
MISSISSIPPI RIVER BY BRAINERD
There are thousands of people who visit the Brainerd Lakes area each year for vacation. There's a lot for the family to do there, and the lakes in the region are touted as some of the best fishing spots in Minnesota. Few people think of Brainerd as a great location to go hang out on the Mississippi River, but they should. That section of the Mississippi has some of the finest fishing and is one of the most beautiful areas you will ever visit.
The resort that can accommodate your Mississippi River vacation near Brainerd is the Rugged River Resort. Once a logging camp, the resort is backed by 120 acres of unspoiled northwoods and fronted by more than 20 miles of slow moving overflows of the Mississippi River. The resort is only 1 1/2 miles from the Paul Bunyan biking, hiking and snowmobile trail, and you have the option of a cabin or camping at the campground or RV park. Pets are welcome there.
For more information, visit Rugged River's Web site at
OTTER TAIL LAKE
There are some families who just want to fish, and they want to fish for walleyes. And they want to fish walleyes on lakes that have that classic walleye structure -- sunken islands, sandbars, long-tapering points and rockpiles. There's no better lake for this than Otter Tail Lake. It's a big one at more than 13,000 acres and it's loaded with structure, but it's a lake that's also loaded with walleyes, and they can be caught.
A great deal of a resort on Otter Tail is Three Seasons Lodge. The cabins are comfortable, the location is perfect and if someone in the boat just can't take the strain of an entire day on the water chasing walleyes, there are plenty of other options. The lodge has a game room, there's a nice sand beach and this big lake is surrounded by many quaint communities that can take a couple of days of shopping to fit it all in.
For more information, check out Three Seasons Lodge's Web site at
LAKE SUPERIOR BY GRAND MARAIS
When I take a trip to Lake Superior's Grand Marais area I strap a canoe on the top of the truck, pull my 14-foot fishing boat with the 20-horsepower motor and book a charter trip for at least one day, maybe two, on Lake Superior. This way I can fish some of the BWCAW lakes in the area in my canoe, hit some of the lakes outside the BWCAW in the motorboat and get to chase some salmon and lake trout on the biggest lake in the world.
Plus there are actually a lot of other family options in this out-of-the-way place, such as hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail, shopping all along the North Shore from Duluth on up to Grand Marais, and Lutsen has one of the finest golf courses in our state.
Few people think of Brainerd as a great location to go hang
out on the Mississippi River, but they should. That section of the Mississippi has some of the finest fishing and is one of the most beautiful areas you will ever visit.
If you're taking the entire family, make a call to Thomsonite Beach Inn and Suites. This cozy camp is right on the shores of Lake Superior and makes a perfect base for all the exploring and fishing you're going to be doing in the region.
For more information visit their Web site at
The kids will love you if you take them to Ruttger's on Bay Lake. There's not a minute in the day when they can't be doing something with all the activities available to them there as part of Kids Kamp. There's a beautiful golf course at the resort that is guaranteed to eat a few of your errant golf balls, so take some extra ones along.
The fishing on Bay Lake can be great for bass and pike. Walleye anglers might have to work for a limit, but they can be found by working the deep edges of the humps during lowlight periods with a bottom-bouncer/spinner setup. Use shiner minnows when you can find them or medium suckers. If you're hooking pike, move deeper. Bass anglers will have a great time on this lake. Work the milfoil beds with jigs and you can catch largemouths all day long.
Ruttgers is the granddaddy of Minnesota resorts, having started operations in 1898 and slowly but steadily expanding the operation. Their popularity is derived from the satisfaction of their steady stream of returning customers, a testament to the great service and fun you find there.
For more information, visit the Ruttger's Web site at
The perfect vacation is often defined by how well the weather held up, how good the fishing was and how straight the ball went down the fairway. But when you find yourself in a resort that suits your tastes and keeps the kids occupied, the week always winds up ending too quickly. Such is the case of the vacation week. They're never long enough and there's too much time in between them, so enjoy it while you can.