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Best-Bet Carolina Family Fishing Trips

Best-Bet Carolina Family Fishing Trips

Whether you are a novice or an experienced angler, with or without a boat, there are myriad opportunities for Tar Heel angling families.

By Mike Zlotnicki

"Daddy, take me fishing!" These words can be spoken by a precocious 5-year-old or a teenager. But some trips are better suited for various combinations of family members (or numbers).

For instance, on the saltwater side, it might be better to think bluefish instead of blue marlin; more action and less ocean for the younger set or weaker stomachs. The same goes for fresh water. Farm pond bass or delayed-harvest trout are more accessible and easier to catch than their counterparts in vast reservoirs or remote streams.

Starting west to east, we'll list some family-friendly destinations, situations and species from which to choose.


Mountain trout fishing has been labeled as a pursuit of the well-heeled angler, resplendent in his expensive gear and confident in his knowledge to fool the wily trout with bits of feathers and thread. Not that that's bad, but there are easier trout to be had.


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (828-497-5201) operates a put-and-take trout fishery on 30 miles of stream and three ponds located on Big Pond Road near the town of Cherokee. Brown, brook and rainbow trout are available for anglers, and the ponds are stocked twice per week.

A state fishing license is not needed to fish here, only a tribal fishing permit that starts at $7 per day (creel limit 10 fish) and can be purchased for longer periods. Children under 12 do not need a permit when fishing with adults holding a permit. The season runs from the last Saturday in March through the following February. Fish caught in the streams may be released, but fish caught in the ponds must be kept.

Bank-fishing for channel catfish at Community Fishing Program waters across North Carolina is a staple for many fishing families with young children. Photo by Mike Zlotnicki

Two businesses on the reservation rent fishing equipment: One Feather Fly & Tackle, (828) 497-3113 and the KOA campground, (828) 497-9711.

On a grander scale, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has 17 different waters comprising 52 miles of stream in the Delayed Harvest Program. In 2003, 220,000 keeper trout - 88,000 brookies, 44,000 browns and 88,000 rainbows - were stocked for Tar Heel anglers to catch.

Sam Register, a newspaper advertising director from Cary, got into the family fishing act at the behest of his wife.

"About three years ago, my wife said, 'You really need to take (son) Alex fishing.' So, she created two monsters at once."

Stone Mountain State Park became a favorite day-trip destination for Sam and Alex.

"We use fly rods and ultralight spinning outfits," said Sam. "We usually use nymphs on the fly rods and jigs and spinners on the spinning rods."

A 15-inch brown trout has been their biggest catch.

Delayed Harvest waters are stocked in the fall and spring, as opposed to the spring/summer schedule of Hatchery Supported waters, and the stockings are higher density. The Delayed Harvest streams are designated for harvest in early summer when much of the waters become too warm to support the fish. Delayed Harvest waters can only be fished with one-hook artificial lures until June 7, when these waters are open under the Hatchery Supported regulations, which have no bait restrictions, no minimum length and a seven-trout-per-day limit. The liberalization makes the Delayed Harvest waters ideal for family outings.


Any angler in the state can fish the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Community Fishing Program (CFP) waters, and these are tailor-made for families looking for freshwater action. Thirty lakes around the state are stocked with catchable-sized channel catfish (10 to 12 inches) on a regular basis from April through September. A bonus of the program is that families fishing in their home counties can fish with live (or cut) bait without having to buy a fishing license.

Most of the CFP waters are located in city- or county-owned parks, which offer some amenities like concessions and restrooms for family needs. Another is that the same ponds that harbor the stocked catfish awaiting the baits dangling beneath corks or resting on the bottom also can hold largemouth bass for Dad to try to fool.

The CFP program has its roots in Greensboro in the early '90s, where Roger Jones, a fish management supervisor for the commission, was looking for a way to improve urban fishing in area park and recreation lakes.

The first year, 9,000 channel catfish were released. In 2002, 175,000 were released. The fish are hatched at the Watha Hatchery near Wallace, where they grow 4 to 6 inches in size, then are moved to the McKinney Hatchery near Rockingham, where they are raised to the 10- to 12-inch stocking size.

In addition to serving recreational needs, the CFP program also assists a lot of local anglers looking for more than fun.

CFP waters are particularly inviting for family anglers for many reasons. Since many of the waters are in parks, the banks are regularly cleared of brush. Also, parks have amenities like concessions and restrooms, which can be important for family outings.

Tackle requirements can range from simple cane poles to simple spin-casting equipment. As for bait, it's hard to beat live worms, either purchased or dug up as part of a family "bait-hunting expedition." Live minnows are another good bet for a variety of fish. Commercially prepared stink baits work well for channel cats.

Some of the CFP ponds have electronic fish feeders that dispense commercial fish pellets, so smart anglers should target those.

A couple of Carolina-rigged baits on the bottom and a couple suspended beneath bobbers will cover the water column, and the bobbers are great for keeping a child's attention on fishing.

One bonus of the CFP sites is that some of them participate in the Fishing Tackle Loaner Program, which is available at 39 CFP sites in 23 counties. Operating much like a library, anglers of any age register at participating sites and receive an I.D. card, which allows them to check out a rod and reel. (Anglers under 18 must have a parent or guardian complete the form.) The rods are typically spin-cast outfits rigged with a hook, weight and bobber. Upon

returning the rod and reel to the site office, first-timers under 16 receive a mini-tackle box containing hooks, bobbers, sinkers and stringer.

For more information on the CFP and Loaner programs, go to www.


In addition to the Community Fishing Program waters, the NCWRC maintains many Public Fishing Access sites across the state at various lakes, rivers and streams. The commission clears brush for bank-fishing and builds fishing piers at the various sites, some of which are handicapped accessible with graveled or paved parking lots. In some areas, brushpiles or artificial fish attractors have been placed within casting distance, and panfish and catfish are the usual quarry. The commission's Web site has maps available with driving directions.


An often overlooked place for family fishing outings is the ubiquitous farm pond, or any local pond for that matter.

Sam Register is a big fan of small ponds.

"We go to two different ponds, one of which I grew up fishing in," he said. "Alex just loves getting out. Sometimes, he'll just quit fishing and catch creatures. When he's fishing, he prefers fishing with crickets and worms."

Securing permission for private waters can be easier when you knock on an owner's door with a towheaded youngster (or your wife) standing next to you. The promise to catch and release can help seal the deal. Asking the owner if they'd like some dressed fish or filets, especially sunfish, catfish or crappie, might be a good idea. Many ponds have largemouths stunted due to overpopulation, and removing a few may meet with the pond owner's approval.

One of the bonuses of fishing farm ponds is the trophy catches that are available. A "trophy" is different things to different people, especially small people like children. A 3-pound bass may not seem like much to a jaded adult, but to a 5-year-old it's a huge, huge fish.

Again, tackle needs are not complicated. But a bucket of medium-sized minnows fished on a No. 6 light wire hook underneath a bobber gives a child or spouse the chance at a lunker bass, crappie or catfish, while a tube of crickets fished on a No. 8 or 10 long-shank will tempt the resident panfish and make unhooking easier.

Patience is a virtue for parents when fishing with children.

"There are times I want Alex to catch fish, to do what I'm doing," Register said, "but sometimes you just have to let them do their own thing."

Remember that small waters can yield big treasures to youngsters, but the treasure is not always on the end of a hook.


By the time you read this, it will be winding down, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the annual striped bass spawning run on the Roanoke River.

May is the prime month for striper action, and the trip is tailor-made for boaters who are looking for some easy and fast fishing. Simply set up some bass tackle with Carolina rigs, buy some big shiners, put in at the ramp in Weldon and have at it. Catches of 100 a day are not unusual during peak times.

The fishing is as simple as lip-hooking the bait, dropping it to the bottom and hanging on. As June approaches, there can be a good topwater bite early and late, so Mom and Dad can cast lures while the kids await a bite on bait.

Special regulations affect the Roanoke at this time of the year, including the use of barbless hooks (plugs can have only one barbless hook on them). The harvest season will be over by now, and circle hooks are advised for bait-fishing.


Twenty-four piers jut out from the coast of North Carolina, and each one offers families some real possibilities for angling adventures. Hurricane Isabelle destroyed several piers on the northern Outer Banks, including Jennette's Pier, but most others are back in business.

"Piers offer a safe environment and a variety of fishing that you can't get anywhere else, and it's relatively inexpensive," said Dr. Richard Ehrenkaufer, a former nuclear chemist who retired to Emerald Isle. A surf and pier expert, Ehrenkaufer, who is also known as "Dr. Bogus" on his Web site ( and weekly local radio show, is a daily visitor to local piers.

"One of the most common mistakes is casting too far," he said. "Some of the best fishing is right around the pier pilings, and bodes well for children and spouses fishing for bottom dwellers."

Piers offer numerous advantages for families looking for fish. Number one, there are fish, even in June. Spring and fall are the best seasons, but there are still enough bluefish and bottom-feeders around to provide action, and also some Spanish mackerel for those adept at casting plugs and spoons.

The same tackle used at inland lakes can be used for a lot of pier fishing, and simple two-hook dropper rigs baited with fresh shrimp or mullet are pretty easy for beginners to rig and fish with. Squid is an option as it stays on the hook well, and bloodworms attract fish well. (Buy shrimp at a seafood market to ensure freshness and a snack for later if the fishing is slow.)

The amenities of pier fishing cannot be overlooked. Restrooms are nearby, food is available, tackle and bait are close at hand, and some pier houses even have video games and television if the fishing is slow.


The final easternmost possibilities for family fishing are the most expensive and perhaps the most exciting: hiring a guide or charter for an outing.

Capt. Ken Kramer of Southwind Guide Service runs inshore trips and also an offshore charter boat for bluewater species. His 35 years of experience have exposed him to all types of anglers, families included.

"Half-day trips trolling for bluefish and Spanish mackerel are good for families," he said. "Typically, the seas are smooth, you start fishing immediately (compared to offshore trips), there's a lot of action, and you're catching food fish.

"I do half-day trips for redfish in the summer, and that's a lot of fun for someone who's used to bass fishing," he added.

Bottom-fishing headboats are another possibility, and some operations will run fishing trips in protected waters in inlets or nearshore wrecks, but there is more travel time and the possibility of motion sickness.

The same goes for offshore charters, where the water can be rougher, there can be more downtime between strikes, and the cost is usually around $1,000 per trip, as opposed to $250 to $500 for something closer to shore.


ss, Kramer recommends asking a few questions before choosing a trip. What age would the captain/crew prefer to deal with? How many can go? How long is the trip? What are the options, species-wise? Is it catch-and-keep or catch-and-release?

From mountain streams to the Gulf Stream, no matter where you live in the Tar Heel State, there's a family fishing adventure just waiting for you. Grab a rod and go!

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