Our Best Family Fishing Vacation Getaways

New York boasts some of the best combination fishing-holiday destinations in the Northeast, and options abound that are sure to please vacationers of all ages. Here's a sampling of best bets to consider in 2004.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By J. Michael Kelly

Depending on the attitude of spouse and kids, a dedicated angler might be delighted or full of dread at the prospect of an upcoming vacation. Let's face it, the family tags along on most summer getaways, and if Dad hopes to squeeze a few hours of fishing into the itinerary, he'd better make sure that Mom and the kids get their rightful share of quality time, too.

In some states, finding a productive lake or stream near swimming beaches, amusement parks and other diversions for non-fishing relatives is a daunting challenge. Here in New York, however, fishing hotspots and popular tourist attractions often are within walking distance of each other. Any Empire State angler with an ounce of organizational skills should be able to draft a travel game plan that satisfies the entire family.

To get Game & Fish readers started, here's a roundup of some our state's best family fishing destinations:

It's amazing to think how many anglers whiz by the Mohawk River, via the New York State Thruway without stopping to make a few casts. That part of the river between St. Johnsville and Schenectady, which doubles as a segment of the Barge Canal, happens to ripple with smallmouth bass, walleyes, catfish, sunfish and tiger muskellunge.

You'll feel like kicking off your shoes, Huck Finn-style, if you fish from shore near Lock 9 at Rotterdam, as many local anglers do. Alternately, you could float a boat at one of the nine public launches in Montgomery and Schenectady counties.

The location of these launches, and how to negotiate the canal locks in between, can be gleaned from the Lower Mohawk River Fishing Guide, a free pamphlet available from the Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 4 fisheries office, (607) 652-7366.

The Mohawk also flows through history, and one should not leave the valley without sampling its heritage. One of the more compelling museums in the area is at the National Shrine of North American Martyrs in Auriesville. Of course, save time for a side trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, about an hour's drive from St. Johnsville.

Arrowhead Marina and RV Park at (518) 382-8966, east of Amsterdam, is a good place to stay on the river. For a brochure listing other lodging possibilities, call the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce at (518) 842-8200.

Warren County, about an hour north of Saratoga Springs via state Route 9, is one of New York's busiest vacation destinations, thanks mainly to Lake George, a classic two-story lake full of bass, pike and panfish in its shallows and teeming with lake trout and landlocked salmon at downrigger depths. It's a lunker lair, too, with photos of 5-pound smallmouths and even larger trout and salmon dotting the bulletin boards at local tackle shops.

In order to connect with such fish, a summer visitor must negotiate a couple of hurdles. First, there's a modest fee (depending on boat size, but generally under $25) for a launching permit. The money, payable at local marinas, goes into a fund that the Lake George Park Commission uses for its environmental programs.

More of an annoyance, perhaps, is the heavy boat traffic on the lake during the summer vacation period. Take heart in the fact that Lake George covers more than 28,000 surface acres. You can find a quiet cove if you look hard enough.

Nor is there any shortage of things for non-fishing family members to do in the region. Vacationers headquartered in or near Lake George Village can hike, swim, shoot a round of golf or go horseback riding at a local dude ranch. Those who simply wish to relax might plop down in a folding chair at the DEC's Rogers Rock campsite at the north end of the lake.

Area accommodations and activities are spelled out in brochures published by the Warren County Tourism office at (518) 761-6366. When you call, be sure to ask for a copy of the Grand Slam Fishing booklet.

The Franklin County village of Saranac Lake is conveniently located amid some of the Adirondack region's most enticing fisheries. The list of nearby gems starts with the still waters in the Saranac chain: Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac lakes. Each has superb angling for bass, pike and panfish. Then there's pretty Lake Flower, in the middle of the village, which offers pike and bass in abundance despite heavy summer boat traffic. How about Oseetah and Kiwassa lakes, which are interconnected with the Saranac chain through canals and flowages? Or consider the many brook trout-stocked ponds located northwest of the village.

A family that pitches a tent at the DEC's Saranac Lake Islands campsite will be in the heart of the action. The campground is off Route 3 about three miles southwest of the village.

When the fish aren't biting, you might go hiking, play a round of golf, or take the little ones to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole in nearby Wilmington.

The Franklin County Tourism office, at (518) 483-6788, can help you find non-camping accommodations.

Your kids won't have to ask what they can do for fun while you go fishing near the Herkimer County village of Old Forge. The Enchanted Forest amusement water slides are plainly visible along Route 28, the town's main street. Other entertaining attractions in the area include the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake and train rides on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. You can get brochures by contacting the Old Forge Tourist Information Center at (315) 369-6983.

The fishing in the Old Forge area is amazingly diverse, for the village is perched at the western end of the Fulton Chain of Lakes. Each of those bodies of water, which are consecutively named First Lake, Second Lake, Third Lake and so on, holds a healthy mix of game fish and panfish species. The most productive fishing holes in the chain are Fourth Lake and Seventh Lake. Fourth Lake boasts of five different salmonids - landlocked salmon, brook, brown, lake and rainbow trout - and also offers vacationers the prospect of excellent largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing. Seventh Lake also holds plenty of bass, along with rainbows, lakers, landlocks and splake (brookie-laker hybrids).

State boat launches along Route 28 make Fourt

h and Seventh Lake a breeze to access, and the Old Forge KOA campground, at (315) 369-6011, is a perfect place to park a trailer.

Sick of crowded, big-name waters? Take the cure with a leisurely exploration of the Indian River lakes in northeastern Jefferson and western St. Lawrence counties.

The 16 of the 18 lakes that are open to the public have thriving populations of game fish, but tend to be overlooked by vacationers because of their proximity to the better-known upper St. Lawrence River and eastern Lake Ontario. The only one that sustains heavy fishing pressure is Black Lake, which, at 10,000 acres, is big enough to take it.

The rest of the lakes in the chain vary from 115 to 1,050 acres. All of these fishing holes are within a few minutes' drive of Interstate 81.

Lake of the Woods, Sixberry and Millsite lakes are deep enough to sustain some big lake trout. Butterfield, Crystal, Red, Clear, Grass and Pleasant lakes all have smallmouths in good numbers, plus some jumbo yellow perch; while Black, Mud, Muskellunge, Yellow, Hyde, Moon and Payne lakes feature fishing for largemouths and northern pike.

A DEC Region 6 booklet, Guide to Fishing Indian River Lakes, features contour maps for the entire chain, along with a rather sketchy map of access sites. Call the agency's Watertown office at (315) 785-2261 to obtain a copy.

Family activities in the vicinity include a trip to Watertown's Thompson Park Zoo, a St. Lawrence boat cruise and pie- and quilt-buying expeditions to local Amish farms.

Several state campgrounds are scattered along Route 12 between Clayton and Morristown. For a list of accommodations closer to the Indian Lakes system, contact the 1000 Islands-Clayton Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 252-9806.

Last year was one of the best yet for Oneida Lake anglers. Among lake regulars, catches of 10 to 20 walleyes a day were routine throughout the season, although a majority of those fish fell just short of the lake's 18-inch minimum creel size. On the rare days when walleyes weren't biting, the bass usually cooperated.

Oneida's growing reputation as a bass factory was enhanced in early October during a storm-abbreviated two-day tournament on the lake. The winning catch consisted of 10 smallmouths with a combined weight of 32 pounds, 9 ounces.

Vacationers can easily get in on the action because Oneida Lake is one of the most accessible bodies of water in the state. It is about 15 miles north of Syracuse via Interstate 81 and has three state boat launches and more than two dozen fee marinas around its 54.7 miles of shoreline.

Camping is available at the Ta-Ga-Soke campgrounds, at (800) 831-1744, which is about 2 1/2 miles from the lakeshore village of Sylvan Beach.

Family members who tire of fishing Oneida can take side trips to the Boxing Hall of Fame in nearby Canastota, the Burnet Park Zoo in Syracuse, and the Fort Stanwix living-history museum in Rome.

Either the Oswego County Tourism office at (315) 349-8322 or the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce at (315) 470-1800 can point readers to other area attractions.

The deepest body of water in the Finger Lakes chain, Seneca Lake stretches south from U.S. Route 20 at Geneva. Like Lake George, Seneca Lake has abundant bass, northern pike and panfish in its shallows and lake trout, rainbow trout and brown trout in its cooler depths.

Vacationing anglers can rig downriggers for Seneca's trout, cast jigs or spinnerbaits for bass and pike, or drift with minnows to collect a bucket of jumbo jack perch and pumpkinseed sunfish. Bank-fishing can be astonishingly good at either Sampson State Park on the east shore or at the Watkins Glen at the lake's south end.

Between casts, tourist attractions in the vicinity of the lake include the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which is a few miles east of the lake via Route 20, the National Women's Hall of Fame at nearby Seneca Falls, and the Watkins Glen racetrack. An added enticement is the presence of more than two-dozen wineries overlooking the lake.

Anglers may park a trailer (and launch a trailered boat) at Sampson State Park or book one of the many motels or bed and breakfasts in and around Geneva. For more specific information on lodging alternatives, readers should contact the Finger Lakes Association at (800) 530-7488.

Picture crystal-clear pools dimpled by rising trout, shimmering below a cloak of mist on a summer morn. That vision is more than a daydream on Oatka Creek and its major tributary, Spring Creek, which serve as graduate schools for hatch-matching anglers.

Spring Creek glides through the grounds of the state trout hatchery in Caledonia. Anglers may fish within the hatchery grounds from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily using flies or lures only. The limit from April 1 through Oct. 15 is two trout of 12 inches or better per day, but casual vacationers shouldn't plan on catching their supper. The stream's beautiful browns and brookies are plainly visible throughout the hatchery stretch of the creek, but they're wild and difficult to fool.

The fishing is a little easier, but still challenging, in the stretch of Oatka Creek between Mumford and Scottsville. Oatka is justly known for its brown trout, and 20-inchers can be seen finning in some of its deeper pools.

These are not the type of streams beloved by small children, but fortunately there are plenty of family attractions nearby to fill the time between mayfly hatches.

For starters, plan an outing at the Genesee Country Village. That living-history exhibit features old barns, churches, stores and houses gathered from points throughout the state.

Brochures on other area diversions are available from the Greater Rochester Visitors Association at (800) 843-3394.

Accommodations in the vicinity of Spring and Oatka creeks include the Genesee Country Campground at (585) 538-4200, which is about two miles west of Caledonia on Flint Hill Road.

If you like the idea of float-fishing from a canoe for bass and walleyes, consider a vacation in the Chemung River valley.

The Chemung winds through Corning, Elmira and Waverly in Steuben and Chemung counties. It's about 100 feet across in most places, with plenty of deep bends and shady bridge pools.

Always a good spot to fish from the bank, the river has become increasingly popular with canoeists in recent years, thanks to the development of the Chemung Basin River Trail by local governments in coopera

tion with the DEC Region 8 fisheries staff.

At last look, the trail featured 11 designated public access sites with more in the planning stages. It begins at Kinsella Park in Corning and ends at White Wagon Road (county Route 56) in South Waverly, a distance of approximately 40 miles. Launch spots are pinpointed on a map available from the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board in Painted Post at (607) 962-5092.

Although a 15-pound, 3-ounce Chemung walleye caught in the early 1950s held the state record for that species for more than 40 years, modern anglers can reasonably hope for consistent catches of 1- to 4-pounders. The river also holds plenty of 10- to 16-inch smallmouth bass. Rock bass are common, too.

One campground close to the river trail is Ferenbaugh Campsites, (607) 962-6193. It's about 4 1/2 miles northeast of Corning on Route 414.

Family attractions around the Chemung valley include the Corning Glass Center, several wineries in Hammondsport, the National Soaring Museum and the Watkins Glen racetrack.

For more information, try the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau at (800) 284-3352.

One of the more diverse family-style fishing spots in the state is Allegany State Park, which sprawls over 65,000 acres in Cattaraugus County. Along with 28 small trout streams, park visitors will find several manmade lakes that sustain abundant populations of panfish and bass.

"Quaker Lake and Red House Lake have some nice bass in them, both largemouths and smallmouths," said Paul McKeown, the DEC's Region 9 fisheries manager. "And, because boaters using the lakes are limited to electric motors only, those fish don't get hit all that hard."

Both Quaker and Red House Lake, which span 270 and 90 acres, respectively, also hold decent populations of brown and rainbow trout. Canoes and rowboats are available for rental.

The park's 28 trout streams include five stocked waters - Quaker Run, Red House Brook, Beehunter Creek, Bay State Brook and Rice Brook. Other streams, including some that can be cleared with a standing broad jump (assuming you're still young enough to perform one!), hold native fish that seldom measure more than 8 inches long.

Before wetting a line in any of these spots, anglers must obtain a free fishing permit from the park office, which is at Red House, about two miles south of Exit 19 from U.S. Route 86.

Allegany State Park has more than 485 tent and trailer sites, but is so popular that officials recommend that reservations for summer weekends be made months in advance. For details, call the park office at (716) 354-9101.

Swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, hiking and playgrounds are among the diversions inside the park. Nearby attractions include the Seneca-Iroquois Indian National Museum in Salamanca

For information on lodging outside of the park, readers may contact the Cattaraugus County Tourism office at (800) 331-0543.

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