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Ohio's Best Family Fishing Vacations

Ohio's Best Family Fishing Vacations

Grab the fishing gear, binoculars and camera and pack up the family for an unforgettable Buckeye State vacation where great fishing is only the beginning. (June 2006)

Combining family fun with good fishing can be a real summer vacation challenge. Luckily, the Buckeye State has your vacation plans covered --with Lake Erie, 451 miles of the Ohio River, 40,000 miles of streams and over 200 lakes and innumerable ponds, all surrounded by countless family-focused activities.

Excellent fisheries for walleyes, stripers, smallmouth and largemouth bass, yellow perch, catfish, steelhead trout and more are just a cast away. Campgrounds and cabins are easy to find, and most come equipped with beaches, playgrounds and hiking trails to help while away those hot summer afternoons when the fishing slows down.

Ohio is home to great historical sites, quaint Amish settlements and a host of more modern entertainment options. Go stand inside a Big Muskie, if you dare. Take the kids to see the birthplace of American's 25th president, or tour the nation's largest nature conservancy. Learn how to play golf with a Frisbee, or to defy gravity at a skate park. Explore underground caverns, or unearth the wonderful world of chocolate. Swim in the world's largest "cement pond." Whatever you choose, it's all good family fun.

Travel leisurely by ferryboat or jet to your destination by catamaran. Take a hayride. Paddle a canoe. Cruise in a golf cart. Tour by tram, or bike the countryside. It doesn't matter how you travel -- just get here! There's tackle-busting action for anglers and days of family fun waiting you and yours in the Buckeye State.


Every angler knows that Lake Erie is considered the Walleye Capital of the World. What may come as news, however, is that in the past decade, smallmouth bass fishing in the lake has quadrupled, making Erie a rival for Smallmouth Capital of the World as well.

Smallies bite best in May, June, August and September, and are catch-and-release only for much of the May-June nesting season. It's not uncommon for Erie anglers to reel in smallmouth bass in the 4- to 6-pound range.


Walleyes are still the main attraction, and Erie's western basin provides year-round action. Catch rates in July and August generally exceed those for the rest of the year by about 30 percent, making this a great summer vacation fishing destination.

In addition to walleyes and smallmouths, anglers can expect hot yellow perch action, especially in the waters around Green and Rattlesnake islands, the Niagara Reef and C-can on the Lake Erie Firing Range. Yellow perch also concentrate along the shoreline in large numbers, making them a great family fishing target for anglers of all ages.

Erie is also a good fishery for channel catfish, steelhead trout and white bass. In season, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources provides up-to-date fishing reports at 1-888-HOOK-FISH.

Some of the best fishing is just off Erie's many islands, so setting up camp at an island get-away destination makes sense. South Bass Island State Park has a family campground with electric and non-electric sites, showers, a picnic shelter, launch ramp, fishing pier and a stone beach.

For more information, you can visit, or call 1-866-OHIO-PARKS.

If a "real room with a real bed" appeals more to some family members, check out East Point Cottages at (419) 285-2204. Bay House Rentals at (419) 465-3412 offers three-bedroom, two-bathroom rentals complete with deck and gas grill.

Daily passenger and auto transport to the island can be booked through the Miller Boat Line at 1-800-500-2421. Passengers may also find transportation from Port Clinton to downtown Put-in-Bay aboard the hydrojet catamarans of Jet Express at 1-800- 245-1538.

On South Bass Island, golf carts and bicycles are the primary mode of transportation and can be rented near the ferryboat docks or in the village. Taxis are available, and the Put-in-Bay Island Transportation Company's tour tram is a great way to see all the island sights.

There's plenty to do on the island when the family isn't fishing or peddling village lanes. More than 100 years of nautical heritage is on view at the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum. The 6,000-square-foot museum also has a video theater, and rates don't get much lower than $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. For more information, visit, or you can call (419) 285-2804.

Oak Point State Park on the northwestern tip of South Bass Island is a popular day-use park with a scenic picnic area, fishing access and overnight docking.

For families that like to explore, Perry's Cave descends 43 steps below the surface into a natural limestone cave with an underground lake and multiple rock formations.

Mine for gems and minerals, or do battle at the War of 18 Holes miniature golf course, built around a War of 1812 theme. After-hours lantern tours are also available by calling (419) 285-2405.

For all-around aquatic entertainment and more family fishing, visit the Put-in-Bay Aquatic Visitors Center. Learn more about this historic fish hatchery, Ohio's fishery resources and the many recreational fishing activities offered on Lake Erie. There are hands-on children's activities, and kids may fish off the dock with rods and bait provided by the museum. Call (419) 285-3701 for details.

For a unique shopping experience, stop by Del Sol, where all items -- T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, hair accessories, jewelry and more -- change color in sunlight. (Continued)

Or visit the Chocolate Café and Museum. Learn about the history and making of chocolate, or sample treats from the full espresso bar. Chocolate- themed cocktails are available at The Chocolate Bar. There are also lavish cheesecakes and ice cream treats, and a gift shop so that friends and family back home can sample the goodies.

For details, call (419) 734-7114 or visit


Noble County in the southeastern corner of the state can't help being a great fishing destination. Seneca Lake, near Kennonsburg, has cabin rentals, camping, swimming, boating, nature programs and fishing.

Seneca Lake is known for its excellent channel catfish, largemouth bass and crappie fishing. The lake also has good walleye, bluegill and striped bass action.

Call (740) 685-6013 for lake accommodations, or try Seneca Lake Cabins at (740) 685-2896 for a cabin near the Seneca Lake Dam.

Wolf Run Lake State Park has cabins and camping, swimming, hiking, boating (10 horsepower motor limit) and fishing. Wolf Run has excellent channel cat and trout fisheries, thanks to annual trout stocking. Anglers also stand a good chance of landing largemouth bass here. ReCreation Lands offers camping, hiking and fishing west of Caldwell. Call (740) 962-1205 for more information.

Don't be confused when you hear the locals refer to the "Big Muskie." The Big Muskie Bucket is the centerpiece of Miner's Memorial Park, 16 miles west of Caldwell. This enormous artifact fascinates visitors of all ages and has even been featured on the History Channel. Big Muskie is one of the seven engineering wonders of the world, and is the world's largest dragline. The bucket alone weighs 460,000 pounds and has a volume equal to that of a 12-car garage. Visit the "Big Muskie" section at to discover a Hidden Corridor, where visitors can still go inside the cab of Big Muskie and even read the inscriptions on the walls.

When you visit the big bucket, don't forget to get a photo of the family inside and the family car parked nearby, just for scale.

Animal lovers will want to go wild this summer. The Wilds is North America's largest conservation facility, with such unusual critters as giraffes and rhinos wandering the wooded lands. The Wilds is considered to be one of the Audubon Society's 17 most important bird areas in the country. There is a restaurant, a gift shop, educational displays and several special planned activities at the Wilds. Call (740) 638-5030 for information.

For more than 100,000 pieces of glassware, new and old, as well as an antique kitchen, antique guns, cream processors, desks, lamps, grandfather clocks, music boxes and more, visit the Baker Glass Museum and Antique Gallery near Historic Downtown Caldwell. For more information call (740) 732-6410.

For history on a larger scale, visit the valley crash site of the U.S.S. Shenandoah. This 680 foot-long airship was built to serve as a Navy weapons system, laboratory and scouting vessel. But the huge helium-filled vessel broke apart and crashed during the Noble County Fair, Sept. 3, 1925.

To arrange a self-guided tour, call (740) 732-2624. For more information and a tribute to the lost crew, visit

Other historical sites in the region include the first oil well in North America (the Thorndike-McKee), the Johnny Appleseed Memorial, the John Gray Memorial, St. Mary's Church of the Immaculate Conception, a number of covered bridges and historic downtown Caldwell. The historic jail, circa 1882, has been restored as a museum and visitor's center in Caldwell. The streets here are lined with old-fashioned streetlights, shops, restaurants and country stores.

Just one block away is the Ball-Caldwell House. Both buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Several festivals and events enrich the area each summer. The second weekend in June is time for Art on the Square in historic downtown Caldwell. This event showcases local crafters and artists. Live music, plenty of food and a children's corner with face painting, games and activities make this a great stop for everyone.

Daylong entertainment and activities, followed by evening fireworks, mark the nation's birthday every July 4 at the Noble County Fairgrounds. For three days in late July, the historic downtown area is filled with parades, games, rides, food concessions and other family fun. Visitors attending the Caldwell Fireman's Festival get to see fire trucks, antique cars, marching bands, floats and more.

Charming souvenir shops are easy to find in the Caldwell area. Find unique dolls and woodcrafts at Front Porch Primitives. Handmade bears and other gifts may be had at Sherida's Bears. Longarm quilting and quilting supplies are plentiful at Appalachian Quilts. There's even a blacksmithing shop -- T. G. McElfresh and Son, where cooking tripods, plant hangers, fireplace utensils and more are made.


Mosquito Lake State Park lies minutes from the Pennsylvania border in the northeast corner of the state. This great family destination offers camping, boating and hiking on a 7,850-acre lake, surrounded by 3,961 acres of state park lands.

Anglers here aim for walleyes, crappie, bass, northern pike and catfish. The campground offers a boat launch, a playground, swimming, basketball, and tent and RV sites.

For more information, log on to, or call (330) 637-2856.

There are several other campgrounds in the region including Willow Lake Park in Warren, which boasts the world's largest cemented, chlorinated swimming pool, bingo, bocce, a game room, horseshoes, a playground and weekend hayrides. Call (330) 847-8614 for details.

Or check out Paradise Lakes Family Campground in Bristolville. Boating, fishing, miniature golf, nature trails, paddleboats and swimming will keep the family busy. If not, attend the tractor-truck pulls or Bull-a-Rama Rodeos hosted by the campground. For more information, call (330) 889-3031.

Trumbull County is rated one of the top five sites in Ohio for viewing the endangered bald eagle. There are at least six nests in the Mosquito Lake Wildlife Preserve at the northern tip of the lake and nearby at Pymatuning Creek. The 7,000-acre preserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife with plenty of hiking trails. Call (330) 889-3280 for additional information.

West of Mosquito is the Grand River Wildlife Area where hiking, bird watching and fishing are available. In 1999 a Class A public shooting range was added, so your day's agenda could include a little target practice.

For more fishing action, head east along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border for the Shenango River Lake and Pymatuning Reservoir.

Family fun, from the historical to the hysterical, is easy to find as well. In Niles, birthplace of the country's 25th president, visit the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial and Library. Call (330) 652-1774 for hours.

Or hit "Millionaire's Row" in Warren, where stately circa-1800s mansions are open for guided tours. Learn about the anti-slavery movement at the Underground Railroad exhibit, where one of the most active Underground Railroad systems in the country once operated. For more information, call (330) 399-8807.

Pay a visit to the National Packard Museum to learn about the evolution of the Packard car, or stop by the World War II Vehicle Museum and Learning Center in Hubbard to see a collection of fully operational vehicles and an extensive collection of memorabilia from that his

toric era. Visit, or call (330) 534-8125 or

Amish country is just a short drive to the northwest corner of Trumbull County. A self-guided driving tour will take the family along the same roads the Amish travel by horse and buggy, past the farms that exhibit the modest lifestyle and strong work ethic of Amish folk. The End of the Commons General Store is one of Ohio's oldest operating general stores, offering penny candy and bulk foods. Quality Amish crafts can be found at Country Side Furnishings, Yoder's Furniture, Eli Miller's Harness Shop, the Middlefield Cheese House and Ohio Gifts.

Visit for more information about the Amish region.

For more modern family fun, there's Creekside Golf, a huge indoor driving range and entertainment facility in Girard. Or play indoor-outdoor baseball at Thunderplex. Visit, or call (330) 539-6186. Both places offer miniature golf ranges.

Another indoor possibility is Jester's Court, where laser tag and bowling are available. Pick up the pace with a visit to the New Sharon Speedway, a dirt-track course co-owned by Dave Blaney, NASCAR driver and Trumbull County native.

Take the kids to an old-fashioned drive-in movie at the Skyway Drive-In or the Elm Road Twin Drive-In. There are only 433 drive-ins left in the country, so if your family doesn't visit one soon, it could be too late!

The Skyway Drive-In can be reached at (330) 898-3059; contact the Elm Road Drive-In by calling (303) 372-9732.

At Alcraft Egg Artistry, the family can visit the only store in the eastern part of the country dedicated exclusively to the art of decorating Faberge-style eggs. Call (330) 448-1573 or visit for details.

For animal enthusiasts in the family, nothing will top a visit to Wagon Trails Animal Park, where horse-drawn wagon rides take guests through the 62-acre park for a glimpse of more than 300 animals from around the world. There are also a petting zoo, an aviary and a gift shop. Call (330) 539-4494 or visit

For a truly unusual round of golf, visit Young's Run Disc Golf Course in Champion Township. Disc golf is similar to traditional golf, except that Frisbees are used instead of clubs and balls, and special metal-basket assemblies serve as the "holes." Call (330) 675-2480.

Or take in a game at Cafaro Field in Niles. The state-of-the-art, 6,000-seat stadium is home to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a Cleveland Indians Class-A-affiliate team.

For more family fun just a short drive away, there's Six Flags in Aurora, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Keep an eye on the sky at the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University, or in Austintown, get airborne at the Gravity House Extreme Skate Park.

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