When vacation time rolls around at your house, why not check out a few of these family-friendly fishing destinations? (June 2006)
One Sunday after church, my wife and I decided to go to the creek for the afternoon. When we told our 10-year-old daughter, she got this death-scene look on her overly dramatic little face, and announced that she didn't want to go.
"I don't like to fish," she added.
That particular Central Texas creek looks like it came off a calendar picture. Clear water crashes over large boulders and falls a couple of feet into a pristine pool below. You can see the bottom, and a number of perch -- now and then a bass or a turtle. Cottonwood trees surround the creek and reach to the sky, providing ample shade. There's always a belted kingfisher screeching at you, and usually a cardinal calling in the woods nearby. Occasionally a rabbit or a deer shows itself. Oddly, there usually are no other people there.
My point: There's often a lot more to do around water than just fish. I'm not sure my wife and I even took fishing poles that afternoon. We just wanted to be, and that was a good place to do it.
Our daughter, a voracious reader, could have found plenty to do. Everybody needs to get off the couch or from in front of the computer or television and get outside. I've written thousands of words sitting by the creek, listening to nature and the sounds of my own mind, freed from the uncivil clash of civilization.
That's what this article is about: finding things for the whole family to do on a vacation that revolves around fishing. It's easy to do.
That sassy little 10-year-old has now grown up and catches more fish than I do -- including chalking up several 28-inch-class redfish to her credit. But she still takes a book or two, and often combines other activities with her fishing.
You can, too.
Before I get into deep water by omitting Texas' hottest lake and best-known frontier tourist attraction, let me explain why this article won't cover Lake Alan Henry and the Big Bend area to any great extent. Both are in West Texas -- which I dearly love. But Bob Hope once described that part of the world as "miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles." On a family vacation, don't head west unless you are prepared for a lot of "Are we there, yet, Mommy?" And once in the Big Bend, about the only fishing you can expect is catfishing in the Rio Grande.
Alan Henry lies where the Rolling Plains of Texas meet the Panhandle. It's a hot bass lake, to be sure, but it may not be the ideal family vacation destination for folks living east of Interstate 35. If there's anything in Lubbock or Amarillo that attracts you -- like Palo Duro Canyon -- include a side trip to the lake. If you're taking the family to the mountains in New Mexico or Colorado, it'd be a good West Texas stopover. Otherwise, not a lot of tourist attractions seem to be on offer between Snyder and Post.
Looking at the most visited tourist attractions in Texas, all roads must lead to San Antonio. Five of the state's top 10 most-visited venues in the state are there: the Alamo (No. 1), River Walk (No. 2), Sea World (No. 6), Six Flags Fiesta Texas (No. 8) and the San Antonio Zoo (No. 9). A new Bass Pro Shops opens in October across the road from Fiesta Texas. The kids love the amusement parks, and standing in line for rides builds character for those who claim they lack the patience to fish.
Head north on I-35 and you go through New Braunfels, home of Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, Texas' 15th most-visited site. Continuing on 35 North, you pass the San Marcos Outlet Malls, the No. 4 attraction. Thirty miles farther is Austin, with the state Capitol (No. 7 attraction), the Bob Bullock State History Center (grossly underrated at No. 24), the LBJ Library (No. 27), and unranked attractions such as Barton Springs and the new Cabela's store. If you can't build a fishing/sight-seeing vacation around these varied choices, you must be easily bored.
Water-wise, San Antonio's got the goods: It's all over the place. Just to the south of town are two power-plant lakes, Braunig and Calaveras. Both are excellent for catching freshwater redfish, hybrid stripers and catfish. Jeff Snyder of Southwest Fishing Charters -- (210) 383-1119 -- expects this to be an exceptional year for hybrids and reds. A bit farther south is Choke Canyon Reservoir.
Swinging around to the northwest is Medina Lake and some gorgeous country. The longest-standing state record for largemouth bass came out of Medina and stood up until Florida bass were stocked in our waters. But maybe there's another one lurking there. If not, there's fun fishing for goggle-eyes.
Just northwest of Medina Lake is Bandera, the dude ranch capital of Texas, if not the world. Local ranches offer full-service Western vacations. One of my favorite small-venue fishing getaways is nearby. The folks at Cool Water Acres -- (830) 796-4866 -- have a cabin overlooking their 7-acre lake. They provide fresh fruit, yard eggs, a couple of small boats from which to fish, 54 acres to roam, a waterfall, solitude and a dog to pet.
The scenic Guadalupe River flows into Canyon Lake north of San Antonio and west of New Braunfels. True, this is a popular tubing and rafting stream, but if you get there before the waterborne beer bust begins, there's good fishing for smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch and catfish. The lake offers the same.
Below Canyon, the Guadalupe becomes Texas' No. 1 trout stream. Heavily stocked during the winter, it sees some fish make it through the summer heat in the cold water. Trout Unlimited has also stocked larger fish in the nine miles below the dam. There are special regulations for them, however, so consult the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Outdoor Annual for specifics. There's more tubing in this lower stretch, too.
Have a meal in Gruene overlooking the river and hit the antique shops. Below New Braunfels, the Guadalupe widens and flows into several Lowland Lakes (as opposed to the Highland Lakes) near Seguin that offer fine bass fishing east of San Antonio.
A 90-minute drive northwest of San Antonio lies Fredericksburg, known for authentic German architecture, food and shopping. And to the west are the Frio and Nueces river canyons. There are a number of resorts in the Concan area, as well as the highly popular Garner State Park. The fishing is stream-fishing, and the fish you'll catch are small, feisty bass and perch. Aaron Riggings -- (830) 486-5629 -- guides fly-fishing and conventional-tackle trips on several of the clear-water streams for which the Hill Country is famous.
The Highland Lakes chain starts nor
thwest of Austin with Lake Buchanan and meanders down through lakes Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis, and Austin and Town Lake. Each has its own mystique and its own brand of fishing. The upper four are famous for striped bass and white bass, Austin is the best largemouth lake on the Colorado River, and Town Lake offers T-shirt reading along the lakeside trail and quiet fishing for bass and perch in sight of downtown. Only trolling motors are allowed on Town Lake. Recreational boaters and skiers can be a problem to fishermen on Austin.
The Dallas/Fort Worth area is characterized by commerce and by cultural entertainment. But it's known to kids of all ages as the place where Texas amusement parks originated -- Arlington's Six Flags Over Texas. The five Texas Six Flags parks rank third in popularity with vacationers.
Arlington also offers the opportunity to be a military pilot in a flight simulator (Air Combat), drive a Desert Storm combat tank (Funsphere) and get wet and wild at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor water park. Both Dallas and Fort Worth have zoos and aquariums and Fort Worth has the Stockyards National Historic District. I'm ever thankful that when I went to Billy Bob's in the Stockyards, the mechanical bull was broken. Or I might have been.
Sports rank high in the Metroplex, and Ameriquest Field in Arlington is a must-stop destination for baseball fans when the Rangers are in town. Racing fans will want to catch the action at Texas Motor Speedway. And there's a Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine. Lots to see and do.
And there's lots of water!
How do I fish thee? Let me count the lakes: Granbury, Squaw Creek, Worth, Eagle Mountain, Benbrook, Grapevine, Lewisville, Lavon, Ray Hubbard, Mountain Creek, Joe Pool, Arlington -- and these are all within a short drive from Arlington. Joe Pool is right down the road from Six Flags. Lewisville was selected as the site of a B.A.S.S. tournament last year -- and they don't choose fished-out losers.
A little to the north, but still within reach, is Lake Ray Roberts. To the southeast are Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers. Due east is Tawakoni and farther east is the famed Lake Fork, which has produced 34 of the top 50 largemouths ever caught in Texas, including our last two state-record fish.
If you tow your boat to Fork on weekends, though, take along any patience you acquired while waiting in line at Six Flags: You'll need it at the ramp. Weekdays are less congested.
Don't forget the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, south of Dallas! Just seeing the fish in the floor-to-ceiling aquarium is spectacular, but they also have dive shows and tours of the hatchery. And you can fish in stocked ponds for trout and catfish -- rods and reels furnished. It's catch-and-release fishing, of course.
If you want a metropolitan taste to your vacation, Houston has it. There are museums, concert halls, The Galleria (fourth-largest mall in America), the Space Center, the Houston Zoo, Six Flags Astroworld, a Bass Pro Shops in Katy, a new Gander Mountain store and Minute Maid Park, home field of the Astros. A fan last June wrote, "The Astros aren't doing so well but the games are still great to go to." That was then. The team got better, and came heartbreakingly close to bringing home a world championship. Expectations will be high this year; tickets will be, too.
The best thing about fishing during a vacation to Houston is that Texas' largest city is close to Galveston. And Galveston is a destination itself. Texas Highways magazine ranks it the No. 5 tourist destination behind San Antonio, the Hill Country, Big Bend and South Padre Island. The charm of Galveston's storied past lives on as you drive down Broadway and gaze at the historic mansions that have weathered so many storms. Reports of damage from the most recent one -- Rita -- were exaggerated, and relatively little damage was inflicted on the historic Strand district, which was the heart of Galveston in the late 1800s when the island city was considered the "New York of Texas."
Galveston has also restored the Balinese Room, the Las Vegas-style gambling and entertainment pier, and transformed the seamy Post Office Street of old into an arts and entertainment district. The Balinese Room now offers shows and dining, minus the gambling. And, nowadays, the drinks are legal.
With its Rain Forest Pyramid and Palm Beach (a freshwater lagoon), Moody Gardens is a unique attraction. Next door is a new Schlitterbahn water park. But the chief source of Galveston's allure is its 32 miles of beaches. They're for building sand castles (they even have a festival for that the first Saturday in June), for just walking and feeling the wind in your face and the sand between your toes, for hearing the sounds of the waves and seagulls, and for playing in the surf.
But they're also meant for fishing -- and that's some of the best on the Texas Coast! Many people fish in the surf; many more fish from the jetties and commercial fishing piers along the seawall at 25th Street, 61st and 90th. The jetties are on the east end of the island. Another is a short, breezy ferry ride across the bay to the Bolivar Peninsula. Near the ferry landing on the Galveston side is Pelican Island and Seawolf Park; I'm told the best flounder hole on the entire coast is there. Most people wade and gig flounder, but keep shuffling your feet, and don't step backward: Sting rays can inflict excruciating pain.
Bay and deep-sea fishing charters can be arranged at piers 18 and 19. If you go deep, get some sort of motion-sickness medication. (There's a new one called Scopace that you might ask your doctor about.)
THE SOUTH COAST
Texas has more than 367 miles of Gulf beaches and 3,300 miles of bay shoreline protected by the barrier islands of Galveston, Matagorda, San Jose, Mustang and Padre. This gives Texans some of the best inshore fishing in the world. The TPWD's stocking efforts have been extremely successful. Fishing villages like Port O'Connor, Palacios, Rockport and Aransas Pass provide accommodations and charm. Rockport also is recognized as an arts center, with numerous galleries and a Fourth of July arts festival.
Port Aransas offers the same quality of fishing, and adds the surf on the Gulf side, ample accommodations and restaurants, and a T-shirt industry. Mustang Island State Park is but a short drive down the island.
Corpus Christi, "the Sparkling City by the Sea," offers fine dining, the Texas State Aquarium (pet live sting rays -- I did!), and the WWII aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Lexington; see it at night. And motor down Ocean Drive -- and then tell me that the French Riviera has classier homes!
Corpus Christi is also the gateway to Padre Island National Seashore. Take water and sunscreen and have a full tank of gas if you head to the beach. Be aware: You can't drive the length of the island, even in a four-wheel drive vehicle; getting stuck is easy. But it's worth the risk for the seaside solitude.
Fishing in the surf is productive, as is fishing from the bayside at Bird Island. Fishing ch
arters are available in all the towns mentioned previously for both bay fishing for redfish, spotted sea trout and flounder, and offshore fishing for snapper, ling, kingfish, wahoo and the big boys like marlin and sailfish. For guides, go to the Web site www.fishrockport.com.
And at the end of the island lies the gem of the South Coast -- South Padre Island. Getting there is a long haul, but it's worth the drive to get to Texas' most beautiful beach and clearest water. You get there through Port Isabel, but Brownsville and Mexico aren't far away. The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville is considered in the top 10 small zoos in the country. Once on the island, there's Texas' newest Schlitterbahn, plenty of nightlife and miles of beaches. And the fishing in either the Lower Laguna Madre or the Gulf is superb.
For guides, go to www.fishspi.com. I defy you to stare at the aerial photo on the home page for 30 seconds and not want to be there!
I likewise defy you to take your family to any of these four main areas of Texas, visit some of the attractions mentioned, take them fishing and not come back with priceless memories.
Your little ones will look back someday and say: "My daddy took me fishing -- and it was the best vacation ever!"