October 04, 2010
Grab your fishing and camping
gear and come along as we point you toward some of the best vacation spots in the Lone Star State for combining these great outdoor pursuits. (June 2007)
You never know what you might haul out of an East Texas lake. Laura Rayburn and John Hope took a little vacation time to fish Lake Fork -- and you can see that Laura was impressed with her catch!
Photo by Robert Sloan.
June is probably the top month to do a family vacation in Texas. With school out and mild temperatures, the options are many -- and the only downside is deciding where to go and what to do when you get there.
I grew up in a fishing and camping family with two brothers and an older sister. The day school was out for the summer we were looking for something to do. And our parents were usually quick to pull out a map, load the gear and head off for a family vacation.
We grew up in Houston, and so East Texas was a favorite destination. To be more specific, Sam Rayburn Reservoir was our go-to spot for years. And most of the time we ended up at Jackson Hill Park. That's where we reserved a campsite, preferably one by the lake. Talk about fun! We hiked, fished, camped, and went swimming and when it was time to go home we had to be dragged away to the car. It was paradise for us kids, and we were in no hurry to go back to the city life.
East Texas is still a favorite destination for me. But over the years I've found that places like Pedernales Falls State Park in the Hill Country is big-time fun as well. Down in South Texas, Choke Canyon State Park is one of the best for fishing, camping and wildlife watching. And if you don't mind getting a little sand between your toes, you can set up camp on the beach along the Texas Gulf Coast and do anything from surf-fishing to . . . well -- surfing!
One of my favorite destinations in East Texas is not far from where I now live in Beaumont. My job as outdoors editor of the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper is to find good places for camping, fishing, hiking and enjoying the Texas outdoors. One of the best quick-hit spots for me is Village Creek State Park, about a 20-minute drive north of Beaumont.
Village Creek runs for miles, but the only state park along its shores is located in Lumberton. This is not the biggest state park in Texas, not by any means. In fact, it's pretty small, but family vacation options there are huge. For example, you can kayak and canoe on the creek. Or you can swim, fish, hike, bike or just lounge around the RV or tent.
The really great thing about Village Creek State Park is that you can set up camp and kayak your way downstream or up. The current's not usually that strong, unless there's been a recent rain.
What I like to do is put in the kayak and paddle downstream. Once you clear the swimming area, which is one gigantic white sandbar, you'll find that you have just left civilization behind. From the swimming area and on down to the confluence of the creek and the Neches River, there is nothing but sand bars and towering oak and pine trees. The tannic-colored water is home to catfish, perch and bass.
From the park you can kayak downstream to the Neches River in about 2 1/2 hours. If the creek is not flowing, and is at normal level, the paddle upstream is easy
One of my favorite trips on Village Creek is to put in at the park and kayak and fish my way downstream. I'll pack along a tent and provisions. Camping on the many sand bars is a hoot. There is nothing quite like building a campfire on your own little sand bar. Talk about escape. This is it, big time.
If you're into fly-fishing, Village Creek is a paradise. I like to fish it with a 2-weight rod and 6-pound-test leader. Bass and perch will hammer No. 10 poppers all day long.
About an hour north of Village Creek Sate Park is Martin Dies Jr. State Park, a 705-acre park on the 15,000-acre B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir. What is unique is that you can access the Neches River and the Angelina from the park. It can be done in a powerboat, kayak or canoe. Many of the campsites are on the water. The bass fishing is very good both on the lake and in the rivers.
Other activities include hiking, swimming, mountain biking and wildlife and bird watching. There are canoes, kayaks, bikes and flat-bottomed boats for rent. On the weekends there are naturalist activities. On the third Saturday of each month there are canoe trips down the Angelina and Neches rivers.
The most exciting thing to do at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park is to paddle or take a boat ride up the Neches to its confluence with the Angelina River. This is called the forks. One of the most scenic river runs is up the Angelina. What I like to do is transport the kayaks, with a big boat, up the river to one of the many sloughs. The boat can be tied off, and the kayaks offloaded. From there you can paddle into the sloughs.
One of the most popular kayaking tours is up Bee Tree Slough. Talk about wild adventure! The kids will love it, and so will you. I don't know if this slough ever ends. It snakes way on up into the forest. Along the way you stand a good chance of seeing anything from a big alligator to a white-tailed deer.
The bass fishing on the Angelina River is very good. The same goes for crappie. One of the best tactics for catching bass on this river is to flip or pitch small jigs to the bushes along the bank. Let the jigs fall vertically. That's a killer tactic on big bass.
Fly-fishing on the Angelina is fantastic. Bream can be caught on poppers and small Clousers all day long. The water in the Angelina is relatively clear, so it's a natural for good fly-fishing.
Huntsville State Park has been one of my favorite escapes for close to 45 years. It's got a little bit of everything from trophy bass fishing to hiking, biking, swimming and lots of wildlife.
This is a favorite quick-hit family vacation destination for lots of folks from Houston to Dallas. It's located about six miles southwest of Huntsville in Walker County. The park covers 2,083-acres and was opened in 1938. It's not only one of the state's oldest parks, but also among the most visited.
This park lies in the Pineywoods of the Sam Houston National Forest, near the western edge of the Southern Pine Belt. These woodlands, dominated by loblolly and shortleaf pines typical of the East Texas Pine Belt, provide attractive camping and picnic areas.
The park is wrapped around one of the most scenic lakes in Texas. Lake Raven covers 210 acres and offers catch-and-release fishing for
bass. There are two fishing piers, a boat ramp and a designated swimming area. Canoes, kayaks, flat-bottomed boats and paddleboats can be rented next to the swimming area. This is a great sailing lake. Any size boat can be used on Raven, but the speed limit is idle-speed only.
My family used to come to this park when we were kids. I've continued fishing it for decades, and can say from much experience that the bass fishing is fantastic. This lake is perfect for all kinds of fishing. Crappie, catfish, perch and bass can be caught off the lighted fishing piers. The bank-fishing is good, too. If you're a flyfisherman, you will love this lake. It's relatively clear, has lots of vegetation and is perfect for fishing out of a canoe or one of the small two-man bass fishing boats.
When you get tired of fishing you can take the kids to the playground. Or you can hit the 19-miles of hiking and biking trails. If you've got lots of energy, you might try biking or hiking around the lake on the well-marked trail. This is a scenic trail that goes through all sorts of terrain. It's an all-day hike, or a three- to four-hour trip on a bike.
Hiking trails have been constructed so that wildlife and birds can be observed in a natural setting. White-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, migratory waterfowl, and fox squirrels are just a few of the animals that can be seen in the park.
And there are plenty of alligators, -- some rather large ones, so don't get out of the swimming area.
One of the most scenic chunks of land and water in Texas can be found at Pedernales Falls State Park. The Pedernales River is one of the prettiest in Texas, and the section that flows through the park is absolutely beautiful. Thousands come here each year just to see the river from the lookout area.
This park covers 5,211 acres and is located on the Edwards Plateau between Austin and Johnson City.
The fishing on the river is not that great, but it's certainly worth a shot. I've caught lots of perch, and a number of Kentucky spotted bass in the big pools below the observation area.
What's really fine about Pedernales Falls State Park is the swimming, hiking and biking. The facilities include campsites with water and electricity; a sponsored youth group area, which can be used by any youth group with an adult sponsor; hike-in primitive campsites and picnic sites; restrooms with and without showers; a trailer dump station; 19.8 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails; 10 miles of equestrian trails; and 14 miles of backpacking trails.
The park has a covered bird viewing station with feeders and a drip bath. Food is provided all year. The station can accommodate about 15 people. There is no charge to use the viewing station other than standard park entrance fees. This is a wheelchair accessible facility.
Although the Pedernales River is the focal point of the park, there are other areas of interest to hikers, nature lovers, and general visitors. Well-marked trails pass through hills that are dotted with oak and juniper woodlands and provide access to more heavily wooded areas of pecan, elm, sycamore, walnut, and hackberry in the major drainages. Ash, buttonbush, and cypress grow on the terrace adjacent to the river.
Wildlife in the park is typical of the Texas Hill Country and includes white-tailed deer, coyotes, rabbits, armadillos, skunks, opossums, and raccoons. More than 150 species of birds have been seen in the park, and about a third of them are permanent residents.
Birds seen throughout the year include ravens, vultures, herons, quail, doves, owls, roadrunners and wild turkeys.
The absolute best park you can camp at for a combination of wildlife viewing and fishing is Choke Canyon.
Choke Canyon State Park, consisting of two units, South Shore and Calliham, is located on the 26,000-acre Choke Canyon Lake.
The Calliham Unit, containing 1,100 acres in McMullen County, was opened to the public on Aug. 21, 1987. The South Shore Unit, opened to the public on March 5, 1986, contains 385 acres in Live Oak County.
The lake provides excellent fishing for bass, crappie and catfish. I've been fishing this South Texas lake for years. The topwater fishing is excellent in June, but once the sun gets up you'll want to tie on a spinnerbait or a jig.
Some of the best crappie fishing will be on small jigs worked around the lake's many flooded mesquite trees.
If you like to catch catfish -- and who doesn't? -- you're going to love this lake. You can set out trotlines or bait a hole with soured grain. What a lot of anglers do here is fish a glob of stink bait about 2 feet under a float. Those rigs are fished under the roost trees of cormorants. The waste from the birds draws in shad, and the shad bring in the catfish. Lots of them! The best time to fish under the trees is the first hour of daylight.
There is also a 75-acre lake in this park. It's loaded with catfish. For some bizarre reason, boats are not allowed on the park lake, even though there's a nice concrete boat ramp. But the lake is loaded with bass and perch. The fishing from the bank is good.
Bird watching is extremely popular at the park. As part of a joint project of the Bureau of Reclamation and the American Birding Association, Choke Canyon Reservoir has been recognized as a place of special importance for birds and bird watchers. Large numbers and varieties of birds are attracted to the water and to the adjacent upland habitats. Also, many species of birds mainly considered "Mexican" approach the northern limits of their range here, making this one of Texas' finest places to observe the birds. Also included is a mile-long bird watching trail.
When you get tired of watching the birds and catching fish, you can play shuffleboard, tennis, volleyball or basketball at the sports complex. There also are 2 miles of hiking trails.
The wildlife you'll see at Choke Canyon includes white-tailed deer, lots of pigs and javelinas and turkeys. This is rattlesnake country, so be watchful. Also, there are some gigantic alligators in Choke Canyon Lake and in the smaller 75-acre lake.
Camping along the Texas Coast is always a big adventure, but it can be a tad rough. Living in a salty environment is never easy -- but nothing's quite like sleeping in a tent at night and listening to the surf rolling in to shore.
One of the most scenic camping and fishing areas on the Texas Gulf Coast can be found south of Port Aransas. Mustang Island State Park is 3,954 acres with about 5 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Nueces County, south of Port Aransas. It was acquired by the state from private owners in 1972 and opened to the public in 1979.
Activities include camping, picnicking, fishing, swimming, hiking and mountain biking on 5 miles of open beach, sunbathing and surfing.
Facilities near the park headquarters include campsites with water and electricity, shade shelters, and restrooms with showers. Facilities at the north end of the developed area (for day-use only) include ample parking, portable toilets, and rinsing showers. Facilities south of the main swimming area include an open beach; primitive campsites; and widely spaced convenience stations with portable toilets, rinsing showers, and bulk water supply.
That's a park with everything you need to keep comfortable, and that includes rinsing showers.
At the other end of the Texas Gulf Coast is Bolivar Peninsula. Located on the middle of that stretch of land is Rollover Fish Pass. That's where you can set up camp and fish all day long. On one end of this pass is East Galveston Bay. The other feeds into the Gulf. The fishing in the pass is good for flounder, redfish and trout during June.
Those listed here are just a few of the great vacation areas in Texas. For details on all the state parks, their locations, facilities and activities go to tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest, or call (512) 389-8900.