Some of the best advice I ever received about parenting came courtesy of a slightly older fellow whose own kids had recently finished college and fled the family nest.
"Enjoy them while they're young," he said.
Then he propped his spinning rod against a tree trunk and helped me untangle the monofilament puzzle my young son had woven around a tree branch beside a campground pond.
Let's face it, folks, anyone serious about being both angler and parent will have to make some personal sacrifices, especially during summer fishing vacations. We may spend all winter dreaming about taking epic journeys around the globe, but until the kids have grown up, much of the average angler's rod and reel "me time" is going to turn into "we time," spent very close to home.
That's just the way it is, but I don't regret time spent on re-doing or un-doing knots for awkward children. When we look back on our family getaways, my wife and I see countless happy memories.
Family fishing trips should always be fun, and there's no reason why they can't be productive, as well. The trick is identifying vacation spots with good fishing potential for adults and kids alike. And if the lake or river you select is close to theme parks, sandy beaches or other tourist diversions, so much the better.
New York has hundreds of locations that fit this mold, including the following family-oriented fishing destinations.
Justly famous for its abundant, hard-fighting muskellunge, Chautauqua also churns out monster smallmouth bass, better than average walleyes and plentiful black crappies, bullheads and sunfish. Which species should you and your kids target? Most fishermen would go for the little stuff, but I'd give the bass a thorough try, first. They're common throughout the 13,100-acre lake, and not all that hard to catch if you happen to tolerate live bait. Crayfish, shiners and nightcrawlers will trigger enough strikes and fierce battles to keep any pre-teen angler happy. They will, that is, provided you have a small boat and either a lake map or a GPS unit to locate known smallmouth hangouts. If you aren't much of a navigator, stick to the weed lines and settle for lots of scrappy panfish.
Keep in mind that Chautauqua Lake, which is in Chautauqua County at Jamestown, is essentially two lakes in one, with a north basin and south basin separated by the Route 86 (former Route 17) bridge. In general, the north end is rocky and deep (bottoming out at 77 feet), while the south portion has a maximum depth of 19 feet and is weedy throughout. Hotspots for smallmouth in the north basin include the west shore at Whitney Bay, Prendergast Point and Chautauqua Institution; and the east side in DeWittville Bay and off the point at Midway Park. As for the south basin, suffice to say that it lays to rest the old clichés about smallmouths preferring rocks and largemouths haunting weedbeds. In Chautauqua, the species co-exist along weedlines.
The Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, (716) 753-4304, will provide readers with detailed information on the lake area's motels, campgrounds and other lodging alternatives.
Beloved by regional bass tournament competitors and mentioned in hushed tones by seekers of voracious northern pike, Sodus Bay is also a prime breeding ground for panfish, particularly bluegills, yellow perch, bullhead and rock bass.
It's a great spot for youngsters who have yet to develop the quick reflexes and patience that are prime assets for more experienced anglers. By casting near moored boats, unoccupied docks, weed bed edges and other likely hideouts, kids learn to watch a bobber and set a hook when it disappears. Most fish in this 3,000-acre cut in the Wayne County shore of Lake Ontario are on the small side, but they are plentiful, scrappy and without guile. That's just what beginners are looking for, but Dad should keep his rod ready on Sodus Bay, too, as lunker largemouths and sharp-toothed pike are seldom more than a long cast away from tasty, nutritious panfish.
Vacationers can take Route 14 north from the Lyons exit off the state Thruway all the way to the village of Sodus Bay. It's about a half-hour drive from the East-West toll road. The Department of Environmental Conservation's boat ramp on the north side of the bay is a convenient access point. At the opposite end, the Bay Bridge is a productive shore-fishing platform, and the Bay Bridge Sports Shop, at (315) 587-9508, sells an assortment of live bait as well as a Sodus Bay map.
For a brochure on Sodus-area lodging possibilities, contact Wayne County Tourism, at (800) 527-6510.
Spanning nearly 43,000 surface acres and plunging to a maximum depth of 435 feet, Cayuga Lake is the second-largest body of water in the Finger Lakes chain. None of the others can match Cayuga as a family-friendly fishing hole. Along with plenty of fish, Cayuga wins points for its ample access and worthwhile shore-fishing locations.
Parents who want their kids to be within walking distance of bluegills, perch and even some very tubby largemouth bass will find what they're looking for at Cayuga Lake State Park, off Route 89 on the lake's west shore. Fishing is good in the park proper, but Dad can sometimes improve the catch by driving around the north end of the lake, taking U.S. Route 20 from Seneca Falls to the traffic light just east of Montezuma National Wildlife Region and then taking Route 90 south into the village of Cayuga. In that friendly little burg, he'll come upon a village park with a grassy lake-side shoreline that's regularly patrolled by greedy sunfish and sizable largemouths. If the family has towed a boat on the trip, they can cast for bass and panfish along the length of the railroad bed that that crosses the lake between the village of Cayuga and the marsh located about half a mile north of the state park. The park has a first-rate boat launch.
Another excellent fishing spot, especially for bank-fishers with the patience to watch the tip of a rod held in a sand spike, is Stewart Park, at the south end of the lake in Ithaca. Besides panfish, shorebound fishermen can hope to catch northern pike, largemouth bass and very large carp in the park.
Finger Lakes Tourism, (800) 530-7488, can provide fishing families with all sorts of information about nearby attractions (such as the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail and scenic Taughannock Falls) and lodging choices. The DEC Region 7 Fishing Hotline, (607) 753-1551; is also a good source for pre-trip conditions on several of the Finger Lakes, including Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco lakes as well as Cayugaa.
Stuffed with small panfish and easy to fish from shore, Otisco Lake is a great place for parents to take kids who are more impressed by quantity than quality. In June and July, bank fishermen might easily reel in 50 or more Otisco bluegills, pumpkinseeds and perch (both white and yellow) on a given day.
But Pop should keep handy at least one rod rigged with a big stickbait or spinnerbait, too, for the panfish sought by young anglers are also on the daily menu of Otisco's largemouth and smallmouth bass, tiger muskies and walleyes.
The best places to take kids fishing on Otisco — the easternmost lake in the Finger Lakes chain — are around its outlet dam and the causeway, an abandoned old highway crossing near the south end of this enticing fishing hole. Keep a close eye on your charges hear, lest one of them takes a nasty tumble among the rocks.
To find the dam, turn south from U.S. Route 20 at the intersection with Route 174, between Skaneateles and LaFayette. Where Route 174 makes a sharp right (west) turn, you should bear left onto Otisco Valley Road. The dam will immediately come into view. Pull off as close to the guardrail as you can, then pick your spot and start fishing
To reach the causeway, take Otisco Valley Road to just south of the 4 1/2-mile-long lake. Turn right onto Sawmill Road, then cross Spafford Creek and go right again onto Masters Road. From there it's about 1.5 miles to the causeway.
The Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, (315) 470-1800, can tell you about tourist attractions and lodging opportunities near Otisco Lake, which is about 10 miles south of the village of Marcellus in Onondaga County.
Leave your bass boat at home when you introduce your kids to the incredible fishing in Nicks Lake, off Route 28 and just south of Old Forge in Herkimer County. Motors are prohibited, but the 203-acre lake is perfect for canoes and other car-toppers anyway. Just shove off from the shoreline launch at the DEC-run Nicks Lake Campground and start casting around lily pads, deadfalls and other shallow-water structure. The lake is less than 8 feet deep in most places and you can expect to catch 12- to 14-inch largemouths all day long. Now and then your protégés will connect with a 3- or 4-pounder.
Beginners will score most heavily with nightcrawlers drifted below a small bobber, but if your kids are up to using artificial lures, a 4- or 5-inch-long Senko in the green pumpkin or grape colors is hard to beat. I cast and watch the line as the lure sinks. If the line begins to straighten out or you feel a "tap-tap" point your rod at the biting fish and set the hook as hard as you can.
Nicks Lake, which is off Route 28 via Bisby Road, used to be managed as a put-and-take trout pond but the action picked up dramatically several years ago, when the DEC seeded it with bass.
If the bass aren't biting when you visit — and that's extremely unlikely — join the kids for a few refreshing plunges at the water park in Old Forge. Contact the village Chamber of Commerce, at (315) 357-5000, for brochures on local motels and campgrounds.
NORTH POLE, USA
My wife and I have been taking either our kids or our grand-kids to the Wilmington-Lake Placid area of Essex County for more than 30 years. The primary attraction, for me, has always been the West Branch of the Ausable River, while Chickie and the kids were drawn by Santa Claus and the North Pole. Old St. Nick has been the lynchpin of Wilmington's economy so long that some of the high school kids who used to work in "elf" costumes are now gray-haired ticket-takers and maintenance workers.
The Ausable took some serious lumps during last year's late-season floods, but Mother Nature did not deliver a knockout blow, and I expect the trout fishing to be good this spring and summer. Dad will no doubt earn some private hatch-matching hours after carting Mom and the kids to the area's multiple tourist attractions, but great family fishing is also available in the West Branch, which parallels River Road and Route 86 on its way from Lake Placid toward the village of Wilmington. Spinning lures and nightcrawlers will catch trout for Ausable neophytes, but newcomers should be aware that live bait is forbidden and caught fish must be returned to the water immediately in the two catch and release fishing sections, which are clearly designated by roadside markers.
Bait-chuckers will do better in the water outside of the no-kill areas, anyway. My kids and grandchildren have enjoyed worm-drifting in the deep pools along upper River Road and in Everest Lake, the impoundment on the Ausable above the Wilmington dam. Catch-and-release area boundaries are spelled out in the "Special Regulations by County" pages in the state Freshwater Fishing 2011-2012 Regulations Guide."
For help finding accommodations, contact the Lake Placid Visitors Bureau, (800) 447- 5224.