Family fishing vacations offer an elusive reward — time to just hang out together.
By Danno WiseFamily togetherness and an opportunity to fish — two prime ingredients for a memorable spring or summer vacation. Success depends on recognizing your family’s preferences and planning to suit them. Some families like a leisurely jaunt to distant locations, while others want to get there quickly. Likewise, some prefer isolated spots with rugged conditions, while others feel they can’t leave modern conveniences behind. Luckily, a state as large as Texas offers something for everyone. Here’s a look at some of the top family-friendly freshwater fishing destinations in the Lone Star State.
Lake Amistad, Del RioWith its deep, clear water and rocky bluffs, Lake Amistad resembles a Western impoundment more than a typical Texas reservoir. Formed from the flow of three rivers — the Rio Grande, Devils and Pecos — Amistad encompasses nearly 65,000 acres along the Texas-Mexico border near Del Rio.
Primary species: Largemouth bass is the primary target species in Amistad. In fact, in recent years Amistad has gained quite a following among bass pros because of the unusually high numbers of giant largemouth it has yielded. However, channel and blue catfish are also abundant, as are striped bass. In and around the Devils River arm of the lake, smallmouth bass are found in good numbers.
Family fishing tip: Amistad’s black bass population is often found hanging around hard structure in fairly deep water. Some deep-water fishing techniques can be difficult for children or inexperienced anglers to master. So, keep it simple. Lipless crankbaits can be productive with just a steady retrieve. Vary the depth by allowing the lure to sink for different periods of time before beginning the retrieve.
Public access: Lake Amistad offers perhaps the best public access of any lake in Texas. Nearly the entire Texas portion of the lake is surrounded by the Amistad National Recreation Area, which allows for wonderful shore access. Additionally, camping is available within the ANRA, as are a number of boat ramps.
Other outdoor activities: Because of its remoteness, rugged natural beauty and clean, clear water, Amistad is a popular lake for diving, swimming and snorkeling. Canoeing and kayaking are popular in the rivers that feed the lake. Additionally, Amistad is famous for houseboating. Visitors have several choices of houseboat rental services on Amistad.
What’s nearby: Devils River State Natural Area is about a two-hour drive from Del Rio and offers river access, as well as hiking, mountain biking and primitive camping. It is also a popular put-in spot (with prior arrangements) for canoers and kayakers floating down the Devils River. To the west is Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site, home to some of North America’s oldest pictographs.
Lake Whitney, WacoLocated about 30 miles outside of Waco, Lake Whitney is formed from the waters of the Brazos and Nolan rivers. Widely regarded as a picturesque body of water, Whitney is less trafficked than other area lakes. The scenic charm, light traffic and excellent fishing for a variety of species make it an inviting lake for a family fishing vacation.
Primary species: White bass are numerous on Whitney and make for fast action for kids and families. Striped bass are present in good numbers, and anglers also pull up largemouth bass, channel catfish and blue catfish. Whitney also yields smallmouth bass. Family fishing tip: Look for schools of white bass feeding on the lake’s surface. When these roving schools of fish are in a feeding frenzy, they’re hard to miss. Just look for areas of churning, boiling water and you’re guaranteed fast action. Small jigs and spoons are good choices to cast into feeding schools of white bass.
Public access: Lake Whitney State Park offers bank fishing opportunities and boat launch facilities. Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers operates numerous parks. Several of the Army Corps parks offer fishing and/or boat launch facilities.
Other outdoor activities: For those who love water sports, swimming and waterskiing are available at Lake Whitney. Hiking and bird-watching are also popular outdoor activities.
What’s nearby: Lake Whitney State Park is on the eastern shore of Lake Whitney and offers swimming, hiking, fishing and camping. Dinosaur Valley State Park, where visitors can view a variety of well-preserved dinosaur tracks, is a short drive away.
Lake Livingston, LivingstonAlthough it is only an hour’s drive from Houston, Lake Livingston feels as if it’s a world away from the nation’s fourth-largest city. Covering 90,000 acres nestled among towering trees, Livingston is far enough away to give families a true outdoor experience, yet close enough to allow them to take in Houston’s modern attractions and museums.
Primary species: Anglers who fish here find their best luck with catfish and white bass. Largemouth bass are present in good numbers as well.
Family fishing tip: Crappie are often found near structure in deep water. Submerged brush piles and bridge or dock pilings are good examples. When found, crappie are easily tempted by live minnows or small jigs suspended beneath a bobber.
Public access: Lake Livingston State Park offers a number of boat ramps and fishing piers, as well as bank fishing opportunities. Marinas on the lake offer boat launch facilities, rental boats, fishing piers and fish-cleaning stations.
Other outdoor activities: Boating, waterskiing and sailing are popular water sports. Hiking, horseback riding and birding are popular land-based outdoor activities.
What’s nearby: Lake Livingston State Park offers boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, birding, camping and equestrian activities. The Big Thicket National Preserve is about 30 miles away. The Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation is nearby as well. Back in Houston, visitors can visit NASA and numerous museums.
Grapevine Lake, GrapevineLocated adjacent to its namesake town, Grapevine Lake covers nearly 7,000 acres. Grapevine Lake was formed in 1952 when a dam was placed on Denton Creek.
Primary species: Largemouth bass is the most popular species on Grapevine Lake. However, spotted bass, catfish, crappie and white bass are all found in good numbers as well.
Family fishing tip: Rocky shorelines attract good numbers of largemouth and spotted bass. Throwing spinner baits and crankbaits parallel to these shorelines can result in good catches of both species.
Public access: The Army Corps of Engineers operates three parks — The Corps Park at Grapevine Lake, Rockledge Park and Murrell Park. Several other parks, including the Vineyards Campground, which is one of three parks operated by the city of Grapevine, offer boat launches and shore fishing access for a nominal fee.
Other outdoor activities: Camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking are all popular activities near Grapevine Lake. Swimming is also popular, and several area parks offer designated swimming areas.
What’s nearby: Grapevine Lake is surrounded by multiple parks offering a wide range of outdoor activities. Tours on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad or aboard the World War II amphibious “duck boats” are also great ways to spend an afternoon. The city of Grapevine offers visitors numerous specialty shops and museums.
Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Jasper“Big Sam” is one of Texas’ legendary lakes. Formed in 1965, Sam Rayburn became instantly popular because of its size — more than 114,000 acres — and excellent fishing. Surrounded by towering pines, Sam Rayburn is also one of the Lone Star State’s most scenic water bodies.
Primary species: Largemouth bass are hands-down the main draw on Sam Rayburn. However, the lake also boasts an impressive fishery for crappie, bluegill and catfish.
Family fishing tip: Lake Sam Rayburn is known as a heavy cover lake, meaning largemouth bass are usually found holding tight against cover such as flooded brush or aquatic grass. Spinner baits are less apt to hang on objects than other types of lures and can be easily retrieved through heavy cover.
Public access: The Army Corps of Engineers operates a half-dozen parks on Sam Rayburn, including the popular Twin Dikes Park. Each of these parks offers boat launch facilities and other amenities. Angelina National Forest has two designated recreation areas offering fishing and boating access. There are also numerous privately operated parks and marinas featuring boat ramps, fishing piers, fish-cleaning stations and more.
Other outdoor activities: Swimming, boating and waterskiing are popular water sports on Lake Sam Rayburn. Many of the lake’s parks offer designated swimming areas. Camping, hiking and mountain biking are other available outdoor activities.
What’s nearby: Angelina National Forest, one of four national forests in Texas, surrounds much of Sam Rayburn Reservoir. It is a popular location for camping, hiking, picnicking and mountain biking. Historical tours of nearby towns such as Jasper are entertaining diversions. Martin Dies Jr. State Park is a short drive away, and the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation is about 30 miles away.
Inks Lake, BurnetThe 2.5-mile Lakeside Trail is one fine walk. This isn’t just any walk through the woods — it’s a perfect walk through the woods. The path is smooth and wide with tall trees surrounding it, and while on it, you will feel like you are a part of nature. The moderately hilly trail is mostly a dirt walkway through the piney woods encircling the park’s lake, with boardwalks over some marshy areas. The vegetation and shade are much thicker on the western portion of the walk because the eastern end follows the lake’s beach area. You’ll find benches and picnic tables on the trail, with one particular bench, under the pines overlooking the lake at a strategic point on the western edge, that can offer up blazing views of the setting sun reflecting over the lake. A small portion of the trail follows the park road, so be careful there. You’ll see fish jumping from the lake in the early morning mists, and you can enjoy maple, ash and birch trees turning crimson in the fall. In the summer, go jump in the lake.
FREE FISHING INSIDE STATE PARKS
Although fishing licenses are inexpensive and easy to obtain, families who don’t fish regularly may welcome the opportunity for a “trial run” at a state park. Fishing licenses are not required within the boundaries of state parks, and many of Texas’ state parks offer excellent shore and/or pier fishing opportunities for bass, catfish, sunfish and more. For more information, go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/familyfish