Start planning your summer vacation now at one of these 10 action-packed fishing destinations that promise rod-bending action for everyone in your family.
By Colin Moore
Fishing with the family is always funs, but not everybody who lives under your roof may like to fish 24/7. And if you have teens, they might not want to spend the family vacation so far back in the sticks that they don’t have a chance to try anything new and exciting. Fear not.
We’ve found a handful of places where families can have it all – outdoor recreation, excitement, shopping and shows with a bit of Americana mixed in. It’s summer, so you’ll want to visit a place where the heat isn’t too oppressive, and other water sports offer great ways to cool off. These places check those boxes and, depending upon which destination you choose, they may also include great beaches, places to canoe or kayak or a giant water park for a splash-filled afternoon.
Here are 10 places around the country that make great family fishing vacation destinations. To make your getaway even more memorable, we’ve even suggested some local guides that will help guarantee some rod bending action for everyone. Read on and start planning your getaway today.
If the number of bass tournaments held on a lake is any indication of how good the fishing is there, then Table Rock Lake, near Branson, MO, ranks among the best. Not only is the fishing good in this Ozark gem, but it’s close enough to one of the vacation meccas of the Midwest to keep everybody in the family happy.
Largemouth and plump spotted bass are the main course on the lake, whose name is derived from the large rafts of flat rock that line its banks in places. Finesse fishing with downsized soft-plastics in deep water or skipping baits under docks is the key to success in this clear, 45,000-acre lake.
Trout fishing in area streams and on nearby Lake Taneycomo is as good as it gets. Fortunately, the trout are always looking for an easy meal and don’t mind mixing it up with fly-fishing newbies.
Bonus Attractions: In addition to all of the music halls that make Branson an entertainment crossroads, Branson is home to one of America’s most popular waterparks, so be sure to check out 13-acre Silver Dollar City White Water Park while you’re there.
The History of Fishing Museum houses the vast lure collection of Karl and Beverly White.
The original Bass Pro Shops is about 60 miles to the north in Springfield.
The hugely popular Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium, which was chosen as the top new outdoor attraction in a national poll last fall, adjoins the store.
It’s hard to focus on fishing when eye-popping English Mountain and the dark peaks of the Smokies are in the southern backdrop, but this lake’s feisty bass are likely to jar an angler back to the business at hand. If none of the lake’s largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass are biting, then the abundant crappies, white bass, catfish and stripers usually figure into backup plans. Fishing and water sports on the 28,000-acre lake should keep you occupied, but Cherokee Lake to the north and Norris Lake to the northwest offer even more fishing opportunities. Trout fishing in any of several area streams is another option.
Bonus Attractions: Trail hikes, drives through the Smoky Mountains National Park (the country’s most frequently visited national park).
Visit nearby Dollywood (home to Splash Country Water Park) and the shops of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
Kingsport Speedway, 75 miles away, hosts NASCAR races throughout the summer.
Dandridge, which is about 33 miles east of Knoxville, is a great town to use as a base camp. It’s one of the oldest towns in Tennessee and historical sites radiate out from there.
Jonesborough, the state’s first European-American settlement (1779), is about an hour’s drive away.
Davy Crockett’s Birthplace State Park near Limestone is also an easy hour’s drive away.
For those who like to golf, Morristown, 30 minutes away near Cherokee Lake, has four courses.
Big muskies, huge bass and lots of islands characterize the region where Lake Ontario funnels down into the St. Lawrence River. It’s not uncommon to catch 20-pound-plus muskies by trolling lures on one of the many charter boats available in or near the towns of Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay. A few years ago, a 60-inch musky was caught and released in the upper river. By comparison, the current International Game Fish Association world record musky weighed 67.5 pounds and was 60.25 inches long.
Clayton has been the site of numerous bass tournaments as well, beginning with the 1980 Bassmaster Classic, and a trip to sample the awesome smallmouth fishery there is not to be missed. Fishing for largemouth bass, jumbo yellow perch, northern pike and walleyes is likewise impressive.
Bonus Attractions: The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton houses all types of wooden boats from yesteryear; Boldt Castle and Heart Island are a couple of places to see at Alexandria Bay.
Farther down the river, the Frederick Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg is well worth the 50-mile drive.
The Dwight Eisenhower Visitors Center in Massena (85 miles from Clayton) tells the story behind the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which expanded shipping to and from the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River.
Quick Tip: If staying in a roadside motel or hotel for several days on your summer fishing vacation doesn’t seem appealing, opting for a cabin or condominium might be a better choice. There are a number of websites that offer vacation rentals, including Vacation Rentals By Owner, Home To Go, HomeAway and Trip Advisor. Typically, the services provide prices and details about rentals, when they’re available and how to book them.
Water, water everywhere: Summer is the best time here to fish any of the several area glacial lakes, Grand Traverse Bay and its adjacent bays, and Lake Michigan. Lake trout, king salmon, coho salmon, walleyes and brown trout are mostly targeted in the big waters, while smallmouth bass, walleyes and yellow perch are the most numerous species in the region’s inshore waters and lake system.
Small wonder Field & Stream magazine named Traverse City as the third best fishing town in the country, and Fly Rod & Reel magazine put the city on its top 12 list of fly-fishing retirement towns. Understandably, there are plenty of guide services in the area, ranging from those that head offshore for a day of trolling, to those that specialize in bass and walleyes.
Bonus Attractions: Traverse City has an extensive shopping district plus lots of downtown art shops, museums and historical sites.
The popular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with its great views of Lake Michigan, isn’t far.
There are plenty of vineyards and wineries on the peninsula that splits Grand Traverse Bay.
Historic Mackinaw City Island is about three hours to the north on Highway 31, and much of the drive is along the scenic lakeshore.
Key Contacts: Pure Michigan Tourism, Traverse City Tourism, Mega-Bite Fishing Charters, 231-218-5381, Traverse City Charter Fishing, Traverse City Bass Fishing Guide Service and 45 North Vineyard & Winery .
Some of the best trout fishing in the eastern states can be sampled in the quiet nooks and crannies of the southern Appalachians, which is why Fannin County bills itself as the “Trout Capital of Georgia.” Whether you’re a fly-fishing expert or a novice who can handle a spinning outfit, the streams in the 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest offer secluded getaways for the family that likes to get away from it all.
Blue Ridge, GA, makes a good base of operations. The town shares its name with a 3,300-acre lake outside of town where it’s possible to catch bluegills as well as white and black bass, or go after the Blue Ridge Lake grand slam: walleye, smallmouth bass and rainbow trout. There are lots of trout streams in all directions, with native brookies sharing the water with rainbows and browns. You can make it as easy on yourself as fishing the well-traveled Noontootla Creek or as tough as Jacks River, which requires a 5-mile hike into the hinterlands.
Bonus Attractions: Beside various outdoor activities in the national forest, there’s a slew of attractions nearby in Blue Ridge, Dahlonega, Blairsville and Helen.
The Appalachian Trail cuts through here and there are scenic highways and even railways.
Mountain craft shops, as well as farmers’ markets and mountain music festivals galore, await here and there along the byways you’ll travel.
Thanks to the foresight of a few savvy charter boat skippers decades ago, Alabama boasts one of the most extensive inshore reef systems in the country. Basically, what it means for visiting anglers is that they can spend more time fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and less time riding in a boat.
All the favorites of the northern Gulf Coast are available to anglers fishing out of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL including red snapper, grouper, king mackerel, ling (cobia), amberjacks and various other reef fish.
Inshore, Mobile Bay, Wolf Bay, Perdido Bay, Terry Cove and Big Lagoon are popular fishing holes for flounder, speckled trout (spotted seatrout), redfish and sheepshead. For landlubbers, there’s the Gulf State Park Fishing Pier, where whiting, pompano, Spanish mackerel, redfish and the occasional king mackerel are available. Surf fishing is generally good along the beach, and watercraft of various types can be rented from any of several venues.
Bonus Attractions: Alabama’s Gulf Coast boasts some of the best seafood in the country, whether you eat it in a restaurant or take it back to the condo or campsite to cook.
Bon Secour (“safe harbor” in French) is shrimp and oyster headquarters for carry-outs, and world-class seafood restaurants are strung out from there east to Orange Beach.
Mobile, settled in 1699 by French explorers, is just up the road. Tours of antebellum homes and the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship, are among the sights.
Fort Morgan in the southeastern corner of Mobile Bay is a popular destination for Civil War buffs.
Fairhope is known for its boutiques
Foley is a shopping outlet mecca.
You’ll see red when you lay eyes on the Green River’s Flaming Gorge area, which owes its name to the gorgeous red sandstone cliffs that line its waters. The reservoir straddles the Utah-Wyoming state lines and is home to some of the biggest lake trout, kokanee salmon and smallmouths in the West. However, it’s the trout fishery below the dam that is the big attraction here.
The 30 miles of river support one of the best rainbow and brown trout fisheries in the country, with a few native cutthroats in the mix. It’s estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 trout per river mile, with browns predominating, and the highest concentration is between the dam and Little Hole.
There are a number of fishing guide services in the area and wade fishing is permitted where practical. Some trout fishing is available downstream – most notably Jones Hole Creek – where the river returns to Utah out of Colorado and passes through the Dinosaur National Monument toward Moab.
Bonus Attractions: Historical markers detailing important waypoints of the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails can be found in all directions.
The Wasatch National Forest features the usual outdoor attractions common to the Northwest.
Dinosaur National Monument, the John M. Browning Firearms Museum in Ogden and various stops along the Interstate 15 corridor draw a lot of visitors.
Chances are you won’t be crowded by other fishermen in this 304,000-acre impoundment on the Missouri River. As might be expected of the fourth largest reservoir in the country, Oahe supports several species of sportfish, but is most noted for its walleye fishery. Otherwise, there’s the usual Midwest mix: smallmouth bass, northern pike, salmon, catfish, yellow perch and white bass.
Although there are guide services and resorts up and down the lake, also consider staying in Pierre. The second smallest state capital in the nation with about 14,000 residents, Pierre nevertheless loomed large in the early days of the fur trade and opening of the West. Consequently, it’s at the hub of number of historic sites.
Bonus Attractions: South Dakota is a hidden gem for travelers interested in the Old West and American history in general.
For starters, there’s famous Wall Drug Store and the Badlands National Park Badlands, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace in Mitchell and Deadwood.
The remains of the Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, are buried near Mobridge and it’s believed that Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark explore the Louisiana Purchase, is interred near there as well.
If you’re in the neighborhood, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place in August.
Running water and scenery galore characterize central Oregon’s outdoors. The storied Deschutes River, which flows out of the Cascade Mountain Range, is one of those streams that most serious trout fishermen want to sample at least once. The salmonfly hatch and steelhead run are two good reasons to book a guide trip out of Bend.
If you have time to wander a bit, the state has approximately 12,000 waterways of various sizes and lengths – including 58 designated as Wild & Scenic Rivers – and all of them are full of fish. Among the best bass destinations is the John Day River, the longest undammed river in the state at 284 miles long. The river is especially famous for its smallmouth bass fishery.
Bonus Attractions: After you’ve done all the tourist things with the Cascade Mountains and the coastal towns, visit the Ochoco National Forest northeast of Bend for some of the best Western scenery in the land.
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway through the Deschutes National Forest is another popular waypoint.
Bend itself has some interesting sights including Pilot Butte, a landmark near the Deschutes River; the High Desert Museum; and the Lava River Cave in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
In a manner of speaking, there are two Maines: the rough-and-tumble northern region that’s largely owned by timber companies with large expanses of public land, and the southern section that’s more urban in nature. North or south, the fishing is fantastic for a variety of species in the state’s major rivers.
Prime time for trout on the Penobscot is July through the end of summer, but landlocked salmon and smallmouths the size of overinflated footballs are the biggest draws. Guided trips are the best way to sample the trout and salmon fishing in the West Branch, but there also are lots of access points to fish from the bank or by wading.
The rock-bound waters in the upper stretches require some deft footwork, so be advised. The lower stretches of the river attract more smallmouth anglers who fish from the bank or canoes, typically, with the usual assortment of bass lures. Canoe and kayak rental outfitters are abundant, and some offer tents and much of the gear necessary to set up a riverside camp.
If northern Maine doesn’t seem suited for your family vacation, head south. There you’ll find more of the traditional tourist attractions, including the Maine Beaches region near Portland. Some of the best largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass fishing on the East Coast is nearby in the Androscoggin River, and adjacent waters offer a variety of angling opportunities.
Bonus Attractions: If you’re looking for boat bargains, visit the Old Town Factory Outlet Store in Old Town.
Bangor, home to author Stephen King and downriver from Old Town, is the third largest city in the state (population 32,000) and has the usual supply of small museums and shopping outlets.
It’s about 60 miles from Old Town to the popular shopping mecca of Bar Harbor where you can rent sea kayaks by the hour, and Acadia National Park isn’t far from there.
L.L. Bean’s flagship store is in Freeport along with great outlet store shopping.
Inland, the Appalachian Trail and the northernmost peaks of the Appalachians – including Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park – await hikers and sightseers.
Key Contacts: Maine Tourism, Penobscot River Cabins, Maine Bass Fishing Guide Service, Twin Maple Outdoors, Tracewski Fishing Adventures, Penobscot Guide Service, Maine Outfitter (canoe and kayak multi-day trips), New England Outdoor Center (rafting trips) and Penobscot Adventures Whitewater Rafting.
About the Author: Colin Moore is an avid bass fisherman who has had the opportunity to fish some of the best bass fisheries in North America, with some of the best bass anglers. Formerly, Moore was executive editor of Bassmaster magazine, the bass fishing columnist at Outdoor Life and editor in chief of FLW Bass Fishing magazine. Now editor emeritus of the latter, he continues to write about all things bass fishing.