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Texas' Family Fishing Hotspots
Looking for a vacation site where the whole family can join in on some outdoor fun? Then check out these choice Lone Star locations.
By Bud McDonald
For those of us who love fishing, picking a perfect spot for the annual family vacation is relatively easy. All we need is some type of accommodation, a body of water and an assurance - however vague - that it holds fish. We'll take it from there.
The problem rears its head when the rest of the family members, who might not be so easily pleased, voice their discontent at the prospect of spending two weeks "cooped up in some remote cockamamie fish camp."
As can be imagined, the vacation destination search becomes somewhat more complicated if other family members' favored pastimes vary much beyond fishing. For instance, if we opt for the simple pleasures to be found by renting a small shoreline cabin in order to spend the most amount of time possible on the water at Lake Falcon, located on the Texas/Mexico border, we are likely to come to loggerheads with a spouse who had planned to spend much of her vacation time looking through shops and malls. After all, the sleepy village of Zapata, which is the only civilization for about 75 miles in any direction, isn't exactly known for style or fashion.
Since all family members anticipate the annual two-week vacation, it's only fair that a family meeting should be planned in order to determine what everyone would like to do. If done far enough in advance of the event, just this small amount of prior planning is likely to clear up any future animosity. However, if everyone is determined to do something wildly different, it might be necessary to hold a vote or even to draw straws.
Even these seemingly democratic measures can go awry, leaving the senior family member no choice but to make the final decision, however unpopular it might be. (We offer here the disclaimer that in these cases the "senior family member" often manifests herself in startling forms.)
In order to narrow the field by incorporating fishing, shopping, sightseeing and relaxation into the vacation agenda, we are offering a few ideas here that you might throw on the bargaining table. However, you should bear in mind that the final decision should be reached as far in advance as possible, in order to allow time for reservations to go through. Since the better or more-popular vacation spots fill up fast, it only complicates matters to finally agree on a place only to find that there are no openings and that the whole selection process must be endured again.
The month of June traditionally marks the beginning of dependably good weather in Texas. Our infamous "blue northers" have returned to their summer nesting grounds somewhere around the Grand Tetons, while the brain-baking, triple-digit daily high temperatures of summer are not quite upon us. It is during this relatively short period that cool mornings give way to warm afternoons; high winds are supplanted by gentle breezes.
Or at least that's the way it's supposed to work. Again we have to offer a disclaimer that, depending upon where you are in this vast state, June weather can bring anything from peach blossoms to ice storms.
A good choice for visiting this month is the so-called Texas Hill Country, or that portion of the state encompassing roughly the area from Brady to Uvalde, then from just north of San Antonio to Austin and back - plus or minus a county or two. It is in this region of low, rolling hills covered in oak, mesquite and ash juniper that you can enjoy hundreds of acres of God's Country while fishing the pristine streams, watching birds and other wildlife, observing gorgeous sunrises and sunsets and absorbing peace, quiet and tranquility.
Besides the enjoyment of some really fabulous and varied fishing, the order of the day here include browsing the small-town shops for antiques and other treasures, sight-seeing and experiencing the German and Czech influences on the area.
A scant 20 years ago, anyone who carried a fly rod into Texas would have had a lot of explaining to do. Particularly in the Hill Country, fishing the streams, rivers and lakes was a simple matter of baiting up a hefty rod and throwing a live minnow (or stink bait) where it might do the most good. With the introduction of striped bass into many of the Hill Country lakes, the presentation changed somewhat, but still involved rods and reels of strength and resolve. The lovingly crafted split bamboo and even graphite fly rods were thought to be better suited to the trout streams of more northern states.
However, after Robert Redford's movie A River Runs Through It hit the theaters around Junction, Llano, Mason, Fredericksburg and other Hill Country villages, many Texans decided there wasn't a whole lot of difference between the northern streams and those with more familiar names such as Barron's Creek, the South Llano, Frio and Medina rivers and even some of the riverine lakes on the Colorado.
While the typical quarry looked somewhat different from the rainbows, cutthroats and other trout, anglers soon discovered the joys to be gained with a springy 9-foot fly rod used to catch smallmouth bass and a plethora of sunfish. The popularity of fly-fishing soon spread throughout the state and even into the saltwater reaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
"I think fly-fishing was something that Texas anglers had been looking for long before it arrived," says fly-fishing enthusiast, instructor and outdoor writer Phil Shook of Houston, who has introduced the method to many Lone Star anglers in both freshwater and saltwater.
The small streams around Fredericksburg, Mason and Junction are perfectly suited to fly-fishing. Insofar as places to stay, we offer the Back Forty Ranch of Fredericksburg, an early German holding on the banks of Barron's Creek. Originally deeded to Jacob Weinheimer in 1846, William and Patricia Collins restored the long-abandoned stone buildings in 1992 and made them into a rustic bed and breakfast. The old stable is now a bedroom loft complete with fireplace, period furnishings, a private bath and front and back patios.
Another building, now called "The Texas Suite," sleeps up to four guests and has many windows that offer panoramic views of the best of the Hill Country. As mentioned, Barron's Creek is an excellent place to get acquainted with a new fly rod. For further information, call the ranch at (830) 997-6373. For more accommodations in the areas of Fredericksburg, Mason and Junction, call the chambers of commerce at (830) 997-6523 or (915) 347-5758.
The Texas Highlands, located in the eastern portion of the Hill Country, is home to the Colorado River impoundments of Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis and Austin. In addition to excellent angling for bass, crappie, sunfish and huge catfish, the river system offers some of the finest fishing in the United States for the revered striped bass, a primarily saltwater species growing to upwards of 50 pounds in some areas.
Depending upon a vacationing family's rural or urban desires, the countryside along the Highland Lakes ranges from total isolation to "uptown Saturday night" in the Austin clubs and restaurants. Beginning at the small village of Bend on the upper Colorado, a combination of fish camps, guest houses, bed and breakfasts and state parks beckon the visitor. Farther downstream, the rolling countryside becomes more populated, with a completely urban scene reached at Marble Falls. Here in Sunrise Beach is Sandyland Resort, a Lake LBJ resort featuring 14 units, all with lake views and completely finished with modem conveniences. Pontoon boat and wave runner rentals are available, as well as sailboat cruises, sailing lessons, canoe and kayak fun. For fishermen more suited to a lawn chair and cane pole, great fishing abounds from the pier. Nearby recreation includes several golf courses, hiking, biking, wine tasting and exploration of the Longhorn Caverns and many pink granite cliffs.
For an extra-special treat, take the "Vanishing Texas River Cruise" across Lake Buchanan and far up the Colorado River on a specially built triple-decker sightseeing boat. For further information on Sandyland Resort, call (915) 388-4521. To find out more about the Texas Hill Country or the Highland Lakes, call the Austin Chamber of Commerce at (512) 478-9383.
If saltwater activities are more suited to your family pleasures, Texas has hundreds of miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico from Port Arthur on the Texas/Louisiana border to Port Isabel on the Texas/Mexico border. Besides the offshore blue-water fishing, the Lone Star State boasts a plethora of inshore and bay fishing along the Inland Waterway.
What better place could there be than South Padre Island to begin a saltwater adventure? Just across the causeway from Port Isabel and the mainland, this modem city at the south end of Padre Island is a vacationer's paradise. Modern, high-rise hotels sit next to rustic fishing cabins. Shoppers are able to turn up anything from antiques to fashionable clothing in the many shops and malls.
Both offshore and bay fishing are offered from the Island. Blue-water fishermen usually go after the big marlin, tarpon, dolphin and other "glamour" fish, but they also fish for smaller but good-eating red snapper. Bay fishermen target redfish, speckled seatrout and flounder as well as sheepshead, whiting and others.
Offshore boats include the popular "six-packs" - smaller, faster boats carrying only six passengers - up to the larger, so-called "head boats" - those measuring up to 80 feet that charge by the passenger, or by the head. Bay boats are smaller with much shallower drafts to negotiate the "skinny" bay water, which averages only about 24 inches in depth.
For further information on lodging, guides or offshore trips, call the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce at (956) 761-4412.
Just north of South Padre, and not on the way to anywhere, the sleepy coastal village of Port Mansfield offers the same offshore and bay fishing excitement as do the much larger cities. Our choice for a trouble-free and relaxing stay at Port Mansfield is the Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge, located on the harbor with immediate access to the miles of gin-clear water, sand and grass bottoms of the Lower Laguna Madre. Offshore and bay guides who are associated with the enterprise work together to put their clients on the best fishing. For further information, call Get-A-Way at (956) 944-4000. Other accommodations and vacation plans can be found by calling the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce at (956) 944-2354.
Another fishing village farther north along the Gulf of Mexico is Rockport, which will not only satisfy any saltwater angler's desires, but combined with its neighboring village of Fulton, has enough sidelines to please family members with different interests. For instance, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is nearby, which is home to more varieties and numbers of birds than any other place in the Lone Star State. As winter home of the endangered whooping crane, the site also boasts over 800 species of plants and almost 500 vertebrate species, including about 390 species of birds.
Most of the wildlife can be seen and photographed from a 16-mile auto tour loop and trails, while the majestic whoopers can usually be watched from an observation tower on the refuge or from boat tours originating at Rockport. For further information, call the Rockport Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-242-0071.
If you've just got to fish the lake that produced Texas' largest bass - an 18.18-pound behemoth caught in 1992 by Klondike angler Barry St. Clair - then you've got to make the trip to Lake Fork, a 27,700-acre impoundment some 90 miles east of Dallas. At one time, eight of the top 10 bass taken from Texas waters came out of Lake Fork, the smallest of the lot weighing a whopping 16.75 pounds!
Although the area is fairly rural, it is still possible to find comfortable accommodations. One such location is Corry's Guest House, a lake vacation home rental in nearby Yantis. The comfortable 1,000-square-foot house has 2 bedrooms and has a full bath, laundry room, phone, linens and a modern kitchen complete with pots, pans, dinnerware and microwave. To make everything perfect, a covered patio with a private full-sized hot tub provides a respite to aching bones. For further information, call (903) 383-7062. To find out more about Lake Fork visitation, call Lake Fork Marina at (903) 765-2764.
If you're not intimidated by size, then East Texas' Lake Sam Rayburn might be what you're looking for. At 114,000 surface-acres, "Big Sam" occupies the heart of the Pineywoods, with habitat diverse enough to satisfy nearly any fisherman. The upper part of the lake, which impounds the Angelina River about 15 miles north of Jasper, contains mostly submerged aquatic vegetation, standing timber and flooded grassbeds. The lower half is relatively clear and deep.
While the lake contains nearly every type of fish found in our state, it is probably one of the best places in the region to find the prized hybrid striper, a cross between white and striped bass. Although the hybrids don't reach the huge sizes of their striped bass relatives, they offer a tremendous fight on light line.
Lake Sam Rayburn has many sprawling vacation resorts as well as cozy motels, bed and breakfasts and camping areas. For further information, call the Jasper Chamber of Commerce at (409) 384-2762, or visit their Web site at www.jaspercoc.org.
Finally, on our tour of Texas fishing vacations, we offer Lake Texoma, a meandering border reservoir dividing North Texas and Oklahoma. Two major rivers, the Red and the Washita, provide a tremendous number of creeks, tributaries, inlets, islands and nearly many other areas for anglers to explore there.
The most popular angling attraction at Texoma is the striped bass, although the fish tend to be rather small compared to those found at some other Texas impoundments. Most fishing guides and biologists blame fishing pressure for this shortcoming, although the lake teems with stripers in the 4- to 8-pound range. Besides stripers, other popular fish at the lake include both smallmouth and largemouth bass, white bass, crappie and all the popular species of catfish.
If there is a problem with Lake Texoma, it is that there is no reciprocal licensing agreement between Texas and Oklahoma. That means fishermen must stay in Texas waters south of the Red River channel, purchase both states' fishing licenses or purchase a special Lake Texoma license that allows the holder to fish anywhere on the lake.
Again, Lake Texoma offers both large and small vacation lodges and motels in many locations on both sides of the lake. In addition, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is within a few hours' drive. For further information on Lake Texoma, call the Denison Chamber of Commerce at (903) 465-1551.
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