Ahhh, the life of the carefree bass angler.
For decades, I traveled all over the U.S. and Mexico in pursuit of largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and peacock bass. Carried more tackle than luggage. Ate canned weenies and soggy sandwiches late in the evening after coming off the water — along with an adult beverage or two.
Accommodations ranged from tents to trucks to cabins. Came and went as I pleased.
That all came to a crashing halt in 1997 with the birth of my twins, a boy and girl. As all parents know, life changes drastically — and that includes vacations. Suddenly, my wife and I began looking at vacations from a decidedly different viewpoint. We became part tour guides, as well as parents.
Although I have managed to do plenty of fishing on my own, the last decade of summertimes has included numerous trips designed with the family — particularly the kids — in mind. Some were home runs; others were infield hits; a few were strikeouts.
And the umpires were a pair of typical youngsters with the attention span of a gnat.
You, Bassmaster readers, are the beneficiaries of our summertime at-bats. After years of swinging for the fences, here are four great family bass vacations that I, er, we highly recommend for any family that enjoys fishing together.
These recommended destinations range from fairly expensive to dirt-cheap; from luxurious to rustic; from highly structured to do-it-yourself adventures. But all share the common denominators that vacationing parents will appreciate:
• Good accommodations.
• Good fishing.
• Plenty of things for kids/families to do on site and/or in the area.
Give one of these vacations a try this summer. Your children may actually thank you for it.
BIG CEDAR LODGE, TABLE ROCK LAKE
One of our all-time favorites is Big Cedar Lodge located on the shores of Table Rock Lake on the Missouri-Arkansas border. This is a place that any kid will love.
Fishing. An impoundment of the White River, Table Rock provides 52,300 acres of bass heaven — home to quality populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. Not to mention plenty of panfish action to keep youngsters interested.
The lodge's Bent Hook Marina can cover a visiting fisherman's every need. There, you can rent fully equipped Tracker bass, ski or pontoon boats and canoes by the hour or by the day. It also has a tackle shop with items supplied by parent company Bass Pro Shops.
Guides for half- or full-day trips are available at the marina. We highly recommend veteran local guide Brian Snowden, a Bassmaster Elite Series competitor who is excellent with kids and families (417-840-2190; www.missouriangling.com).
Lodging. The accommodations are superb, whether it be a room in one of three different lodges, cozy knotty pine cottage or well-appointed log cabin. All provide a degree of luxury.
On-site activities. Big Cedar personnel offer a wide variety of Kids' Club activities for children 4 to 12 years of age that generally last three hours (freeing mom and dad up for their own choice of activity). Included are action-packed games aimed toward environmental awareness led by Big Cedar staffers (featuring nutritious snacks), as well as special theme days, like Fun Fishing Day, that occur throughout the year. Among the most popular activities is the lodge's Young Angler Program where kids and a parent get access to on-site ponds.
Other activities not included in the Kids' Club include horseback riding and carriage rides.
Local attractions. Nearby Branson, Mo., is one of America's most popular tourist areas. There is plenty for families to enjoy, from theme parks to music shows. And the original Bass Pro Shops is just a short drive up the road in Springfield.
More information. Big Cedar Lodge, 800-BCLODGE, www.bigcedar.com; Missouri Tourism Commission, 800-519-2100, www.visitmo.com.
ANGLERS INN, LAKE EL SALTO, MEXICO
I know what you are thinking — Mexico bass fishing is a once-in-a-lifetime dream that simply isn't affordable.
For some families, experiencing the best bass action on the planet at world-famous Lake El Salto is not a financial possibility. But many will be surprised at how affordable it can be, thanks to special family deals offered by Anglers Inn, the top outfitter on the lake.
Fishing. In terms of sheer action as well as trophy size, no lake compares with Lake El Salto, a scenic reservoir that sprawls through the foothills of the famous Sierra Madres. Created in 1986 with the damming of the Elota River, El Salto is about 25,000 acres during the rainy season and shrinks to less than 17,000 acres in the summertime.
It harbors the kind of bass fishing that can be enjoyed by anglers of all sizes — whether it is a youngster interested in getting his string pulled every few minutes by one of the hard-fighting jalapeño bass or a teenager looking for a double-digit fish.
Lodging. The accommodations are varied, but all are first class, modern, air-conditioned and comfortable. In fact, the lodging is unlike anything found on most Mexican lakes. The meals included in the package price are an excellent array of both Mexican and American cuisine in family-style portions. And the service, which includes daily maid and laundry service, will match anything found in the United States.
We're talking pampered. Believe it or not, customers can enjoy massage, manicure and pedicure services during the midday siesta.
On-site activities. The Anglers Inn Summer Camp for kids promises to keep youngsters active and having fun during your siesta or a morning off from fishing.
The young folks can enjoy such activities as kayaking, miniature golf and target shooting. And there is a 26-foot pontoon boat (with a Bimini top) for the times when the entire family wants to venture out on the lake.
Local attractions. Anglers Inn personnel will take families on tours of native villages and natural attractions. In addition, they will ferry customers to the port city of Mazatlan, where they can enjoy 10 miles of beaches, water sports, horseback rides, shopping and dining.
More information. Anglers Inn, 800-GOTA-FISH, www.anglersinn.com. Ask about the Take a Kid Fishing special that features a half-price deal for kids.
JELLYSTONE PARK, TABOR CITY, N.C.
Here is a small family vacation gem hidden in the tiny town of Tabor City in the southeastern corner of North Carolina. Formally Daddy Joe's Fish Camp, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park is a great family getaway in the shadow of tourist haven Myrtle Beach, S.C.
This family-owned establishment is the perfect place to be a kid.
Fishing. Forget the big water; this is farm pond fishing at its finest. Numerous small lakes stocked with bass and panfish are easily accessible by foot and boat. There is even a pothole so loaded with bream that youngsters catch fish practically every cast — even on a bare gold hook.
Twist his arm and owner Ricky Coleman might even show you how to catch bass on one of his ponds or others on neighboring lands. And if that's not enough, there is even an artificially created trout stream on the property, stocked seasonally with rainbow trout, that received Progressive Farmer's National Award.
Lodging. Plenty of affordable accommodations to choose from. Air-conditioned cabins in two sizes (26 and 44 feet) feature kitchenettes, fireplaces and covered porches perfect for taking in a sunset. The unique yurts are fun places to stay. They are air-conditioned tent-like structures without bathrooms (a bathhouse is located nearby). Top-notch RV spaces are also available.
On-site activities. The list is practically endless: large pool, basketball courts, arcade, indoor theater, amphitheater, hiking trails, hayrides, bike and golf cart rentals, horseshoes and various planned activities. There is also Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the entire park.
Local attractions. You name it and it can be found within a short drive of the Grand Strand area of Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C.
More information. Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, 877-668-8586, www.taborcityjellystone.com.
WINGATE'S LODGE, LAKE SEMINOLE
From the organized activities of Big Cedar Lodge and Anglers Inn, we take you in a completely opposite direction — to Wingate's Lodge on the southern end of Lake Seminole on the Florida-Georgia border. This is a low-cost vacation locale where kids and parents can make their own fun.
Built by the legendary Jack Wingate 50 years ago, this is one of bass fishing's Meccas that has been visited by several generations of fishermen from the same family. Mr. Jack still spends time each day in a rocking chair on the porch of the restaurant/marina store, captivating youngsters and adults alike with his storytelling. And inside the unique restaurant you will find mounted fish, animals, Indian arrowheads and artifacts, and other local memorabilia.
Fishing. In its 37,500 watery acres, remote Lake Seminole is home to one of the best largemouth fisheries in America. In addition, it produces an impressive smorgasbord of gamefish — 17-pound bass, 3-pound crappie, 20-pound stripers, 40-pound flathead and channel catfish and 60-pound sturgeon.
Families will enjoy this diversity. One of the best aspects of a Lake Seminole experience is that something is always in season and biting. It might be hybrids, stripers, white bass, shellcrackers, bluegill or crappie — but it will usually bite frequently enough to keep kids happy.
The marina shop sells tackle, and guides are available. Guides we recommend include co-owner Mike Sloan or Pam Martin-Wells, a WBT Championship winner.
Lodging. The accommodations are not fancy, but they are clean, comfortable and affordable. A family can choose from new log cabins, hotel rooms, mobile homes, campsites or RV sites. The restaurant is the only one in the area without traveling 18 miles to the city of Bainbridge, Ga., but kitchenette units are available.
On-site activities. During a spring break vacation week at Wingate's, we discovered that there is plenty for kids to do. The Wingate property is big and sprawling, so there are lots of dirt roads perfect for bicycling and woods for exploring; open fields for playing games; trees for climbing; shorelines for fishing; and a playground located adjacent to the campground.
The Wingate's Lodge folks are really family-oriented. In fact, they are in the process of building a baseball diamond for local families and visitors to utilize. Also, both parents and youngsters will enjoy touring Lake Seminole aboard the Dixie Twister airboat for a nominal fee.
Local attractions. Lake Seminole State Park is a scenic location for exploring, wildlife viewing, boating and fishing. A 2.2-mile nature trail intersects this wiregrass community habitat. And our family enjoyed a visit to Florida Caverns State Park, located a short drive from Wingate's. The cave, near the city of Marianna, Fla., has interesting formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones and draperies.
More information. Wingate's Lodge, 229-246-0658, www.wingateslodge.com.
Regardless of which of these trips you decide to try, you won't be disappointed. Each has passed the rigorous test of the Tucker twins, without so much as a foul ball during the process.
MORE GREAT FAMILY BASS VACATIONS
Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The two renowned Disney lakes offer fabulous fishing that is exploited by an average of 200 guests per day. You can enjoy a guided fishing trip (tackle provided) on a comfortable pontoon boat while taking a break from the theme parks or while part of the family enjoys other activities. If you are a bit more serious, Nitro bass boats are available, as well. While catching is never a guarantee, the Disney lakes have the highest catch-rate-per-hour in the state of Florida. (407-939-BASS; www.disneyworld.com)
Lakeside Motel and Cabins, East Winthrop, Maine. This is a family-run, family-oriented business located on the shores of beautiful Cobbosseecontee Lake. Cobbosseecontee has long been considered Maine's best overall bass lake. During its summer and fall seasons, Cobbo is home to a delicious combination of comfortable temperatures and a cooperative, mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth bass. And it is surrounded by a friendly, tourist-oriented countryside, making the lake a perfect site for a family fishing vacation. Owners Andy and Sheree Wess are outstanding hosts. (800-532-6892; firstname.lastname@example.org)