The time is right for a well earned summer fishing fling, and it’s great to include the family, too. The trouble with such an angling sabbatical, however, is where to go, what to expect, and who’s a good contact at the destination.
But relax, there are more places for great summer Southern fishing than you have time or energy to enjoy. What’s more, there are many great destinations that cover the gamut from inexpensive to regal, and there are ones spotted throughout Dixie that are ideal for family oriented visits.
The following destinations offer anglers some of the best vacation fishing around. What’s more, they’re not difficult to get to, and they’re simple to set up.
Lake Walk-In-Water, Fla.: Largemouth Bass
The Indians named it Lake Weohyakapka. But for ease of pronunciation, locals call it “Lake Walk-In-Water.” Fishermen in the know, however, call the spot one of the best bass fisheries the Sunshine State has ever seen. Even the state fisheries department recognizes the lake south of Orlando and Lake Kissimmee as one of the most remarkable big bass fisheries in Florida.
“The numbers of 8 to 12 pound largemouths Weohyakapka produces is absolutely incredible,” saysveteran bass guide Johnny Doub. “I’ve had days of slow-trolling wild shiners when a guide party and I have caught over five such huge bass, including three fish each over 10 pounds.”
Such talk about big bass on a public lake smack in the heart of Florida and near major tourist centers may sound like hyperbole, until it comes from someone like Doub, a guide with over 20 years of big fish experience.
Doub says best fishing is spring and fall, but he produces huge bass for clients right through the summer months. Key to the lake’s big bass productivity is hydrilla, big beds of it in deep water, 6 to 9 feet down. It’s full of bait and big bass.
Doub is available for guided trips by phoning Bass Champions Guide Service at 863-692-1668 or 800-826-0621.
Lake Calcasieu, La: Redfish/Seatrout
Lake Calcasieu is a light-tackle saltwater fishing Mecca, located just inland from the Gulf of Mexico west of New Orleans and about 20 miles east of the Texas border. It’s 8 miles wide, 21 miles long, mainly shallow, somewhat off the beaten track, and it has some of the best, most reliable spotted seatrout, red drum and flounder fishing in America.
In a normal day of casting jigs and plugs for trout, Calcasieu anglers commonly boat 20 to 50 seatrout averaging 2 to 3 pounds. Thousands of seatrout weighing over 5 pounds have been caught since the Louisiana net ban in 1997, and more trout in the 8 to 10 pound range have been collected by Calcasieu regulars than anyone can remember. Red drum fishing also has improved dramatically. Sizes of reds still are about the same, since large fish over 10 or 12 pounds “escape” to the open Gulf once they reach that sexually mature size. But the numbers of redfish in the 5 to 10 pound class has exploded in Calcasieu.
While fishing can be done on Calcasieu year-round, prime action is found from April through October. In good conditions, it’s not unusual for Calcasieu anglers in 17-foot skiffs, using electric motors, jigs and light spinning tackle, to catch 100 fish in a day.
Hackberry Rod and Gun Club offers excellent on-the-water motel-type lodging, abundant and superb food. For more information and reservations contact Hackberry Rod & Gun Club (www.hackberryrodandgun.com; phone 888-762-3391).
Pickwick Reservoir, Tenn.: Striped Bass
From late April through October striped bass and hybrid bass (white bass-striped bass cross) jam in the tailrace water below Pickwick Reservoir, located on the Alabama-Tennessee border, near the towns of Savannah, Tennessee and Iuka, Mississippi. During those months anglers fishing with live shad or herring baits commonly catch 10 to 12 fish per boat, per day, with stripers averaging 10 to 12 pounds. Hybrids weigh 4 to 7 pounds. Sometimes striper anglers also catch heavyweight catfish. Great smallmouth bass fishing for 2- to 5-pounders also is available in the Tennessee River around backwater rip-rap during late summer and early autumn.
For serious fishermen, the Historic Botel (Botel Road, Savannah, Tenn. 38372, phone 731-925-4787) is a good place to headquarter. This is a favorite recreation spot for famed angler Bill Dance, and offers a good restaurant and clean accommodations. The Botel is a huge, dry-dock boat that’s beside the Tennessee River, and just a couple minutes boat run to the tailrace. Anglers also can trailer boats above the dam and launch in Pickwick Reservoir just a few minutes away.
Little Andy’s Sportsman Lodge (731-689-3750) is another place for visitors fishing the area to hang their hats.
Dave Harbin’s “Pickwick Outdoors” (www.pickwickoutdoors.com; phone 800-783-0112, 731-689-8000) is a full service booking agency for area visitors. A number of full time fishing guides work for him, and they specialize in striper, catfish, bass and panfish angling.
South Carolina Coast, King Mackerel
South Carolina has some of the best king mackerel fishing in the nation. The season runs May to November, with peak action in August. Excellent kingfishing is had along the entire South Carolina Coast. But, naturally, the bulk of the fishing is done out of large coastal towns where access to the Atlantic is most convenient. Much of the state’s kingfishing is done out of the towns of (listed from south to north) Hilton Head, Edisto Beach, Charleston, Georgetown, Murrells Inlet and Little River.
Over the last decade anglers have learned some of the best mackerel action can be found just outside inlets. This is where many small boat owners do their fishing, and it can be outstanding – trolling along tide lines, current edges, water-color changes and channel drop-offs within just a couple miles of land.
Some Charleston fishermen start right in the harbor, because even before they clear the jetties they can catch good kings. But similarly good mackerel action can be found at sounds and inlets along much of the South Carolina Coast.
Offshore waters near all the larger river mouths and sounds along the South Carolina Coast are productive for kingfish. Among the best are: the mouth of the Savannah River, Port Royal Sound, St. Helena Sound, Charleston Harbor, Bulls Bay, Winyah Bay and Murrells Inlet.
Most South Carolina anglers use natural baits for kings, and live baits are the preferred choice. Live menhaden, mullet, Spanish mackerel and bluefish are the chosen live baits. Normally, anglers cruise near-shore areas at daybreak and cast net menhaden or mullet for use as bait.
Fishing for kings often is best at river mouths and inlets during high tides. Another great way to troll live baits close to the beach for kings is around shrimp trawlers. Small fish that are caught and killed in their nets draws kings, and successful fishermen often troll right up near the stern and around the sides of a trawler’s nets.
Farther offshore, there are hundreds of productive deep-water spots for kingfish along the South Carolina Coast. Natural ledges and reefs, shipwrecks and artificial reefs make up the bulk of the prime offshore kingfish spots. Most of the deep-water fishing ledges and reefs are 12 to 30 miles offshore.
The state has an excellent artificial reef building program, with large ships periodically sunk to attract kingfish and many other species. Locations of South Carolina Coastal reefs and wrecks are available to the public by contacting the Artificial Reef Section of the South Carolina Marine Resources Department in Charleston (phone 843-762-5082). The department also can provide a list of marinas and registered kingfish charter boat captains at coastal fishing centers.
White River, Arkansas: Brown/Rainbow Trout
One of the best and most famous trout destinations in North America is the famed White River in north-central Arkansas. The wide, clean, clear, cold White provides anglers with excellent trout fishing virtually 12 months per year. And while the bulk of the fish caught are put-and-take size rainbows, there are some giant trout taken annually, including some eye-openers by any standard. World-record size browns and rainbows weighing in the 30-pound range have been caught below Bull Shoals Dam, near the town of Bull Shoals.
Action is tops in the White for a couple reasons. For one, because the river starts from under big Bull Shoals Dam, the water temperature seldom varies from between 50 and 58 degrees – ideal for rainbows. Secondly, the river is stocked heavily with trout reared in a nearby hatchery. The White is rich in forage food, so stocked trout live the good life, waxing fat and quickly growing to large size.
A typical day’s fishing on the White usually sees each angler taking from six to 10 fish, most weighing in the 1- to 2-pound range. Rainbows weighing 4 to 6 pounds are fairly common, and ones pushing 20 pounds are recorded nearly every season.
The White offers anglers simple, easy, relaxing trout fishing that almost invariably results in excellent catches. The most effective method of working the White is float fishing. It’s the type angling anyone can do and be successful. Anglers merely float down the river in large johnboats, casting bait (worms, corn or salmon eggs) impaled on hooks and allowed to bump along bottom as a boat drifts.
Anglers employing small spoons, jigs and spinners often do well on White River rainbows. Fly fishermen have their innings with trout, too, especially when wading shoal areas during float trip stops. The White has its share of hatches, so dry fly anglers can score well, especially in summer when insects are abundant.
Numerous float trip and overnight camping-floating outfitters, and very capable guides operate on the White River. Float trips for trout can be arranged in the towns of Bull Shoals, Flippin, Mountain Home and Cotter. One of the best trout outfitting services and places to headquarter on the White is Gaston’s Resort (www.gastons.com; 870-431-5202) in the town of Lakeview.
Note: Bob McNally’s latest book is Bass…In Depth. The 288-page, 26-chapter book has 200 detailed illustrations and exciting photographs, and is a comprehensive guide to bass fishing. Autographed copies are available for $16.95 from McNally Outdoor Productions, 1716 Bayside Blvd., Jacksonville, Fla. 32259.