Family Fishing Vacations By Jason Brooks
Family vacation is often thought of as going to a place such as Disneyland or some far off tropical island, but it can also involve taking a camping trip or a travelling to a town that offers a variety of activities. I grew up in Lake Chelan, one of the most popular destinations in Washington State. What is interesting is that most of the families I met while growing up there only took to the lake to go swimming, water skiing, or some other activity. The largest lake in Washington, with a variety of fish species, and yet most families didn’t go fishing. Again, this is more to do with the “traditional” idea of a family vacation- involving things like mini-golf, playing at the beach, and sitting by a campfire.
Fishing is a fun family activity and yet it isn’t something that is often thought of for a vacation. Not only does it bring kids and parents together, but it can also be multi-generational, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins all joining in. Of course, there are some family members that might not like the idea of fishing as a reason to go on vacation, but fishing doesn’t have to be the only reason why you go to the lake, river, or ocean. Here are some ideas on making the most of a family fishing vacation.
First, realize that not everyone might want to go fishing. Knowing this will help with planning the trip and tailoring it to the needs of the vacation. If the idea is to add a day on the water chasing fish and then spend the rest of the week doing other activities, then be sure to pick a destination that offers those other activities. Lake Chelan, my hometown, offers so many other things to do that it might be hard to find the time to actually fish. This is when you can plan a day for those that don’t want to fish to do the activity they want to do, such as go shopping or sit at the beach, while the other members of the family go fishing. This will keep everyone happy, but if the goal is to keep the family together then be sure to plan a shorter trip. A half day on the water slowly trolling along for the fish to bite is better than trying to entertain everyone for an entire day and having family and friends feel like they wasted a day of vacation.
Set a time limit and stick to it. If you have a few family members that don’t want to go fishing, then agree to a “end time” such as noon or lunchtime, and then call it a day of fishing and go do something else. If the fish are biting, then there is a good chance that everyone will want to stay on the water longer, but if the fish aren’t biting, then pack it up and go do another fun family activity. This way, you are more likely to have the non-angling members agree to try it again on another vacation.
Pick a species that is easy and fun to catch. If steelhead are your target, then you better be sure to be on a river at the height of the return, otherwise you are more likely to have a casting practice session instead of catching fish, and this will lead to family members not wanting to try fishing again. Instead, go out and do some trout fishing at a well-stocked lake, or try some panfish- something that everyone will have a chance at catching.
Hire a guide. You might be a pro at fishing and don’t need a guide, but by hiring a guide you can sit back and let them do the work. This is a vacation and that means relaxing. Guides will have the right gear and will get you on the fish. The local water might have a good lake trout fishery, and this means bringing downriggers, rods, reels, lures- and knowing the location of the fish. Maybe it is a salmon trip, and again it comes down to technique and location. The idea here is not to figure out how to catch fish for yourself, but to have fun and let the guide explain how to catch the fish. You will spend more time fishing, and you don’t have to clean the boat afterwards.
So, your family likes the idea of fishing as part of the vacation. There is no issue with a non-angler, and not having to convince anyone to wake up early and go fishing is a vacation. Now is the time to plan that destination trip. Look at several guides and lodges- again, this is a vacation. Timing is everything when it comes to fishing, and just because the salmon might be running where you live doesn’t mean they are running where you are going. Alaska is a prime example: chinook fishing starts in May, by July it is time for sockeye, and coho and chum dominate August. However, in Washington, chums run in November and December.
If you are looking for a true destination fishery with a lodge and guides, then look at Canada and Alaska. Be sure to call the different lodges and see what is included. Some include food and beverages while others don’t, or only offer partial drinks and charge for alcohol. Be realistic on what you plan on bringing home. A halibut and a few chinook can take up your entire allotment of fish to bring back, and this is not just for the lodge, but for the airlines- if you plan on flying. Prepare to pay extra for hauling back your catch, or just plan on bringing back the allowable weight, and know that the fish you eat at the lodge is what is left over.
Destination fisheries are more about the experiences than the freezer being full. Whales breaching next to the boat and bald eagles screaming along the shoreline make for an adventure. Having a candlelit dinner while watching a midnight sunset after a day of reeling in salmon are the things you can experience at a lodge in Alaska. If you have never been to a fishing lodge, then go there with an open mind. You can catch fish back home, but this is a fishing experience.
If the family fishing vacation is more of a “do it yourself” adventure where you want to fill the freezer and do a lot of fishing on your own boat, then look to the many port towns that offer the fish you desire. There are plenty of fishing towns along the coast where you can go out and catch bottom fish one day and salmon the next. Some offer calm waters for kayaking if you choose to skip a day of fishing, and some have campgrounds to sit around the fire and tell fishing stories.
No boat, no problem. You can hire guide or even go on a charter where your entire family and friends can go along and catch fish. A bottom fishing trip is a perfect way to spend the day while on vacation, and will often provide enough fish for several fish frys. There are also several places you can go where no boat is needed, and yet have a family vacation involving fishing. When I was just six years old, my father took my brother and I to Yellowstone National Park. We took our fishing rods and floated flies behind clear bobbers, catching trout just about everywhere we went. In between the normal tourist stops at Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls, and other attractions, we would hike along the many streams and rivers and go fishing. It is the fishing that I remember most about that trip, and that was where I began to learn how to fly fish.
Just a few weeks ago I was talking with our youngest son, who is a sophomore in high school. He was asking about a trip he wanted to do before going off to college in a few years, and the idea was to do a fly fishing tour of the Pacific Northwest. He wants to start off by fishing some of the more famous trout creeks in eastern Washington, make our way to Idaho’s Clark Fork, and then continue into Montana, the Bitterroot Valley, and the Rocky Mountains. Eventually, he wants to head to Yellowstone, where he has heard the stories of my youth and our family fishing vacations.
Planning a family vacation that involves fishing can be something as simple as a morning on the water with a local guide, to a full-service Alaskan lodge experience. If you already know how to fish and have a boat, then maybe it is time to create memories and fill the freezer during the height of a run. You can fish Buoy 10 or make a road trip to a National Park. Either way, making plans and taking the family fishing will create memories of a lifetime.