One of the most fun road trips I ever made was a jaunt from Arkansas to Wyoming. I was going to a camp near Dubois, Wyo. The round-trip distance was about 3,000 miles. To break up the long drive, I decided I’d do some fishing here and there along my route.
With nothing but a road map as my guide, a little rod and reel I kept in the back of my truck, and a small tackle bag stored under the seat, I fished my way from the Ozarks to the Rockies and back. On the drive out, I caught largemouth bass in an Arkansas farm pond, big-river catfish with a fishing guide in Missouri, bluegills and bullheads from a pier at a Kansas state-park lake, and trout in a clear Colorado stream. The trip home was equally productive. I caught my first cutthroat trout in Wyoming, a mess of white bass in Oklahoma and two dozen crappie in a state wildlife agency lake in Arkansas.
Whether you travel in a little pickup truck like I did or a big motorhome with all the amenities of home, on a short trip or a cross-country run, alone or with family or friends, fishing can be a memorable part of your travel. And the following tips will help you enjoy your angling road trip even more.
Before leaving home, do some research and pick a few good fishing locales along your route. If you’re pulling a boat, you’ll have access to fishing hot spots all along your way. If not, choose lakes with fishing piers or other bank-fishing access, or perhaps a small river where you can stop and cast from a boat ramp or riverside park. A good place to start is the fisheries department in any state you plan to drive through. Most agencies offer detailed information about fishing waters, large and small, on their websites. Links to all are posted on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website at www.fws.gov/offices/statelinks.html.
You probably don’t want a bunch of poles sticking out your windows or strapped to the luggage rack, and fortunately, this isn’t necessary. Many companies make great multi-piece travel combos ideal for road-trip fishing. Add a small tackle box with a variety of hooks, sinkers, bobbers and multi-species fishing lures, such as small spinners, crankbaits and spoons, and you’re ready to fish.
You can fish with lures and find great action for most types of fish, but if you stop at a good catfish hole or trout stream, natural or manufactured baits may be more productive. For this reason, I always keep a supply of ready-to-use baits in my vehicle. Many brands are available, including Berkley Powerbait products in jars (www.purefishing.com). These fish-catchers, which include baits for crappie, trout, catfish and more, aren’t too smelly or messy and can be kept almost indefinitely. They’re great for road-trip fishing.
If you run out of manufactured bait, don’t fret. Stop at a grocery store, and you can quickly turn up several good fish baits, including chicken liver and hot dogs for catfish, bread for bream, and corn and cheese for trout. Be sure to check local regulations beforehand for bait restrictions.
Don’t forget licenses
If you know for sure you’re going to fish in a particular state, you might want to buy a fishing license online before you leave home. If your approach is going to be more random — picking fishing spots as you see them — then visit a license seller (mom-and-pop groceries, sporting-goods stores or the local Walmart) before you’re ready to fish. Most states offer inexpensive trip licenses for nonresidents that are good for a few days or a week. Be sure you and everyone in your party have the right license handy so you don’t get ticketed by the local conservation officer. Check fishing regulations as well to be sure you’re doing everything by the book.
Pick a pier
Many state fisheries departments have built fishing piers that provide ideal locations to stop and cast for a few minutes or a few hours when you’re road-weary. Most feature a deck at the end running perpendicular to the main walkway, giving the structure a “T” or “L” shape. Anglers fish off the side or through a hole cut in the decking. Anyone can enjoy fishing from a pier, including disabled anglers in wheelchairs. These are especially good places for fishing with youngsters, too. Carry a picnic lunch, outfit your children with life jackets, and get ready for fun.
On the water
Want to get out on the water during your trip? Check with local boat docks and marinas and see if rental boats or canoes are available. Most businesses rent by the hour or the day, so you can stop for a brief outing or stay a while if the fish are really biting.
You also might consider throwing a belly boat or a set of waders in with your gear. Either will allow you to get away from overgrown shores so you have better access to fish cover.
Book a guide
When you have some extra time and can stop and fish a half a day or more, consider booking a fishing guide to take you out. The guide will provide everything you need for fishing, and if the fish are biting, he’s sure to put you on them. The best bet is to book your outing with a guide recommended by a friend or family member who has already visited. You also can glean information by studying advertisements in fishing magazines and requesting that materials be mailed to you, or by searching for information on the Internet.
Got a big vacation planned with the family and want to get in some fishing time while you’re there? Many family resort destinations offer fishing packages as part of their itinerary. Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, for example, offers two-hour guided fishing excursions for five people on lakes where bass grow to 14 pounds! At Mountain Harbor Resort near Hot Springs National Park, guided trips on Lake Ouachita can produce 30-pound striped bass or a mess of big bluegills for supper. Many resorts nationwide offer similar opportunities.
Good for what ails you
One final tip: Add some fishing time to road trips every chance you get. Not only is fishing fun; it’s a good way to relax and make the most out of every journey, no matter how long or how short. If everyone went fishing when traveling here to there, road rage would be a thing of the past.