By Joe Noble
Fishing is one of North America’s most enduring traditions, and camping is one of the most family friendly outdoor activities. Combine them and you have a recipe for adventure and fun for children and adults. In fact, they seem to fit together well—where there is an image of a child camping, it often is of him or her holding a fish.
Whether adding a fishing adventure to your camping trip or including a camping adventure with your fishing trip, abundant opportunities make it practical and easy to do both.
Young and old alike enjoy camping, but in many different ways and in many geographic locations. For example, camping accommodations can mean anything from sleeping in canvas or nylon tents to trailer campers and recreational vehicles (RVs) to traditional yurts or rustic cottages to a comfortable room at a lodge in a state or national park. Some people live within a few miles of a campground; others travel a few hours to find one. Pitch a tent in the backyard for the kids to sleep in over the weekend, and they will talk about their “camping” experience for weeks.
Generally speaking, the cultural image of camping typically includes tents, sleeping bags and campfires. Add to that cookware, food, water purification equipment, camp chairs, camp stoves, clothing, camp tables and more, and you get the idea that in practice camping takes on a more personalized experience. Pick your preferred camping style and you are sure to find the equipment, accommodation and location to enjoy it.
Americans have long included fishing as one of their primary camping activities. The more adventurous people have filled up boats and loaded airplanes with camping and fishing gear and headed to some of the most remote lakes this continent has to offer. While most families pack up the car and head out for a weekend of camping and fishing just a few hours drive from home. Families, especially those with younger children, opt for established campgrounds that provide some family friendly amenities, such as bathrooms, showers and electricity. Usually, these campgrounds provide fishing access to adjacent rivers or lakes.
Fly-in adventures typically provide what they advertise—cold pristine waters, night skies twinkling with infinite stars and endless fish to catch. Outfitters deliver comfortable campsites and all the food and tackle needed. However, some camper-anglers prefer to pack up their own boat, cookware, food, tackle and other gear and hire a plane taxi to fly them into a remote location. They pitch a tent lakeside and spend several days camping and reeling in bass, walleye, pike, trout, salmon and more.
Other camper-anglers follow a stream into the hills, toting on their backs their tent, sleeping bag, shore lunch and sundry other camping utensils, a water purification system, in particular. After setting up camp, with rod and tackle in hand, they hike up stream, exploring every turn, curve and waterfall, no matter how small, until they find a special eddy that produces fish. Trout or salmon, depending on geographic location, are often the goal, but bass are taken, as well. Fresh fish fried over an open fire is an outdoor delicacy.
Most forests allow for campfires; but some areas put limitations on fires during dry seasons; and high altitude locations often prohibit wood fires. When fires are prohibited, a camping stove with sufficient fuel is necessary.
Whether hiking in or setting up at an established campground, bring a variety of tackle for your length of stay. Some research about what the fish are biting will help your selection process. The local bait shop is often a good source for knowledge about what species is active and what they are feeding on.
North America’s state and national parks also offer some of the best opportunities to camp and fish. For example, Yellowstone National Park is not only well known for Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls and grizzly bears, but also for its family camping and fishing. The park provides many established campsites, as well as backcountry sites, from which anglers can investigate productive fishing holes. Yellowstone’s waters have dozens of species of fish to seek out. Non-native species may be harvested, however, native species, such as Arctic grayling, cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish must be released.
Reservations at Yellowstone, and all other national parks, can be made by calling a toll-free number or logging on to the campground’s website. Most websites provide information about what kind of camping accommodations are available, the nature of fishing in the park and required licenses and stamps.
Fishing is not the only activity when camping in the state and national parks. Most state and national parks offer a variety of programs for children and parents, alike. For example, Minnesota’ Geochaching Wildlife Safari is part of the fast-growing worldwide activity that has campers and park visitors using a global positioning system (GPS) device to seek hidden treasures (caches). Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. Players locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share their experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of family, community and support for the environment.
Ohio’s DNR offers a “Just For Kids” program and themed campouts throughout the year in that state’s parks, nearly all of which include fishing. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, more than 50 of Texas’ state parks offer free fishing for everyone as a way to “encourage people to enjoy fishing. It has long been one of the most popular activities in the U.S., and it is our hope that everyone will want to share in the countless memories that can be created out on the water.”
A final activity for heartier folks is winter camping. Winter camping can also be an exciting family adventure, especially in landscapes where ice fishing freshwater lakes is common. Ice fishing requires a set of equipment different from open water fishing. A warm lodge or cabin makes for a nice retreat after a day of ice fishing; but a tent with a wood burner adds to the rustic, traditional experience of winter camping.
Combining camping and fishing into a single adventure that includes the whole family can take place in a state parks, national park and even in the backcountry for experienced campers. Online reservations and toll-free numbers make planning a snap, and most rangers will know where the fish are biting.
So, pitch a tent, unroll a sleeping bad and cast a line. The camping and fishing traditions are alive and well in North America.