Plan Your Fishing Road Trip

Fishing in Arkansas

One of the most fun road trips I ever made was a jaunt from Arkansas to Wyoming. I had booked a week at a resort near Dubois, Wyo. The round-trip distance from my home to the camp and back 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.

At-Home Preparation

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 hotspots 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 Web sites. Links to all are posted on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Road Trip Rods

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. Shakespeare Fishing Tackle, for example, offers Excursion Travel kits that include a rod (collapsible to 15 inches), spinning or spincasting reel with line, more than 50 items of tackle and a durable, hard storage case. The whole kit fits easily under a seat.

The Essential Tackle Pack

Most road-trip anglers are opportunists, always prepared to catch what's biting. The following selection of hooks, floats, sinkers and lures carried in the compact tacklebox described will help you be ready for any eventuality:

Tacklebox: Tackle Logic Day Tripper System with a soft-side carry case, five laminated zip-seal bags and a hard-plastic Stowaway box with divided compartments that will carry everything for spur-of-the-moment fishing.

Three 50-count boxes of hooks: Tru-Turn Blood Red Aberdeen Panfish Hooks, Size 2; Tru-Turn O'Shauhnessy Catfish Hooks, Size 2/0; and Tru-Turn Bronze Aberdeen Hooks, Size 6.

Sinkers: Water Gremlin Pro Pack with 63 Snap-Loc sinkers and removable split shot.

Floats: Thill Gold Medal Assortment Kit with seven types of premium balsa floats, five bobber stops, 10 red beads and six silicone sleeves.

LuresBeetle Spin Strip Pack with 10 Beetle Spin lures plus a selection of Rebel's "creature lures," including the Big Ant, Bumble Bug, Cat'R Crawler, Wee Crawfish, Creek Creature, Crickhopper, Hellgrammite, Tadfry and Wee Frog.

Great Bait

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. 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.

Grocery Baits

If you run out of manufactured bait, don't fret. Stop in 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 on-line 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 Wal-Mart) before you're ready to fish. Most states offer inexpensive trip licenses for non-residents 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

In recent years, with funds available through the Sport Fish Restoration Program, many state fisheries departments have built new fishing piers that provide ideal locations to stop and cast a few minutes or 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. All docks built with federal dollars must be handicapped accessible. 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 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 set of waders in 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.

Resort Packages

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, Arkansas, 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.

Blue Line Fishing

Fishing blue lines is a fun way to go. Be sure you have your fishing license, then just watch your road map for blue lines on the route ahead that indicate a river or stream crossing. Public access areas are available at many of these spots where you can cast a jig, spinner or other multi-species lure and see what's biting. You never know what you'll find on the end of your line.

Lure Selection

For best results when you're fishing with artificial lures, match your selection to the water conditions you observe where you stop to fish. If the water is muddy, for example, you may catch more fish by using flashy lures such as spinners that are easier for fish to see or rattling lures like a Rat-L-Trap crankbait that produce sounds fish can zero in on. In clear water, smaller lures may work best because there's less of a phony nature for fish to observe. Also, stick with dark-colored lures (black, blue, purple, etc.) in muddy or stained waters, and lighter, brighter colors (chartreuse, red, yellow, etc.) in clear waters.

State Fish

Here's a fun road-trip fishing game. Try to catch the official state fish in every state you travel through. In Alabama, for example, you would try to catch a largemouth bass, the official freshwater state fish, or a tarpon, the state saltwater fish. In Michigan, you'd try for a brook trout, and in Nebraska, you'd cast a line for channel catfish. For a list of all state fish, check

Want to make the game even simpler? Just try to catch a different species in every state along your route.

Saltwater Spots

Don't overlook saltwater fishing opportunities if your road trip takes you along or near the coast. Many cities and parks have long fishing piers where you can stop a while and target saltwater species ranging from sheepshead and Spanish mackerel to sharks and tarpon. Most piers also have bait shops and tackle stores nearby (sometimes right on the pier) where you can drop in for fishing tips and info on what's biting.

Loaner Tackle

Forgot your fishing tackle when you left home? Plan your fishing stop at a state or national park and drop in the office. Many parks that encompass good fishing waters have tackle available for loan to park visitors. And more often than not, there's no cost involved.

Say Cheese

Keep a camera handy to record your memorable moments while fishing on the road. If you're fishing alone and have a camera with a self-timer function, you can set it on a tripod and snap a shot of yourself with your catch. Or have a companion do the shooting. If you plan to stop at a motel for the night and are shooting with a digital camera, you can hook up your laptop and e-mail photos of the big one that didn't get away just hours after you caught it, a great way to stay in touch with family and friends while you're away from home.

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.

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