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Passing Along the Fishing Tradition

Information iconAnahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. (Photo: Stephanie Martinez/USFWS)

Denise Wagner grew up in eastern Oklahoma. She fondly recalls fishing there with her dad and grandpa.

“No fancy rods and reels for us,” she says. “Just cane poles, hooks and worms or an occasional grasshopper. Sitting quietly on the bank, watching my bobber quiver on the water’s surface, anticipating its sudden disappearance, signaling to me, fish on! Or, sometimes, just listening to my grandpa whistle a little tune over the many great outdoor sounds all around us: cows mooing, birds singing.”

Together, they caught sunfish and catfish, mostly at a pond. “And then sometimes we’d head to one of the nearby lakes to fish, mainly at Lake Eufaula, where we’d fish for my mom and dad’s favorite catch to eat, crappie,” Wagner says. “My mom’s fried crappie — it was mouthwatering good.”

Beyond the relaxing days and tasty meals, fishing bestowed life lessons. First among them: Fishing is about much more than the catch. “It’s patience, it’s caring, and about being present in the moment and enjoying what is going on around you,” Wagner says. “I’m so thankful my parents passed along a love for all things outdoors and a tradition I’ve tried to help pass along to others.”

Wagner, a fish and aquatic conservation education coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is not alone in her appreciation of an all-American pastime.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, once said: “Many of the most highly publicized events of my presidency are not nearly as memorable or significant in my life as fishing with my daddy.”

Clockwise from left: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California, Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in New England, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania. (Photos: Anne Poole and USFWS)

Teach Kids to Fish at a Refuge

Here are some wonderful national wildlife refuges where you can pass along the fishing tradition. Most are in — or near — major cities.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is in the heart of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has designated the refuge’s Bass Ponds Fishing Pond as a “Fishing in the Neighborhood” pond. It is stocked with sunfish, bluegill and other pan fish, and it’s a prime spot to dangle a line from a pier. “It’s an escape from the everyday,” says visitor services manager Sandi Kinzer. “You have the chance for great bird and wildlife watching while waiting for a bite on your bait just steps from the shadow of skyscrapers. It’s also very convenient to reach. There’s a light-rail stop at the world-famous Mall of America within one-third-of-a-mile walk of the Bass Ponds trailhead.”

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

This refuge nine miles from downtown Philadelphia and just across I-95 from Philadelphia International Airport “offers the largest freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania, a habitat that is a nursery area for many fish species,” says refuge manager Lamar Gore. Refuge fishing spots include the north shore of the wetland, along Darby Creek and a boardwalk platform. Fish commonly caught are catfish, American eel, sunfish and Northern snakehead. The refuge is a First Catch Center.

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

One of the best things about fishing at this Florida refuge about 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale and 60 miles from downtown Miami “is that you are surrounded by one of the world’s most iconic wetlands, the Everglades,” says refuge visitor services coordinator David Vela. “Even a slow day of fishing will not be a day wasted as you are almost sure to spot beautiful wildlife, including alligators, turtles, deer, birds and many others.” During the winter dry season,” he says, “as the water levels in the interior of the refuge recede, many fish will migrate to the canals to seek refuge in the deeper water. This time of the year often provides anglers with high catch rates and trophy game fish.”

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Just 12 miles from downtown Denver, this refuge is a magnificent place to practice catch-and-release fishing with the city skyline and the Rocky Mountains as stunning backdrops. From April to October, visitors are welcome to fish at Lake Mary and Lake Ladora, where all fishing is catch-and-release with barbless hooks on a rod and reel or a fly fishing rod and artificial lures (no live bait). Common fish caught are largemouth bass, channel catfish, blue gill and, especially at Lake Ladora, Northern pike. Some highlights are the floating boardwalk at Lake Mary and the likelihood of seeing bison, mule deer and other wildlife roaming in the distance as you fish.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Dumbarton Fishing Pier, near the refuge’s headquarters in Fremont, California — 25 miles from Oakland and 35 miles from San Francisco — is open year-round. Fishing also is permitted by boat in the bay and its tributaries, but not in salt evaporation ponds or small slough channels at the refuge. “Most anglers would say the most successful fishing is when the tide is moving,” says outdoor recreation planner Carmen Leong-Minch. Bat rays, leopard sharks, white sturgeon, striped bass and shiner surfperch are commonly caught.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is in northeastern Massachusetts, about 40 miles from downtown Boston. Its six-mile barrier island beach is a popular destination for surf-cast anglers seeking striped bass. Refuge manager Bill Peterson’s recommendation: “Cast swim lures or weighted chunks of clams or mackerel into the subtle rip currents to catch hungry stripers cruising in the surf. Emerson Rocks, located at the end of Boardwalk No. 7, is a hotspot for anglers in September.” Note that most of the refuge beach is closed to the public from April 1 through late August to protect nesting plovers and terns. When the beach reopens, anglers can buy night permits to fish during the late evening, a prime time to catch trophy bass.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

The best spot to fish at this south Texas refuge near Brownsville is from the pier at Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park (a partnership between the refuge and Cameron County), says refuge ranger Marion Mason. “Or get away from the crowds by surf fishing in the Gulf of Mexico at the refuge’s South Padre Island Unit.” The refuge is a First Catch Center.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge along the Gulf of Mexico about 60 miles east of Houston offers excellent saltwater and freshwater angling and crabbing opportunities. Eight miles of shoreline along East Galveston Bay and three miles along the gulf are accessible by boat or wade fishing. Predominant saltwater fish species include red drum, flounder and spotted seatrout. The refuge also offers freshwater fishing from three bank piers and an accessible bridge. Freshwater species include catfish, white bass and alligator gar. Two boat ramps provide access to East Bay and Oyster Bayou. Boating is not permitted in inland waters.

Patuxent Research Refuge

This Maryland refuge situated between Baltimore and Washington, DC, offers one primary fishing spot at Cash Lake and another a bit off the beaten path at Blue Heron Pond. Cash Lake has an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant fishing pier that is partially shaded. Fishing from small, non-gas boats, kayaks and sailboats is permitted, too. Blue Heron Pond, on the north portion of the refuge, is a 10-acre pond at the end of a 3.5-mile trail and is accessible only by foot, bicycle or horseback. Vehicle access for disabled individuals is available upon request. Common fish caught are bluegills and sunfish. Less common are largemouth bass, chain pickerel and white crappie.

Cool Stuff for Kids

This U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Migration Station page features lots of fun fish facts and a lively video that children will enjoy. We’re guessing their parents will, too.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service have created a Junior Ranger program about fishing. Junior rangers are typically between the ages of 5 and 13, but anyone can participate. Learn about the basics of fishing. Then plan an exciting fishing trip.

Information iconMinnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. (Photo: USFWS)