In a world full of eroded family ties, North Louisiana is a place where the true family spirit can still be found. This section of Louisiana that has been titled "Sportsman's Paradise" by the Louisiana Office of Tourism could more aptly be called "Sports-family's Paradise."

North Louisiana offers some of the finest fishing in the state, and families that enjoy spending time with each other will find that there are several "family-friendly" lakes where they can have a good time this summer.

A family-friendly lake should offer several things. First off, it should be full of different types of fish that everyone from dad to daughter can catch. There isn't anything worse you could do to a kid than force him or her to sit in a boat while dad focuses on catching bass. Bass fishing doesn't offer consistent enough action to keep kids interested.

Good family-friendly lakes are those that have enough bass to please dad while offering a healthy population of bream, white perch and catfish that mom and the kids can catch.

Of course, if dad isn't a bass angler, he can join in with the rest of the family and fish for fish that will actually bite. But if he insists on trying the bass, the kids can always drop a line over the side of the boat and try their hand at something different.

Second, the fish in a family-friendly lake should be known for their willingness to bite. Granted, not all the fish are going to bite all the time, but a good family lake should be one that has the reputation of producing a good mess of fish on most any day of the week.

Fishing families should do a little homework and plan trips around the times that fish bite best. For example, a good spring trip would be one that coincides with the redear or bluegill spawn. A good bass trip might be planned during the late summer when bass are schooling and easy to catch.

Third, a family-friendly lake should be one that offers rentals, pier fishing or bank fishing for families that don't have a boat. This is where lakes with a state park can come in handy. State parks typically offer sites that are on the water, thus offering excellent bank fishing. There are also several pier-fishing opportunities available at our state parks.

Brushpiles and other types of cover that attract more fish to these spots are sometimes planted to enhance these bank and pier areas. And, while these areas probably won't produce very many bass, they can offer excellent fishing for bream, white perch and catfish.

Fourth, family-friendly lakes should offer families several different types of lodging. Some families have trailers. Others would rather spend the night in a tent. And still other families find the conveniences of home too essential to do without. State parks offer a variety of lodging. Most offer improved and unimproved campsites, and there are many state parks that now rent cabins.

While motels and hotels will be available close to many of the major lakes in North Louisiana, many families find their experience enhanced through camping at the lake. The luxury of being able to motor back to the camp and take a nap or grab a bite is essential to families with young children.

Fifth, family-friendly lakes should have some type of store close enough that junior doesn't have to wear a fig leaf if he runs out of diapers. There are several lakes in North Louisiana that have marinas located on the lake that provide basic essentials. However, there will always be something that a family will need but won't be able to find in a marina.

The friendliest lakes are those that are close enough to a city or town where mom or dad can make a quick trip to secure needed supplies. They should be close enough that little time is wasted on a trip, and mom or dad can get back quick enough to not miss anything.

Sixth, family-friendly lakes should be a quick drive away from a city or town large enough to offer medical care and emergency services. As safe as families try to be, there will sometimes be an incident that necessitates a trip to the hospital. Scraped knees and busted lips can be treated with on-hand supplies; a professional should look at broken bones, viruses and a persistent fever.

With all the water available to fish in North Louisiana, there are a few lakes that offer the most family-friendly environments. These lakes were selected based on the above criteria, and they all make great locations for family fishing trips.

 

Caney Lake

There isn't a better lake in the state to take a family fishing trip. Huey Edwards lives in Calhoun, and his family has spent a lot of time at Caney. Edwards, an avid outdoorsman, loves to share his love of the outdoors with his kids.

Located a short 30 miles south of West Monroe, Caney Lake provides ample fishing opportunities for the Edwards family and others.

"We like to go to Caney because of all the other things we can do other than fish," said Edwards. "The kids love to go tubing, they can go to the swimming beach, or they can ride their bikes and play in the playground."

Of course, the main attraction at Caney is its excellent fishing. This trophy fishery has produced eight of the state's top 10 bass, and it has also produced state-record redear sunfish, crappie and bluegill.

However, even though Caney is known as a trophy lake, it also produces lots of willing biters to keep the kids happy.

The best time to plan a trip to Caney depends on what you want to catch. The redear sunfish and bluegill bite well during April and May. They also come back up on the beds strong during August. Schooling bass are easy to catch from July to August, and white perch bite well during the winter and spring months.

Lodging is available on the lake at the Jimmie Davis State Park, Brown's Landing and Caney Lake Marina. National motel chains are available in West Monroe and Ruston as well.

 

Lake Bruin

This Mississippi River oxbow lake located between Newellton and St. Joseph is one of the top family destinations in North Louisiana. The two lodging areas are the Lake Bruin State Park and the Shiloh Campground.

Lake Bruin State Park offers three large fishing piers, a year-round boat launch, and a boat shed for docking. Boat rentals are available. Visitors will also find 25 improved campsites and several primitive camping sites.

The Edwards family enjoys traveling to Lake Bruin because it is such a family-friendly lake.

"You can go out there with a few crickets and catch just about anything in the lake," Edwards said. "The lake is open, so we're able to enjoy the watersports too.

"The one thing we really like about the Lake Bruin State Park is that it's a lot quieter once the sun goes down than some of the other parks we've been to. And when the kids ride bikes, we can see the entire track they ride from the campsite."

Bruin offers excellent largemouth bass fishing during the spring and fall. White perch are also easy to catch around the numerous piers and brushpiles during spring. If you're looking for bluegill, either end of the lake has shallow water that attracts bedding panfish.

Lake Bruin's proximity to Newellton and St. Joseph make it easy to purchase needed supplies.

Emergency medical attention will require a short drive to Tallulah or Ferriday. Each is approximately 30 miles from the lake.

 

Lake D'Arbonne

The addition of new channel markers has turned Lake D'Arbonne from a treacherous lake to a family-friendly one. While not as publicized as Caney, this lake has helped put Farmerville on the outdoors map. Fishing opportunities include five fishing piers at the Lake D'Arbonne State Park, and boaters will find over 15,000 acres of water to try their luck.

Lake D'Arbonne is generally separated into what is known as the "Main Lake" and the creeks. The dividing line is the Highway 33 Bridge. The "Main Lake" is more open than the creeks, especially the last few miles before the dam, and offers more watersport opportunities.

The creeks include Little D'Arbonne and Corney. Both tend to offer better fishing, but they are also more dangerous. Red and green boat-run markers lead boaters up the creeks, and several secondary boat lanes are marked by white PVC pipe, although caution is advised in these secondary lanes.

"One reason I love taking the family to D'Arbonne," said Edwards, "is that the kids can fish for bream with their poles while I'm fishing something slow like a worm for bass. We've also caught some good-sized chinquapins off the fishing piers at the State Park. I've also noticed that we tend to catch more catfish at D'Arbonne than we do at some of the other lakes."

Sixty-five improved campsites and 18 cabins are available at the Lake D'Arbonne State Park, and national motel chains are located just a short drive away in Ruston. The D'Arbonne Lake Motel also offers motel rooms on the lake.

The town of Farmerville has plenty of restaurants, national discount chains and a hospital — enough to keep any forgetful or accident-prone family happy.

 

Caddo Lake

There are several lakes in Northwest Louisiana that offer excellent family opportunities, but local guide Russ McVey (318-987-3833) says it's hard to beat Caddo Lake for sheer enjoyment.

"The main reason I recommend Caddo is the Earl Williamson Park in Oil City," he said. "They have RV hook-ups, tent camping, a fishing pier, swimming area and picnic tables.

"There's also a lot of bream and white perch in the water around the park."

The Caddo Lake State Park is located on the Texas side of the lake, and it offers camping, swimming, picnicking, fishing, canoe rentals and johnboat/motor rentals. The park also offers nine cabins of varying sizes.

The Texas side of the lake is home to the Shady Glade Resort. McVey said the neat thing about Shady Glade is that it is right in the middle of some of the best fishing in the lake.

"This resort is near the river channel," McVey said. "That means it is near some prime white perch fishing. And you couldn't stay any closer to the white bass when they start running."

McVey added that the good thing about Caddo is that anybody can take a map and get around in a boat as long as they follow the markers.

"All those cypress trees look intimidating," he said, "but it's really easy to get around with a map."

Caddo is located approximately 20 miles north of Shreveport/Bossier. Its closeness to this urban area means visiting families have access to anything they need in the form of supplies or medical attention.

 

Bayou Bodcau

McVey considers this bayou just northeast of Bossier City one of the most unheralded fishing areas in Northwest Louisiana.

"It's kind of like a hidden gem," he said. "This bayou isn't made for big boats. I take a little 14-foot johnboat with a 25-horsepower motor. We idle everywhere we go — it's pretty safe for the kids that way."

The best family fishing on Bodcau occurs during the summer after the water has receded from its spring levels.

"You can catch a ton of bream and white perch on crickets and Beetle Spins once the water goes down," said McVey.

Camping is available at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' improved camping area located on the south end of the wildlife management area, and there are several primitive camping areas. National motels are available in Bossier City for families that don't feel like roughing it.

 

Grand Bayou

This wide-open lake in Coushatta, just 45 minutes southeast of Bossier City, is perhaps only second to Caney Lake as the top family destination in North Louisiana.

Originally destined to be a trophy lake, Grand Bayou has settled into its role as a quality lake. It has become known as a "numbers" lake since it reached pool stage in 1996.

The lake averages about 9 feet deep, but there are a few deeper holes in the old channel. The open nature of the lake makes it an excellent destination for families that like watersports as much as they like fishing.

"There are lots of 2-pound fish to be caught at Grand Bayou," said McVey. "There's typically a lot of schooling activity near the dam in late summer and fall. These fish are hungry, and they eagerly bite artificial lures that are tossed into the feeding frenzy."

McVey added that there are also tons of bream and white perch that bite well during April and May.

The Grand Bayou Resort offers lodging and camping on the lake. National motel chains are available a short distance away in Mansfield and Bossier City.

From bream to bass, there's plenty of fish for your family to catch this summer no matter where you live in North Louisiana. You can take advantage of what these lakes have to offer, or you can be adventurous and find your own hidden gems.