Outdoor Life Online Editor

My wife and kids had no idea, but I was already planning our summer vacation back in March. We’re renting a houseboat, filling it with swimming gear, fishing tackle and enough clothing and food to last a week, and then we’ll launch on a body of water large enough that we can lose civilization for a while. I’ll tie a dinghy or canoe to the mother ship and we’ll use the little boat for fishing jaunts and general tomfoolery. At night, we’ll listen to bullfrogs croaking from the lilies and loons warbling from the middle of the lake. With any luck, we won’t have to visit a store or other civilized areas until our rental agreement runs out.

I think all kids should go exploring with their parents like that, so I’m going to break mine in early. They’ll be 6 when we rent the houseboat on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods. This sprawling inland lake hosts some 14,000 islands, covers 1,980 square miles and boasts more shoreline than Lake Superior. About one third of LOW lies in the U.S., where fishing for walleyes and northern pike is first-rate; on the Canadian side it’s classic Canadian Shield stuff, with muskies and smallmouth bass holding court.

Oahe on the Rebound
Some of the best midsummer big-water angling can be had in South Dakota, where Lake Oahe walleyes should be hitting well this month. After nearly a decade of high water, the Dakotas have experienced generally lower flows the last few years. Those conditions should concentrate walleyes around available cover, and fishermen who drop bottom-bouncers along rocks, points and other structure could take advantage of the increased bag limits.

For anyone with summer walleyes on the brain, Missouri’s Truman Lake would be a good bet this year. I have a guide buddy who tells me that early morning-or any time on an overcast day-is a fine time to pitch crankbaits to walleyes feeding on the shallow flats. To double your angling fun, devote some time to the reservoir’s abundant catfish populations. The deep scour holes below the Truman Lake Dam are a good starting point, but don’t ignore the feeder creeks.

Iowa fishermen can keep busy on the Des Moines River. Search for smallmouth bass near bridge pilings and rock banks anywhere from the Saylorville Dam downstream to the capital city. When you tire of scouting for bronzebacks, switch to the slow-and-easy mode for flatheads. You could tangle with a mudcat on any scour hole on the DM itself or prospect similar cover on a feeder stream like the Raccoon River.

On Lake Erie’s Ohio shore, the smallmouth bass fishing has never been better. Look for smallies near the Bass Islands (where else?), Sandusky Bay and the Marblehead Peninsula near Port Clinton. Of course, Erie is known for its A-1 walleye fishing and the waters off Kelleys Island have been fishing well through midsummer. July is the best month to visit the Lake Michigan port town of Ludington, Mich., for a “salmonid slam” of salmon, brown trout, steelhead and lake trout. The locals pull in-line planer boards dragging green or chartreuse spoons through 100 feet of water north of town.

Heartland Muskies
Though muskie fishing receives little attention in the Land of Lincoln, 900-acre Evergreen Lake is an Esox factory just west of Peoria that’s a fine place to learn muskie techniques. This is a “numbers” lake, where catching a monster is a long shot, but plenty of 30-inch-plus fish will keep you interested. Largemouth bass fishing is no secret on Indiana’s Patoka Lake, but striped bass are swimming under most folks’ radar. Introduced to control shad numbers in 1997, stripers have done well in the 8,800-acre lake, and fish from that original stocking are now weighing up to 14 pounds.

Finally, Wisconsin’s Shawano Lake is a multispecies fishery where the kids can catch bluegills and crappies from shoreline weed beds, and Mom and Dad can try for bass, pike and walleyes. There are swwimming beaches and miniature golf courses and plenty of other summer distractions in and around this friendly, northwoods town, too…all great attractions for your kids and the kid in you!