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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fishy Business!

If you have been following my blog then you know that we have really been gearing up for our next contest.  This one is a State Wildlife contest in West Texas.  We woke up before the sun this morning to get to the university Native Plant Center to up with a van that was going to Athens, TX.

This all day field trip was part of a program through SFA and Texas Parks & Wildlife-Nacogdoches Naturally.  Kerry was our guide for the day.  Her husband Jim joined us as well.  We were also joined by David and Joseph.  We were heading to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center for a tour and some fishing.  We had a nice college student, Josh, as our driver.  He happened to be a Wildlife major, so I asked him a ton of questions about his experience.  He was very nice to talk to along the way.  I learned a lot about how his future career really does relate to our projects.  It is always nice to know that what we are teaching the 4Hers is true to its purpose.

This was important to us because in part of our contest there is a possibility that the 4Hers would need to identify a Texas fish species.

When we are arrived, we were amazed at how pretty the facility appeared.  I guess we were just expecting a bunch of holding tanks with fish.  Instead we found ourselves a very nice park that also had large fish tanks that were designed like the native surroundings.

We began a walking tour around the grounds.  We were especially impressed with the VERY LARGE catfish.  They were as large as Brendan!  We also saw the most amazing fish that would open his mouth wide to feed...the paddle fish!  This creature already looked funny with its long flat snout, but watching it feed was incredible.  It looked as if its jaw was off its hinges.

We were then treated to short video followed by a dive presentation.  The diver talked about the various fish as he fed them in a large tank.  I loved that he talked about the 'bully' of the tank as he had to continually knock it back away to allow others to feed.  He talked about the different eating habits of the fish as he fed them also.  The 4Hers especially enjoyed watching the live fish being fed to the larger fish.  One of those little guys managed to stay in the tank for several minutes only to be chased by a larger fish and being eaten by a medium size one!  Poor fishy!

Then we had a shuttle ride through the fishery to see the different steps to the process of producing fish for ponds and lakes throughout Texas.  We were told that a 1-acre pond at the fishery would hold up to 125,000 fries!  That is one crowded bathtub!  All water in these holding ponds were from the Athens Lake.  However, the water is filtered and recycled back into the lake when ponds are drained.

The day had been somewhat overcast so it should have been no surprise that it began to rain.  It all worked out for the best because we were under a pavilion having a picnic lunch.  The skies cleared as we were cleaning and then we were able to take a nice walk through a wooded trail. Jim spoke to the group about the different plants and animals discovered along the way.  We even walked past a pitcher plant bog!  Yay!...I finally was able to view this plant and it was in bloom which made it even better!

We arrived in time to grab a fishing pole and bait to fish on the stocked pond.  This is a fish and release system set up for likely success rate for the youth (and adults).  Only one of our group caught a fish-Henry!  Unfortunately, I was not able to get to him in time to take a picture.  I imagine the fish will get bigger the more he tales the story like any good fish story!  A pleasant way to end our tour.

A special thanks to Kerry, Jim, Josh, and all the other college students who made this a memorable moment.  I am so thankful to have the opportunity to learn with hands-on activities!  By reaching out to the community and helping us have these opportunities you are a great example of 'making the best better!'

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