Fishing for the Small Fry

By John Gill

The only small things about the ambitious Neighborhood Fishin' program recently initiated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is that it benefits "small fry" (Texas kids), and some of the fish they can now catch.

What was started as a pilot program in 2004 and 2005 has become a favored child of the Inland Fisheries Division. Eleven metro areas are currently served on 17 active lakes. See neighborhoodfishing.org.

TPWD points out that game fish will continue to be stocked in many other Texas public impoundments. Neighborhood Fishin', though, is unique and intended to serve urban residents and first-time anglers, specifically children.

The cost-benefit analysis of the plan ranks high with TPWD and its local sponsors. The program involves a three-tiered approach: TPWD, local governments, and sponsors within the selected cities. Catfish and trout are used for stocking these locations and can be easily raised to catchable size. Annual contributions of $250,000 from the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, totaling $2.25 million, have been crucial to the program's success.

Craig Bonds, newly appointed director of inland fisheries for TPWD,believes the urban-focused fishing project is a natural gateway to many other activities sponsored by the department. Results from the current participating locations indicate that Neighborhood Fishin' is achieving what was intended.

"We feel Neighborhood Fishin' is the path to other endeavors of TPWD, such as camping, kayaking, birding, and hiking. Our goal is simple: expose children and first-time participants to an economical and enjoyable outdoors experience, and the results will lead to other outside adventures," says Bonds.

TPWD goals for the Neighborhood Fishin' Program are clearly stated. For every three adults participating, the agency wants at least one youth angler. Overall, that goal is being met—and even exceeded in several cities.

"Since more of the Texas population lives in large metropolitan areas, our intent is to bring fishing close to home and make the experience affordable, successful, and simple to access," Bonds says.

Owning a boat isn't necessary, as all locations provide safe bank access. They are generously stocked twice monthly with catfish and trout (trout in winter; catfish the rest of the year except in August). Anglers may keep five trout and/or five catfish of any size each day. Fishing licenses are required at Neighborhood Fishin' lakes, for those age 17 and over.

Success rates for fishermen at each location are high. Fish placed in Neighborhood Fishin' lakes are fresh from hatchery ponds and anxious to nibble on a variety of baits. The average-sized catfish and trout measure around 12 inches.

Loaner tackle for those who don't have fishing equipment is available at some locations.

The long-range goal of TPWD is to have at least one Neighborhood Fishin' site in each metro area of 100,000 or more population.

And to introduce fishing to countless kids who otherwise might not have ever seen a bobber dancing on the surface of a pond.

John Gill is an outdoor columnist for Journal Media Group and writes for Texas Sporting Journal and Texas Sportsman magazines. He is an officer of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association.

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