Learn About Hunting at a Fish Place

Larry Hodge, 903-676-2277, larry.hodge@tpwd.texas.gov

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ATHENS, Texas — A fish hatchery may not seem to be a likely place to learn about hunting, but the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is no ordinary fish place.

For one thing, TFFC — 75 miles southeast of Dallas — has a visitor center where guests can learn about fish and the role hatcheries play in making Texas fishing among the best in the nation, and see for themselves how much fun it is by fishing in the 1.5-acre stocked casting pond.

For another, TFFC is as much about aquatic education as it is about producing fish. About 30,000 school children visit each year on field trips to learn about aquatic habitats, ecology and the importance of fresh water to the environment we share with wildlife.

And of course there are all those fish the hatchery produces-2-3 million largemouth bass fingerlings annually. An increasing number of those fish are descendants of 13-pound plus lunkers entered into the Budweiser ShareLunker program, which aims to increase the quality of fishing in Texas.

A major part of what makes TFFC unique among not only Texas Parks and Wildlife Department facilities but also outdoor education centers throughout North America is its multipurpose wetlands trail. On one level, the .8-mile trail introduces visitors to the role wetlands play in improving water quality and providing wildlife habitat. On another level, the trail provides example hunting scenarios, or what TPWD hunter education coordinator Terry Erwin calls "the best hunter skills trail in North America."

The trail winds alongside ponds, through a wooded area and ends at a duck blind overlooking a pond. Using full-body decoys of almost every type of game legal to hunt in Texas, instructors recreate "almost every scenario related to hunting big game, small game, waterfowl, doves, wild hogs, use of blinds, elevated stands and obstacle crossings," says Erwin.

Leading the hunter education program at TFFC is Jim Parker, a tireless 75-year-old who estimates he toils 40-70 hours a week passing on the hunting heritage to the next generation. In 2001 Parker was recognized by the International Hunter Education Association and Winchester as the hunter education instructor of the year for North America. Students are more likely to see in him the patient grandfather everyone would like to have teach them about the outdoors.

"You get self-satisfaction knowing you are helping to preserve this tradition for future generations," Parker says. "I enjoy working with people who want to learn and get out there and benefit from it."

Funding for the hunter skills trail was provided by the Dallas Safari Club, the National Rifle Association and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The hunter skills trail at TFFC is open to any hunter education instructor who wants to bring students there for that portion of the course, which is required of every hunter born on or after Sept. 2, 1971. Arrangements can be made by calling Parker at (903) 676-2277. A full schedule of classes, including those offered in Athens, is on the Web (http://tpwd.texas.gov/edu/hunted/city.phtml). Classes are scheduled through mid-December. Each listing includes the number to call to register for the class.

For general information on the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, go to the Web (http://tpwd.texas.gov/fish/infish/hatchery/tffc/) or call (903) 676-2277.