’Splash’ Lives Up To Name

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

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ATHENS, Texas — When Cody Mullennix pulled the new world record blue catfish from Lake Texoma in January 2004, she threshed around in the water so much he dubbed her "Splash."

The 121.5-pound fish’s name is doubly appropriate, for she has made a giant splash at her new home, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center here.

Largely due to people coming to see Splash, attendance at TFFC during the year ended Aug. 31 was 73,447, the second highest since the facility opened in 1996. Revenue for the year did set a new record.

Perhaps dreaming of the day when they, too, might see their name in the record book, 38,460 visitors fished in TFFC’s 1.5-acre casting pond, and 469 people caught their first fish ever. Visitors ranked fishing as the activity they enjoyed most while at the center. Watching Splash and other fish eat from a diver’s hand during the daily dive show ran a close second.

Splash recently added a new item to her usual diet of frozen smelt. "Smelt are small for a fish her size, and they don’t have a lot of smell or juice," said exhibits coordinator Wayne Heaton. "We put a big piece of the chicken we feed the alligators in a plastic bag, and when the diver opened it up in front of her and she smelled the juice, she took the chicken right out of the diver’s hand. That was a really good sign."

Whether Splash thinks chicken tastes like fish, or vice versa, is not known.

The largest of the three Budweiser ShareLunkers in the dive tank also has a healthy appetite, said Heaton. "It probably weighs 16.5 or 17 pounds, and it eats seven or right koi every dive show." The big bass positions itself near the diver and stares at him until fed.

Other fish in the dive tank include a flathead or yellow catfish, spotted bass, black crappie, small-mouth buffalo, longnose and alligator gar, bowfin and hybrid striped bass. While the individuals of those species are permanent residents in the tank, the five or six kinds of sunfish are a constantly changing cast of characters. "They are there mainly to provide snacks for the bigger fish," Heaton explained. "The yellow catfish usually sleeps during the day, but it is the big feeder on sunfish when it comes out at night."

TFFC is at 5550 F.M. 2495, four miles east of Athens. Fish in the dive tank may be viewed any time the center is open. Hours are 9 a.m.-4p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. Dive shows are at 11 a.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit the Web (http://tpwd.texas.gov/fish/infish/hatchery/tffc/) or call (903) 676-2277.