Fishin’ and Grinnin’

Delbert Gatlin | Biologist, CCA Marine Development Center
Fishin’ and Grinnin’

As a state agency, Texas Parks and Wildlife has always emphasized the importance of getting people outdoors and enjoying the natural resources Texas has to offer. At the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Marine Development Center, we also strive to get people in touch with the outdoors. We accomplish this specifically by teaching the basics of fishing and giving children the opportunity to go fishing. As recreational fishing continues to grow along the Texas coast, we feel it is important to support this growth and provide opportunities for people, primarily kids, to learn about the outdoors and activities such as fishing. With distractions such as smart phones, television, and social media, a great many kids these days are growing more and more disconnected from nature and outdoor activities. This creates a tendency for them to spend more time indoors. Thus, outdoor learning experiences, like fishing, are beneficial to those kids and will hopefully entice them to enjoy spending more time outdoors.

The CCA Marine Development Center (MDC) is a Texas Parks and Wildlife marine fish hatchery located in Corpus Christi. The MDC’s primary focus is on the propagation and release of redfish, spotted seatrout, and southern flounder fingerlings into Texas bays for purposes of stock enhancement. Another important hatchery focus is public outreach and education. Educational outreach aims at engaging individuals and promoting community awareness regarding our coastal ecosystems, hatchery operations, and fishing. We perform our fishing outreach through fishing events at our two, one acre fishing ponds and through a Basic Angler training. Our outreach emphasis is aimed toward school-aged kids, at risk youth, and kids and adults with disabilities. Most of the schools or groups that visit the hatchery are from the Corpus Christi area. However, we occasionally have groups from other areas of Texas and in some instances from other states. Many of our school groups are provided with a hatchery tour and fishing opportunities.

The MDC’s fishing ponds are stocked by hatchery staff with redfish, sheepshead, black drum, spotted seatrout, pinfish, and flounder. Kids can try their hand at fishing these ponds from large piers complete with benches and shade structures. When a fish is caught they can take a picture and then release the fish back into the pond. The fishing piers were constructed and funded by the CCA Mid Coast Chapter located in Victoria, Texas. This pier project was spearheaded by Mid Coast Chapter member, the late Hector Mendieta. Hector had a very strong passion for fishing and was very instrumental in funding and building these fishing piers. Having these piers has enabled us to greatly expand the number of kids able to safely fish on the ponds. More importantly, these piers were also constructed to be handicap accessible. The ease of access has allowed both kids and adults in wheel chairs to safely fish the ponds.

Our Basic Angler training teaches kids the basic skills of fishing including knot tying, introduction to types of tackle, fishing regulations, fishing safety, and what types of fish species are found along the Texas coast. Kids then get to practice their newly learned skills by fishing in our fishing ponds. These kids range widely in terms of fishing skills and abilities. We have some kids who have never been fishing before as well as others who are avid anglers. I find it very rewarding to be able to teach new anglers the basics of fishing. No matter what their skill level is or what their previous experience with fishing might be, it is always rewarding to watch their excitement and see that grin on their faces. For some it’s the excitement of catching their first fish. For others its one of many they have caught, but they still get that thrill of feeling that fish on the other end of the line. Our hope is that they will enjoy their fishing experience, and increase their interest to the great outdoors.

MDC staff have worked with a variety of organizations and programs to promote fishing and other outdoor activities. For example, we have worked with Heroes on the Water - Coastal Bend Chapter. This program focuses on using fishing and the outdoors as a means to help veterans rehabilitate and find relaxation from disabilities and post-traumatic stress. Another organization is Corpus Christi Fish for Life. This program involves the mentorship of at risk youth through fishing. The events usually involve a tour of the hatchery, fishing, and lunch. Prizes are handed out for those kids who catch the largest fish during the event. It is a great experience for those kids and teaches them many life skills such as patience and appreciation for the outdoors. MDC staff also plays host to the CCA Poco Rojo Kid Fish tournament. This event regularly attracts over 100 kids every year. Through our agency and hatchery efforts, we have made a positive impact on kids and adults from various walks of life. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to teach and provide outdoor experiences to thousands of kids and hopefully instilled in them a love for the outdoors and fishing. After all, life is better outside.