Families looking for a place to have an inexpensive, rewarding family vacation during spring break (and dreading $4 a gallon gas) need look no farther than the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens.
Located just 75 miles southeast of Dallas, 100 miles east of Waco and 125 miles north of Bryan/College Station, TFFC is a one-tank round trip for 4 or 5 million of you.
TFFC offers free fishing with paid admission for channel catfish and rainbow trout with no license, bait, tackle or experience required, and from March 10 until the end of rainbow trout season in late April, visitors can harvest trout for free. Daily limit is five trout per person. Anyone wishing to harvest trout should bring an ice chest and ice.
Visitors will also want to check out the center’s 300,000 gallons of aquaria featuring native Texas fish, including black bullhead catfish, grass pickerel, lake chubsucker, freshwater drum and white bass, along with sunfish, gar and crappie. There are also some truly monster fish on display, including largemouth bass weighing more than 15 pounds and alligator gar weighing 200 or so.
Because there is so much to do and see at TFFC, you’ll want to spend the whole day there, so a food vendor will be on site during Fly Fish Texas March 10 and also Tuesday through Saturday, March 13—17. Visitors are also welcome to picnic in the areas provided, and Athens, where the hamburger was invented (yes, really!) has plenty of restaurants.
Weekdays at 11:00 a.m., Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. a diver hand-feeds the fish in a 26,000-gallon aquarium with a viewing auditorium while discussing their biology and behavior. Visitors can ask questions of the diver through a live underwater link.
After the dive show, visitors can take a tram tour of the hatchery where TFFC annually raises two to three million largemouth bass for stocking into public waters, channel catfish, smallmouth bass and koi carp (fish have to eat, too).
Families with youngsters needing to work off some energy will want to disembark the tram at the far end of the hatchery and walk back along the ADA-compliant Wetlands Trail. This 0.8-mile trail features interpretive exhibits on the flora and fauna (that’s the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees), a working bee-hive with see-through walls, a wildflower area and scads of turtles in the ponds.
If you should happen to visit during a spring shower, there’s plenty to be seen inside the Visitor Center. All the aquaria can be viewed from a covered walkway, and indoor exhibits include a fishing museum, a freshwater fishing hall of fame, displays showing how fish are spawned and raised and a well-stocked gift shop.
All this is yours for the price of admission: $5.50 for adults, $4.50 for seniors, and $3.50 for children ages 4 to 12. For more information, call (903) 676-2277 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/tffc.