By David Jenkins
Are you looking to get away for a day or even the weekend?
If so, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens may just be the place to visit.
The TFCC, located four miles east of Athens, is just a short two-hour drive from anywhere in Collin County. It is a facility of the Inland Fisheries Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Immediately after paying for your tickets, you’ll head straight into an array of fish exhibits which portray the wide range of life in the rivers and reservoirs around the state.
All of the exhibits hold a combined 30,000 gallons of water with a variety of fish.
Visitors will see what type of fish can be found in the Hill Country streams, major reservoirs and farm ponds.
The stream exhibit features fish someone could find in the Hill Country, such as the official state fish: the Guadalupe Bass.
As you continue down the covered path, you will see the exhibits for the farm pond: reservoir, alligators and Texas giants, a type of fish.
The reservoir consists of prehistoric paddlefish and other odd looking characters.
At the end of the aquaria you will see a sign that points towards the visitors center.
Inside is the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, which honors the men and women who helped conserve natural resources and improve fishing in the state.
The museum portion features replicas of state record catches and fishing equipment.
This includes a replica of the first ever-bass boat built; a 1948 Skeeter.
Venture a little further and you will see a variety of pictures that depict how hatcheries go about producing fish that are placed into public waters on a yearly basis.
From there you will see the Anheuser-Bush Theater and Dive Show.
During the show, a scuba diver hand feeds fish in the 26,000-gallon aquarium.
Members of the audience can ask questions via two-way communications and there is a brief film that covers the work of the TPWD, as it pertains to fisheries management.
Dive shows can be viewed at 11 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
You may also notice out outside the theatre the Lunker Bunker, which is an important part of the indoor portion of the hatchery.
There are 22 circular tanks that are used to hold largemouth bass that are entered into the ShareLunker program.
The Lunker Bunker is officially labeled the Intensive Care Unit, because of the work that take place in that location.
Head back out the front entrance to the visitors center and you will see the Anglers Pavilion, in which you will find fishing poles and bait, all free of charge.
No license is required to fish on the ponds found inside the TFFC.
In the ponds year round are sunfish and catfish, with trout making their appearance December through March.
All fish must be returned to the pond after catching.
If needed, a staff member can provide a brief orientation at the Anglers Pavilion on the proper techniques of fishing.
They can also assist you will untangling line, replacing hooks or bobbers and the fixing of equipment.
Just short walk from the main casting pond is the 0.8-mile Wetlands Trail.
Among the things found the trail are ponds, pitcher plant bog, a hunter’s cabin, a wetlands pavilion, beehive observation, duck blind, ground hunting and tower hunting stands.
The trail is also used for hunter education classes at the TFCC and other area locations.
The Wetlands Trail was constructed by the Texas Department of Transportation as a mitigation project.
It was built to replace the natural wetlands that were destroyed during the construction of the highway loop around Athens.
Located along the trail are interpretive signs that display information on the role of wetlands and the many different types of plants and animals that can be seen.
Need to cool down a little bit, then head out the gift shop in the visitors center exit and you will find a tram.
The guided tour (offered after the diving show) will drive you to the hatchery, which is one of five in the state.
The primary focus is the production of largemouth bass.
The hatchery produces three to four million of those fingerlings on annual basis.
It consists of two parts; indoor and outdoor.
Located in the inside portion are raceways for spawning, holding and treating fish areas, isolation and treatment tanks, and fish health and genetics laboratories.
One of the major functions of the outdoor is the production of koi fish, which are used to feed the bass.
All water found in the hatchery and exhibits comes directly from Lake Athens and is filtered and treated with ozone.
After it’s used, the water is returned to the lake.
The TFCC is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 1-4 p.m. Saturday.
They are closed Monday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Easter Sunday.
The cost for admission is $5.50 for adults, $4.50 for seniors 65 and older and $3.50 for children ages four through 12.
Season passes are valid for one year from the date of purchase at a cost of $15 for adults, $12.50 for seniors and $8.00 for children.
For more information contact 903-676-2277 or online at https://tpwd.texas.gov/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/.
The TFCC also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Texas-Freshwater-Fisheries-Center/128462433868391.