Day Trips

photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

The Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery southwest of Burnet isn't your typical tourist attraction. Most days there isn't much action going on, but it is a peaceful place with lots going on under the surface. That is, if you consider a million fingerlings an attraction.

The fish hatchery south of Inks Lake State Park on Park Road 4 produces more than a million fish every year that go to stocking federal and multi-state waterways from Mississippi to Arizona. Without aquaculture programs like the Inks Dam Hatchery the lakes, rivers, and streams could be depleted of fish by recreational fishing or a disaster could turn a waterway into a lifeless cesspool. Fish are a part of a healthy ecosystem as a well as a source of food and recreation.

The hatchery raises largemouth bass, striped bass, and catfish, says Robert Lindsey, the hatchery manager. Most of the fish are sent to Indian reservations in New Mexico and Arizona or other federal waters. Seven lakes and ponds in Texas are stocked by the hatchery including Inks and Marble Falls. "We stocked Lake Marble Falls in January," Lindsey reports, "but heavy rains in early February washed them into Lake Travis. So I guess we stock Lake Travis sometimes too."

About 2,000 of the fish are given to the Veteran's Administration hospital in Temple for their seven to 10-acre lake. Fishing is used as recreational therapy for the patients.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department stocks most of the state's waterways, but the extra fish raised at the hatchery are often given to the state or traded to other states. At one time the hatchery participated in the farm pond program to help land owners raise fish as a crop, but that function has largely been taken over by the states, Lindsey says.

When Lindsey joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Inks Dam Hatchery in 1990, the federal government had 100 fish hatcheries. Today, around 70 survive and every budget year Washington tries to close more or decreases the budget. As other hatcheries are being closed or downsized, Inks Dam Hatchery is taking on more responsibilities and expects to work on several endangered species programs in the future.

Inks Dam Fish Hatchery was begun in 1938 when then-Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson added it to the program that built the Highland Lakes. Water is piped from Inks Lake by gravitational flow to the 27 breeding ponds.

The ponds range from knee deep to more than six feet deep at the drains. When all of the ponds are full in the spring they cover about 23 acres. The water that is discharged into Lake LBJ is cleaner than when it arrived.

As the fish are shipped to rivers and lakes, the ponds are drained, cleaned, and planted with rye grass. When the ponds are refilled the plants decay, providing zooplankton, which becomes food for the fingerlings. The brood stock of fish is fed a combination of commercial pellets and goldfish which the hatchery raises.

"A bass will always prefer to eat something with scales on it," Lindsey says. The goldfish, which are raised with the catfish, are very prolific when it comes to reproduction. A brood stock of 200 adult goldfish can become 2,500 in a season.

Visitors are shown the fish that are raised at the hatchery in an artificial stream display outside the fish house. The hatchery provides a shaded picnic ground along the banks of the river for visitors. At the end of the picnic ground is a fishing pier that is handicapped accessible.

The Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery is open daily to visitors 8am-4pm during the summer and Monday through Friday from October to June. Lindsey, who lives at the hatchery, says they give guided tours to organized groups, and that he and his crew of four are usually available to answer questions. (On August 4 at 1pm they will be shifting fish from one pond to another, which is a good opportunity to see the crew in action.) For information, call 512/793-2474.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to leave you with this thought: "Fish raised in hatcheries are intended to bolster natural fish populations and provide pleasure for those who enjoy fishing. We cannot stock fish in insufficient or severely polluted waters. Only you and our fellow Americans can insure that this and future generations will have suitable streams and impoundments that contain fish for food and recreation. Together we can maintain these valuable natural resources for this and future generations."

Coming up this weekend...

Western Days in Elgin brings the fun to downtown and Memorial Park with food, arts, crafts, music, and a rodeo, July 20-26. 512/285-4515.

International Apple Festival in Medina features every food imaginable made with apples, tours of the orchards, and lots of activities, July 26-27. 210/589-7224.

Coming up...

Texas Folklife Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio celebrates the ethnic diversity of the state's heritage with food, music, and displays from cultures around the state, July 31-Aug. 3. 210/558-2300.

International Jazz Festival in Houston includes bands from Japan, Mexico, Germany, and other countries, Aug. 1-3. 713/227-8706.

Backyard Monsters at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History combines robotic insects 96 times their normal size with one of the world's largest private specimen collections. Also showing at the museum is "The Making of Mirador de la Flor," an exhibit about the making of the Selena bronze statue on the Shoreline Boulevard, and "The Railroad," an exhibit about the coming of the railroad to South Texas. 512/883-2862.

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