A special 'Fishin' with Liz' follows the AR catfish

    10:28 PM, Jul 20, 2012   |    comments
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    LONOKE COUNTY, Ark. (KTHV) -- It's a 'Fishin' with Liz' like no other.  THV's Liz Massey ditches the suit for waders! Why? 

    She's on a mission to uncover the journey of the Arkansas catfish and find out how they make their way into Game and Fish community ponds and fishing derbies.

    From surprises, to scrapes, mosquito bites and even a slap to the face, THV's Liz Massey ditches the suit for waders as she follows the journey of the Arkansas channel cat.

    The excitement, the smiles, the thrill of reelin' in a big one. It's what Arkansas Game and Fish derbies and community ponds are all about. But ever wonder where these catfish come from?

    I did and went to great lengths to find out. It all begins at the Joe Hogan Fish Hatchery in Lonoke. Jason Miller is the Hatchery Manager.

    Miller says, "All the catfish that we're stocking in all the fishing derbies all over the state, all four corners of the state, they're all starting in this pond and that pond over there." 

    "Every 2 to 3 days we'll check them and this pond we've got 50 cans out right now and the other pond 100, 110 something like that," says Miller. 

    The cans are old-fashioned 10 gallon milk jugs submersed in murky water. For Miller from mid-May to the end of June this is his life. You see, during spawning the milk jugs are home to male and female channel catfish.

    The huge yellow clumps is what Miller is after. In my hand, 20,000 plus eggs just from one catfish alone. One by one, we collect the eggs. But sometimes a surprise. After working up some courage and a strategy, I try to pull out a monster cat.

    But now it's back to work bringing the eggs inside. With 24 hatching troughs Miller says they can hold roughly 2 and a half million eggs.

    Miller says between May and June about six million eggs will come in and out of the hatchery. The paddle wheels mimic the action of the male catfish's tail, fanning the nest, keeping them oxygenated. It only takes about 4 or 5 days for them to hatch out. The darker the color the older the eggs.

    Miller says, "You can actually see the fry inside there, the eyes, you can see blood vessels, they're really, really, close to hatching."

    Once they do, they're moved across the room where they'll stay for 5 to 6 days.

    Miller says, "These guys right now are somewhere around 14 to 15,000 fish per pound and then when we get ready to move them they'll be right around 10,000 per pound so you can monitor their growth."

    About 10 days total inside before they're back into the ponds or to another hatchery to be raised. In all, Miller says it takes about two years for catfish to become a "catchable size."

    "Once they get to that food size fish, where we're stocking the derbies and the community ponds they're sained with a 1,200 foot sain. The guys will go all the way around the pond pull the tractors and load them on the trucks and go down the road," says Miller.

    Miller says they stock up to 115-thousand a year.

    "Oh I love that our highlight of the year is when the kids come out to the derby and we get to see 6 or 700 kids and a lot of them will catch their first fish at our hatchery derby," says Miller.

    Memories made on the shore and in the water. Oh and in case you missed it, at the end of this story, I get slapped by a catfish! But it was worth it, just another 'Fishin' with Liz.'

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