All boating activity in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge will end on September 30 and will not be permitted again until March 15, 2011. The ban covers not only boats launched from Refuge ramps but anywhere on the lake. The ban also includes not only motorized watercraft but also oar propelled craft such as jon boats, canoes and kayaks as well as foot propelled gear such as inner tubes.
The reason for the ban is to allow the huge incoming flights of migratory birds during the fall and winter months to be able to roost, feed and rest with a minimum amount of disturbance.
Fishing is also banned for the same period of the Refuge's four hundred acres of ponds, but bank fishing in the lake and creeks is allowed year round. There is no night fishing at the Refuge, which closes at dusk.
Prior to 2010, the boating ban was not lifted until April 1, but it was moved up to March 15 this year, allowing earlier boat access to the myriads of springtime crappie anglers.
During the boating season, watercraft must be confined to only the waters of Big Mineral Creek and its associated creeks. Water skiing, jet skis and nighttime boating are not allowed.
Outside of springtime, catfishing seems to be the most popular angling choice the rest of the year. the Refuge provides miles of bank fishing opportunities including the oilfield pads.
When the first Northers of the season bring in the waterfowl, they also bring in additional catfish and catfish anglers. The whiskered fish move in, both in numbers and increasing size as water temperatures cool.
Unlike striped bass, catfish prefer turbid or discolored water that can usually be found in the Refuge. The two most popular species for Refuge anglers are blue and channel catfish, which feed primarily by smell. Stink baits, dough baits, cut shad and shad gizzards are some of the favored baits. A live shad will also do the trick with the added bonus of picking up an occasional striper or sand bass.
On January 16, 2004, Cody Mullenix of Howe, Texas, was fishing with a three-inch dead shad on his 14-foot surf rod in the Refuge, just north of oilfield pad A when he landed what was then a world record blue catfish weighing 121 pounds and 8 ounces. The world and U. S. records since then have been broken but Mullenix's giant still ranks number one in Texas and Lake Texoma.
Mullenix made a wise choice once he got the fish in shallow water. He kept her alive and contacted the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, Texas, where the fish was given the name "Splash" and placed in a giant aquarium, thrilling visitors for the next two years before dying of an infection. Splash increased attendance at the Center by 43 per cent and was a particularly big hit with children, who were amazed when seeing the five-foot monster being fed raw chicken by divers.
There is no fee charged for fishing in Refuge waters, but a Texas or Lake Texoma license is required. Most of the limits are similar to Texas regulations; one exception is the limit for crappie, which is 37 at the Refuge, compared to 25 for other Texas waters.
Refuge law enforcement officer Kevin Vaughn warns that while the number limit for crappie is more generous than the state's, the same 10 inch limit still applies - any kept crappie less than 10 inches can bring a fine as high as $125 for the infractions, as well as $20 for EACH undersized fish. The fine for fishing without a license is also $125. Texas licenses are good through August of each year, while Lake Texoma licenses expire at the end of the year.
For more information about Refuge rules, the official website is http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html and for programs and activities at the Refuge see http://www.friendsofhagerman.com.
Photo by Ken Carr, Signs such as this posted at the Big Mineral hand boat launch are posted throughout the Refuge. This particular launch is designed for small watercraft such as kayaks and canoes.