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State seeks limits on hooking big catfish

The trophy fishery at Bobby Hicks Park may be becoming a victim of its own success, state officials fear.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002

The big catfish in Bobby Hicks Park are too good for their own good.

State officials say growing numbers of anglers are drawn to the park's fish-rich pond, visions of fried catfish dancing in their heads.

As a result, they're considering new catch limits that are designed to save the biggest fish from being hooked and cooked too fast.

"A lot of people are targeting these big catfish," said Paul Thomas, an urban fishery project leader with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "That means it's not going to last."

Under current rules, anglers can take six catfish per person per day, with no size limit.

Commission officials want to change that to six catfish per person per day, but with only one more than 24 inches in length.

To gauge public support, the commission is having a public hearing in Port Tampa on Sept. 5.

"If we don't get people following the regulation . . . it's pointless," Thomas said.

The agency is wrangling with its own success.

Several years ago, it set out to create a trophy catfish fishery in the 25-acre pond, which is just north of Robinson High School. In five years, it stocked 7,500 catfish 12 to 13 inches long.

Meanwhile, the city of Tampa, which owns the park, opened fishing access by clearing banks. And two months ago, the new pier opened.

As many as 20 people at a time can be found there in the evenings. "And as far as we can tell," Thomas said, "most of them are targeting channel catfish."

The fish don't breed well in the pond because there isn't enough moving water to keep silt from smothering eggs, Thomas said. So, if too many catfish are ending up next to grits and hush puppies, succeeding waves of anglers won't be happy.

Thomas said the state will continue to restock the pond every other year or so, but in the meantime, something must be done to ease the pressure.

Fishing samples conducted by the agency show there's still plenty of big fish. How many? Thomas said authorities won't have good estimates until an ongoing angler survey is completed in the fall. But they suspect the estimates will only document what they're seeing.

If anglers agree with the proposed limit, it could be in place by next summer. It must still pass muster with the commission rules committee, then the commission itself.

James Canty, 69, didn't think the proposal would hurt him.

He lives near Ybor City, but fishes at Bobby Hicks almost every day, hoping for catfish to stew up with onions and bell peppers. On Tuesday, he had four poles in the water.

"The most I ever caught (in one day) was four," he said.

And only one, he said, might have been more than 2 feet long.

The Sept. 5 meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Port Tampa Recreation Center, 4719 Prescott St. For information call Paul Thomas at his Lakeland office, (863) 648-3203.

-- Writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or

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