Randy Lang admits to being a little apprehensive when he and Indiana DNR Fisheries Chief Bill James visited the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind.
They were there to consider an inquiry about prison personnel raising fish for the DNR at a prison hatchery outside the walls.
“It was never in my work profile to go to prison, but I have to tell you, I was glad we went,” joked Lang, Indiana’s state hatchery supervisor.
Initially, the pole barn, tank system hatchery within the minimum security section was constructed by inmates to grow tilapia as a prison food source. That program got nixed by health officials when it learned inmates were to clean the fish, which apparently is a violation of health codes.
Hence, prison program coordinator Kevin Beaver called the DNR. Inmates were devoted to the program and learning new skills, he said, and the facility was in place.
They just needed the young fish and a project to keep the inmates involved.
Lang and James came away from the meeting with cautious optimism. Inmates assigned to the program had done the research, developed essential skills, had a desire to continue and the facility was ideal.
But could the DNR risk a failure?
As luck would have it, it had some extra catfish offspring to develop a new urban fishing program but was running out of state-owned hatchery space.
It was worth a shot. A pilot program was launched in November and 5,000 cats averaging 9.8 inches were sent to jail.
“You get a point in your career where you’re willing to go out on a limb and give it a try,” said Lang.
It’s working. As of this week, those catfish had grown nearly two inches and were very healthy.
“We are very pleased with overall condition of the fish,” said Andy Richards, a DNR hatchery biologist. “The inmates and staff are dedicated to this and our partnership is progressing very well.”
Those catfish are expected to reach nearly 15 inches by April when they’re due to be freed in 12 urban lakes and five Indiana cities. (None of those cities are in northern Indiana.)
“What’s neat is the inmates can control water quality and temperature for faster growth,” explained Lang. “While it takes us two full years to grow 10-inch catfish in our outdoor ponds, they can do it in 10-12 months in their indoor, temperature controlled environment.”
It not only provides the DNR with more fish rearing capabilities without added manpower costs, but gives inmates a sense of purpose and new skills to utilize after their release.
And, if successful, the prison hatchery could become both a catfish and walleye rearing station for the DNR in the future.
How cool is that?
Fly tying class set
The St. Joseph River Valley Fly Fishers (SJRVFF) will conduct a seven-week class on tying proven fly patterns for the local area and beyond.
Classes will be held once a week for seven weeks starting Feb. 5 at the Howard Park Senior Center in South Bend. Classes run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The class is designed for beginners. Cost for non-members of SJRVFF) is $30 and $5 for SJRVFF members. The class is limited to 30 people.
The club will supply vises, tools and materials during the class. Students are welcome to bring their own tools.
Fly patterns students will tie include Woolly Bugger, Steelhead caddis, Griffith’s Gnat, Ant, Black Gnat, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Clouser’s Minnow, Mickey Finn, Deer Hair Caddis, Sparkle Dun, Crystal Egg and the Sparrow.
To register, contact Rose Kaufman at the Howard Park Senior Center, (574) 235-9428 or visit www.sjrvff.com for more information.
The South Bend sail and Power Squadron will oversee a five-week Safe Boating Course beginning Feb. 4.
Participants who complete the course and exam receive the National Association of Safe Boating Laws Administrators Certificate that complies with Indiana and Michigan operator regulations for boats and PWCs.
Class will be held one night a week at the Battell Center in Mishawaka. The first class will start at 6:30 p.m.
Students will be taught boating safety, rules of the road, navigation and other safe boating topics. Cost is $39 for materials and registration. For more information, visit www.sbsps.org or call (574) 367-8572.
Ice derby planned
The Bremen Conservation Club will host its 10th Annual Ice Fishing Derby Jan. 26 at Lake of the Woods in Bremen. Registration begins at 5 a.m. at the Community Building and fishing will be from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entry fee is $10. Proceeds go to the Bremen Boys and Girls Club.
If ice conditions aren’t deemed safe, the alternate date will be Feb. 9.
Cash prizes of $200 for first place to $25 for fifth place will be awarded to contestants who catch the “longest” total length of legal fish. Only fish over six inches will be measured. Similar youth prizes go to the top three finishers.
A $25 bonus will be given for the single longest fish measured.
An all-you-can-eat breakfast will be available to anglers for $3 from 5-9:30 a.m. Lunch will be served to fishermen on the lake and at the Community Building.
For information call Lowell Michaels at 574-546-5802.
Contact Goshen News outdoor writer Louie Stout at firstname.lastname@example.org.