A fisherman's paradise
by Jennifer Cohron
Jun 27, 2010 | 3077 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some of the fish in Catfish Lake are so large that Blackwell requires a 25-pound minimum test line.
view slideshow (2 images)
PARRISH - Tucked away on a back road in Parrish is a place called Catfish Lake.

J.W. "Jim" Blackwell takes care of the thousands of catfish that call the man-made lake home.

Blackwell had the lake built several years ago on 40 acres of land where he was born and raised until he left for military service at the age of 18.

Blackwell, one of 10 children born to James Hardy and Effie May Meadows Blackwell, remembers the days before electricity when his family stored their milk in a natural spring, one of six that now fills up the lake.

"When we cut into that spring (for the lake), it was just like an artesian well. The water came up about 20 feet," he said.

Blackwell and his wife, Mary, lived in California for many years before they came home to retire in 1994.

Catfish Lake opened in 1998. It took a year to build, sits on 3.6 acres and is 26 and a half feet at its deepest point.

"It was his dream to have his own catfish pond. It's his baby, really," Mary Blackwell said.

Blackwell charges fishermen $1.25 per pound to catch his catfish. The price has remained the same since 2002.

He estimates that there are between 8,000 and 10,000 small catfish in the lake and another 3,000 to 4,000 fish that weigh five pounds or more.

The fish in the lake are so big that Blackwell requires a 25 pound minimum for test lines.

"If somebody hooks into a great big one and it swallows the hook and breaks the line, in three days it will be belly up," he said.

Blackwell usually doesn't let anyone keep a fish that is less than 12 inches long. However, he's currently overlooking that rule because the lake is overstocked.

The catfish replenish themselves. Blackwell hasn't had to add more to the lake since it opened.

Catfish Lake is open on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the week by appointment.

Approximately 100 people visit the lake in a given year. It's a popular destination for church groups and clubs who are planning fish fries.

"We have some groups of three or four that come in here, and they'll take home 250 pounds of fish," Blackwell said.

Blackwell usually catches enough fish himself to fill his freezer once a year.

Blackwell doesn't run the lake because it's profitable. He spends a lot of time and money so that others can know the thrill of hooking "the big one."

He cuts the grass, sprays the banks, checks the temperature and oxygenation of the water regularly, and adds 500 to 1,500 pounds of salt sometimes for alkalinity.

When the catfish get sick, he has to give them medicated food for several weeks. Three years ago, 26 catfish died in one day.

Sometimes the fish die from disease, sometimes from pure meanness.

"They're very territorial. Some people have said that they can fight over 24 hours at a time without quitting. They may die of exhaustion or from the gashes inflicted by the other fish," Blackwell said.

The upkeep of the lake is slowly taking a toll on Blackwell, who is 77. When it finally becomes too much for him, the responsibility will fall to his son, Kenneth.

It is a Blackwell tradition to pass family land to the youngest male. However, Blackwell will do the work himself as long as he is able.

"There's nothing I enjoy more than to see young people and teenagers or older women catching their first fish. Some of the teenage girls get out on the dock and catch a four or five pound fish. They start jumping up and down. I think they're going to go right into the lake," he said.