Cherishing our public access to public waters

Being a member of the Outdoor News Junior Pro Team suggests a love of fishing. Anywhere and anytime. My 11-year-old son, Ronny, is an avid member who strongly adheres to that outlook on life.

So, when we found ourselves just north of Dallas, Texas, for a week, we had to find the closest fishing location. “One of the things on my bucket list is to fish in all 50 states,” he told me as I dug around online to see what was nearby.

We found an oddity known as the Lewisville Fishing Barge just two miles from where we were visiting family and it offered a unique opportunity. Open year-round, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week, the “fishing barge” is a gigantic series of docks along the shoreline of Lewisville Lake.

It features an enclosed 80-by-80-foot indoor section and hundreds of feet of outdoor dock complete with wooden benches and donated patio furniture. The indoor section is heated in the cool wintertime and air conditioned during the summertime, offering a respite from the heat that often exceeds 100 degrees.

The barge was created in 1957, just a few years after the lake was expanded and renamed Lewisville Lake.

While it’s called a lake, it’s actually a reservoir on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River that engineers first created in 1927 as Lake Dallas. It has expanded and been renamed over time, but remains a water source for Dallas and its suburbs and is popular with recreational boaters.

No matter what, it’s an impressive body of water spanning 29,000 acres with 233 miles of shoreline. Fish species include hybrid striper, white bass, largemouth bass, sand bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, blue catfish and whole host of roughfish.

Ronny and I were hoping to land one of those species the other day when we got a ride to the barge and headed across the catwalk connecting it to the western shoreline. The wind was blowing and, with a front approaching, we had a short window to hook into something.

The Lewisville Fishing Barge allowed for both indoor (above) and outdoor (below) fishing.

We paid $10 each to access the barge and started out fishing indoors just to get ourselves acclimated. Several regulars around us reeled in small crappies and a few had decent stringers of fish, but we caught nothing indoors so we took it outside.

Handrails along all sides, clean restrooms, and a no-alcohol policy help make it a very kid-friendly place. There were a lot of families there on a Sunday – Father’s Day, to be exact. Ronny and I have fished together on Father’s Day for so many years we’ve lost track. Being in Texas wasn’t going to stop that streak.

On the outdoor section, we met people from all over. One man, fishing the deep end of the dock in 35 feet of water, told me he was in town from Louisiana on a construction job, and he regularly fished the barge. He’d caught several large catfish earlier in the day and as he was leaving gave me his remaining chicken liver bait. I hooked one up and secured it to the hook with some monofilament. No luck.

Meanwhile, Ronny met two kids fishing on the dock with their parents. They were visiting the Dallas area from Mexico and were relatively new to fishing. He taught them how to take a few fish off the hook and take a proper fish photograph before releasing the catch.

While it was an interesting experience to fish such an expansive system of docks and structures, it helped me appreciate the public fishing opportunities available in Minnesota to all anglers, free of charge.

Fishing can be expensive, and some people cite that fact as a barrier to trying the sport. On the other hand, you can buy a used or inexpensive rod and reel and a few basic baits for under $50.

Paying to fish on a structure, however, is something we don’t face in Minnesota. The same holds true for most states around the Great Lakes.

The number of public fishing piers, maintained by state natural resource departments and funded by taxpayers or local organizations, is a shared benefit that makes it possible to fish a variety of locations free of charge.

I didn’t mind handing over $20 for the opportunity to fish indoors or on a large dock with seating and some roofed protection from the sun and rain, but I didn’t like that this was the only way to fish the lake other than casting from shore.

Public fishing piers are a shared resource and a worthwhile investment of public dollars. Kudos to state DNRs that build and maintain them. Thanks to lake associations and local units of government that work to get them situated in good locations. Anybody who has worked to build or maintain just such a resource has done much to support the concept of “public waters.”

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