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Hooked on East Texas: An exclusive preview of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center renovations

Since its opening in 1996, this will be the center's first renovation. The center is expected to reopen spring of 2025.

ATHENS, Texas — In this week's Hooked On East Texas, we say "later gator" to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center as it celebrates its temporary closing before a huge facelift begins. The spotlight is on the center's makeover.

The soothing sounds of a small waterfall outside TFFC will soon be replaced by construction equipment as it undergoes a nearly $5 million renovation.

Leslie Kessler with the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center gave us an exclusive tour. As we toured, Kessler talked and walked us through the changes.

Since its opening, this will be the first renovation for the center. Kessler said the glass of the aquariums and the pumps that keep the water circulating are failing.

"Our acrylics are old enough and they're leaking. Our life support system is part of it, is already conked out and we need to update and upgrade for the health of the fish and the visitor experience," Kessler said.

The privately funded, fisherman’s mecca cost $19 million to build in 1996. This update will be about a quarter of that, and it will come from private donations.

“It's about $4.5 million for the aquariums and the walkways, and then about $300,000 for our fishing ponds, that we're going to be renovating," Kessler said.

We begin at the urban pond renovation as she showed us renderings of the upgrade.

“This is the spawning exhibit," Kessler explained. "And a lot of people when they're at the water's edge will see spawning beds of sunfish and we're focusing on that in this renovated tank.”

It’s an overhaul that pinpoints conservation efforts all while enhancing the visitor experience.

“We're renovating our aquariums to showcase our management, our ecology and our habitats in Texas," Kessler said.

But before any renovation begins, the fish must find new homes. Draining the tanks and moving the fish is the biggest challenge.

“We're gonna have a lot of help from aquariums in Texas," Kessler said. "Aquariums out of Texas have offered to help us move fish, store fish (and) our hatchery system. We've got these pawns out here (and) we're going to be able to use them. And that's going to be the biggest challenge, but also doable."

One of the new exhibits highlights is the Texas Parks & Wildlife ShareLunker program featuring ShareLunker 590. She currently calls the dive tank in the visitor center home but soon she and other largemouth bass will have new digs.

"People will be able to see big bass and the Toyota ShareLunker program in its own 10,000-gallon aquarium, our largest freestanding one that we'll have here. And we'll have lots of large lunkers in there," Kessler said.

Visitors will have to wait to see these improvements to the fishing ponds, the visitor center and hatchery tours as they will be closed to the public until the work is complete.

“We're anticipating spring of 2025. We don't have an exact schedule yet. But it will probably take us a year and a half to redo all of these aquariums, the live support and our fishing ponds," Kessler explained.

The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is open this weekend but will close Monday, Aug. 28. Hooked on East Texas will be following the renovations and we'll have updates along the way.

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