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VOL. 123 | NO. 145 | Friday, July 25, 2008

Catch’em Lake Gets New Management

By Rosalind Guy

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OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Patrons of the Catch’em Lake operation at Shelby Farms will get to fish again on Aug. 4 when it reopens under new management. -- FILE PHOTO/ROSALIND GUY

Earlier this month, Agricenter International officials announced they would close Catch’em Lake while they searched for a new management company to operate its 10 bodies of water.

Cal’s Family Bait & Tackle, owned by Calvin Thomas, a former member of the Bar-Kays, had been managing the facility for about five years.

But Agricenter president John Charles Wilson said he and other executives no longer were satisfied with the company’s management style.

“We felt that we weren’t getting the customer service that we want our customers to have,” Wilson said.

One of the biggest concerns was the lack of consistency with the facility’s operating hours.

“That was one of the issues that I had, that the hours were not kept standard; one day it was one thing and the next day it would be something different,” Wilson said. “We want to be sure that all of our customers are treated the same. And that hours of operation are posted. If we say we’re going to open at 7, then we should be open at 7, not 7:30 and not 8.”

Thomas declined to comment for this story, saying he thought it would be inappropriate when he has a “legal situation going on.” He did not say what he meant by “legal situation.”

Customer service

After sifting through proposals from six other management companies, Wilson said one has been chosen and the lake should be ready to reopen Aug. 4.

Lexington, Tenn.-based Anderson Bait Co. has been chosen to manage the facility and already is gearing up to make some changes to the way things are run at Catch’em Lake, though at this point none of those changes has been “set in stone.”

Initially, the operating hours will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., said Jim Anderson, co-owner of the family-owned bait and tackle company. The business is owned by Anderson and his father and brother.

The new operation hours are subject to change once the Andersons get a feel for the flow of traffic at the facility, matching the hours of operation to the needs of the visitors.

Coming in this late in the season, they will probably keep the hours until later this year.

“We’ll definitely be taking a big look at things around Thanksgiving to see what kind of winter operations we’re going to have,” Anderson said. “But for the rest of the summer and fall, we definitely want to be able to accommodate all of the customers coming in and we think we can do that from 6 to 8.”

From the ground up

Anderson and others will be in Memphis beginning next week to train new staff members and supervise cleanup and stocking of the lakes.

Some fish currently are in the lake, leftover from when Thomas was managing the facility. But once Catch’em Lake reopens, another shipment of fish will be coming in to prepare for that first weekend of fishing.

“We actually contract with some other grow-out ponds over in Arkansas and South Mississippi,” Anderson said. “But, right now coming in, the company that will be stocking it will be a company out of Indianola, Miss.”

Anderson said he expects to get in about 10,000 pounds of hybrid catfish that first week. The fish will be a cross between channel and blue catfish.

Currently only five of the 10 lakes at the property are being used, though seven of them have water. But that also may change in the future as Anderson said he will be exploring the possibility of using some of those other lakes for their intended purposes.

Besides fishing, one of the other intended uses for the lakes is research, Anderson said. And that’s something that will be happening at two of the lakes beginning in the spring.

“There are an additional three (lakes) on the back end, and to be honest getting into this we’ll probably just use the five that’s got water in it for right now,” he said. “And then in the spring we’ll have a better idea of how we can grow into the other ponds; they’re pretty good-sized ponds that they’ve got in the back. And we don’t know if we might use those for catch-out or grow-out ponds for right now or if we want to use them for some research ponds.”

Anderson Bait Co. has been in the fishing business since the 1950s. In the early days, the business was known as Anderson Sporting Goods. It since has grown into a wholesale operation.

“And for the past 20 to 25 years, we’ve been focusing on the wholesale part of it,” Anderson said. “We’re looking to get more back into the retail aspect of the business.” He added that Anderson Bait has been stocking ponds for years, so the management staff has vast experience going into management of Catch’em Lake.

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