Outdoors: OKC's fisheries biologist has 'gone fishin' for good
If you have ever caught a big fish in an Oklahoma City lake, you probably have Bob Martin to thank.
“If it was a walleye or if it was a striped bass hybrid, there is a good chance it came from the (Oklahoma City) hatchery,” said Martin, Oklahoma City’s fisheries biologist for the past 37 years.
Martin, 68, retired on Jan. 3. Rick Godfrey, chair of Oklahoma City’s Game and Fish Commission, said Martin did incredible work for the anglers of Oklahoma City the past three-plus decades.
“They weren’t putting that many fish anywhere before Bob,” Godfrey said. “He was definitely the most instrumental person in providing the citizens of Oklahoma City an opportunity to fish and have good fishing,”
Under Martin’s watch, the H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery at Lake Hefner was renovated and reopened. New species of fish were added to Oklahoma City’s lakes. New fishing lakes were opened. More fishing classes, including fly fishing, were added for kids and adults. Trout fishing was introduced in Oklahoma City.
Over the last 37 year, millions of fish have been raised at the H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery under Martin’s guidance and stocked in Oklahoma City waters. Martin conservatively estimates more than 22 million.
When Martin was hired as the Oklahoma City fisheries biologist in November 1982, the fish hatchery had fallen into disrepair and had been closed for seven years. There had been no fisheries biologist on staff for several years.
“They had bits and pieces of a fisheries program,” Martin said. “They had fishing docks on city lakes and the (lake) rangers gave fishing classes to children, but no complete program.”
Martin’s first duty was to work with a contractor to renovate the hatchery and get it ready to raise fish again. Today, the H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery is the only municipal fish hatchery in Oklahoma and on the caliber of state and federally managed fish hatcheries.
More than 500,000 fish raised each year at the hatchery are put into the 8,000 surface acres of fishing waters within the Oklahoma City limits. Martin and his hatchery staff of three fishing technicians raise walleye, striped bass hybrids, channel catfish and hybrid sunfish.
Lake Hefner has always been known as a good walleye lake and even held the state record for 28 years until a bigger walleye was caught at Lake Altus-Lugert. Kerr Lake is now the owner of the state record walleye at 12 pounds, 13 ounces. The lake record walleye at Hefner is 11.3 pounds.
“Walleye got introduced into Hefner with water releases from Canton Lake, but through our annual stockings we have been able to sustain that walleye fishery because the lake has limited natural reproduction,” Martin said.
Striped bass hybrids, one of the fiercest fighting of the fresh-water fish, are raised at the H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery and stocked in Lake Overholser. The lake record hybrid at Overholser is 15.4 pounds.
In addition, the winter trout fishing season at the Dolese Youth Park Pond in Oklahoma City is very popular. The city's aquatic education programs introduce about 1,000 persons each year to fishing.
It’s unique for a city to have its own fish hatchery and fisheries biologist, Martin said. Most urban fishing programs are managed by state fish and game agencies, he said.
“That says a lot for Oklahoma City,” he said.
Godfrey said the person who replaces Martin will have big shoes to fill, and his replacement is an important hire if Oklahoma City is to continue offering the same kind of fishing opportunities it does now. Martin said he is confident the fisheries management program he has built will continue to thrive.
"I believe it will because there is support within the city to continue the program," he said.
Oklahoma City hired Martin, who grew up in Iowa and has a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University plus a master’s degree from Tennessee Tech, from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation where he was working at the state’s fish hatchery in Durant.
“When I came in 1982, a lot of people said don’t waste your time fishing in the city lakes. There is no fish there,’’ Martin said. “That was totally wrong.”
That perception has changed today, largely thanks to the work of Martin and his staff.
“Good fish management work, marketing and the reality of people actually catching fish changed that,” he said.