East Texas fisherman can return to bridges after never-enforced rule plucked from books
BY KELLY GOOCH
Coffee City-For about six years, Todd Alexander fished at the bridges on Texas Highway 155 in Coffee City.
The Bullard resident, 23, said he assumed it would be a good place to fish and caught three or four catfish in about two hours.
He eventually stopped going to the bridges after the city restricted fishing there.
But he and others can now return to their spot because the city council repealed the ban.
"I've been driving by the last two weeks and haven't really seen anyone out. I will probably go back there. I'm just glad that it got repealed," Alexander said.
The ban, which was put in place on July 9, restricted fishing "from on/under" the bridges, meaning catching fish while not in a boat, and included penalties for those who violated the ordinance. It was repealed during a special meeting Dec. 17.
Coffee City Mayor Ray Wakeman said a handful of individuals complained about trash under the bridge, and they thought prohibiting fishing would resolve the trash problem.
However, he said they didn't consider how many people come to Coffee City to fish under those bridges, and a lot of people wanted to know if there was any way to get rid of that fishing ordinance.
"Especially when I was out campaigning (this fall), I had numerous people ask about the ordinance and didn't find anybody that was in favor of it," said Wakeman, who was elected mayor in November and began his term Dec. 10. "Everybody had their voice of opinion and their displeasure with that. They like to fish under there."
He said the city also considered people have the right to access fishing on state property and that there has not been a lot of criminal activity in the area.
Additionally, Wakeman said the ordinance was never enforced because signs weren't posted to make residents aware of the ban.
He said people who asked to produce the signs decided to wait until after the new city council took office, and the city was getting feedback that people didn't want the ban, so they decided not to post the signs.
"In order for them to be able to enforce it, they would have had to post signs telling people that went down there to fish that it was illegal, and that was never done. You can't enforce it unless you have the proper signage down there to let people know," he said.
Wakeman could not estimate how many people typically fish at the bridges. But he said at various times of the year, he sees cars parked at both of them.
"It just depends on the season. When fish are running, there are more people," he said.
People should be encouraged to come to the city because when they come to fish, he said, because they might stop to buy beer, gas and do other shopping. He said the city now hopes that people will feel free to come, and that they will do their part to keep the area clean.
"People should have access to the lake, and we'd like to see them do it in Coffee City ..." Wakeman said.
"I would think (repealing the ban is) probably not going to be a major (economic) impact, but every little bit adds up. It'll encourage people to come down here. ... It was inactive and a majority of people didn't want (the ban), and we are elected officials, and we should listen to the majority of the people and what they want."
But not everyone is in favor of repealing the ban.
Former city council member John Graham, who wrote the original ordinance, said the ban was put in place for aesthetic reasons and believes the area will revert back to the way it was, with trash and possible traffic issues along the highway.
"It's always going to be the type of people who utilize a privilege who aren't the people responsible for their actions ..." he said. "I'm saddened by the fact (the council) decided to do that. ... I'm just saddened we don't have a city council that looks forward to the city's imagery."
Avid fisherman Larry Callahan, 69, of Tyler, said he didn't know that a ban was ever in place at the Coffee City bridges, but it is a good area for crappie.
Now that it's repealed, he suggested putting signs up to deter littering or possibly getting an individual or group to adopt a bridge and keep it clean.