With the white stacks of a natural gas plant looming in the background, a white tractor trailer pulled up to the edge of Braunig Lake on San Antonio’s South Side. The truck’s sides bore the words “LIVE FOOD FISH” in black letters. 

Workers emerged from the truck and attached a length of pipe to one of the boxes on the truck’s rear. Out of the box slid 7,500 channel catfish, each only three or so inches long. 

“Everyone says they never stock the lake,” said angler Anthony Cmielewski, holding his phone to capture video of the torrent of tiny catfish spilling into one of his favorite fishing spots in San Antonio.  

“Well, here’s proof,” Cmielewski continued. “I got it in living color.”

Fingerling channel catfish spill from a truck during a stocking at CPS Energy's Braunig Lake.
Fingerling channel catfish flow out of a truck during a stocking event at CPS Energy’s Braunig Lake.

The crew was stocking the lake Tuesday as part of a regular Texas Parks and Wildlife Department replenishment of the fish population in the power plant lake, owned by CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal electric and gas utility.

CPS Energy manages two such lakes on the South Side. Braunig Lake cools the utility’s V.H. Braunig Power Station, a natural gas plant that dates back to the 1970s. Calaveras Lake is the larger of the two and cools CPS Energy’s J.K. Spruce coal plant and its O.W. Sommers plant, which runs on natural gas. 

Both lakes have their fish populations boosted just about every year. On Tuesday, the truck bearing the logo of Mr. Fish Transport, an Arkansas-based fish supplier, was filled with 145,000 juvenile catfish, about 43,500 of which were bound for Braunig. The rest were headed to Calaveras, said Gregg Tieken, CPS Energy’s manager of environmental operations. 

“The lakes provide an outlet for people if they want to get outside,” Tieken said. “It’s not far from home, it’s in the city, so it’s easy to access. Just come out and enjoy.” 

The channel catfish being stocked Tuesday are native to almost all drainages in Texas, said Randy Myers, a TPWD fisheries biologist overseeing the stocking. They’re the second- or third-most popular sport fish in the state, Myers said. 

“These lakes are very productive fisheries,” Myers continued. “And they’re so close to San Antonio, with 1.8 million people. They get a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, and the fish stocks get fished out.” 

Channel catfish from a live fish distributor are poured into a bucket for stocking in CPS Energy's Braunig Lake.
Channel catfish from a live fish distributor are poured into a bucket for stocking in CPS Energy’s Braunig Lake.

In around three or four years, the fingerling catfish dropped off Tuesday will grow to around 12 to 14 inches, Myers said. 

In 2017, the agency stocked both cooling lakes with hundreds of thousands of red drum, an ocean-dwelling fish found on the Texas Gulf Coast. The elevated water temperature makes the lakes productive habitats for all fish, including the red drum, which “do very well in here,” Myers said. These grow even faster than the catfish and can reach close to 18 inches in two or three years, he said. 

Cmielewski’s phone has plenty of pictures of red drum, catfish, and other fish species he’s pulled from the lake. He often visits Braunig four days a week, fishing from the shore or wading to an area where he can avoid snagging his line on underwater debris. Sometimes, his oldest son joins him. 

“This is my paradise,” Cmielewski said, looking out across the water. “I’d rather do this than anything else.” 

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He serves as the assistant manager of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.