Cooling lakes offer fishing, outdoor fun just minutes from San Antonio

By on June 4, 2013

Jimmy Barrientes like to fish Calaveras Lake at night.

“That’s when the big boys come,” says Barrientes, a boom operator for a pole crew and 24-year CPS Energy veteran. “Most of the time, I come home with the limit.”

Barrientes likes to take his 18-foot Kenner out after work, around dusk. He catches red drum and stripers, and catfish in the winter – “big ones,” he says, upwards of 18 pounds.

He’s one of many CPS Energy employees — and one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year — who take advantage of the recreational opportunities at Calaveras and Braunig, the man-made lakes that cool the utility’s coal and natural gas plants.

Following the record drought of the late 1950s, and a growing need to conserve Edwards Aquifer water for drinking, CPS Energy began using treated wastewater from the San Antonio River to fill the new lakes. Doing so saves more than 40,000 acre feet of drinking water from the aquifer each year.

By using recycled water, CPS Energy has avoided using 320 billion gallons of Edwards Aquifer drinking water since the lakes were built — that’s enough water to fill every bathtub in the country.

Today, as the most recent drought drags on, reducing water levels in other area lakes, Calaveras and Braunig remain full, offering unparalleled fishing, boating, bird watching, hiking and camping just minutes from San Antonio

While they’re owned by CPS Energy, the parks are managed by Thousand Trails, which bills itself as the largest provider of RV parks and campgrounds in North America.

Glenda Gaona, the area manager for Calaveras and Braunig, says the parks saw almost 100,000 visitors just between January and March of this year – and that’s considered slow compared to previous years, she thinks because of the colder weather.

But in general, she said, their popularity is increasing.

“I think people are getting to know more about them,” said Gaona, who has worked at the parks since 2001.

She noted that amenities have been updated, including new picnic tables and boat docks.

“It looks a lot better now,” she says.

The lakes were recently featured in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine’s March issue as part of a feature on the fantastic fishing to be found in the state’s electric cooling lakes.

Texas has about 20 lakes used to supply cooling water for power plants, the story notes, and they stay warm and full all year long.

Catfishing at Calaveras is good all year long, and both it and Braunig are known for their red drum fisheries, striped bass and of course, catfish.

Shawn Reese, a control room operator at Spruce, has been a professional fishing guide since 1989.

Shawn Reese guarantees visitors will catch fish on his tours.

Shawn Reese guarantees visitors will catch fish on his tours.

On a trip with four guests once, they caught 100 catfish in two hours, he said.

“They hire me, we go out and catch fish,” said Reese, who grew up fishing on the lakes.

Carlos Silva doesn’t own a boat, but that doesn’t stop him from fishing.

A pole crew truck driver with 14 years under his belt, Silva says he’s been a regular on the lakes for the last decade. When his children were younger, he said, they often camped out for Easter weekend.

Today, he says, “I try to get out at least once a month.” He casts from the banks of Braunig Lake in the early mornings.

“Most of the time it’s really peaceful, except for holidays.”

And while he mainly goes alone, “I always try to meet new people – we get pretty friendly out there.”

And while Barrientes says he doesn’t often eat what he catches – “I hate cleaning them,” he admits, and so often passes his fish along to friends – Silva says he bakes, fries and grills what he catches.

His latest haul included two catfish, one an eight-pounder, the other weighing in at twelve pounds.

David Herbst, senior vice president for power generation at CPS Energy, doesn’t get out all that regularly, but recently took his grandson Patrick Walls out for the day, along with son-in-law Jason Garrish, recently returned from active duty in the Middle East.

On leave, Garrish wanted to cross Texas fishing off his bucket list, said Herbst.

“There was no time to go to the coast, so we went to Calaveras,” he said. “We had a blast” – especially Patrick, 9, who caught himself a 15 pound catfish.

Nine-year-old Patrick Walls shows off the catfish he recently hooked at Calaveras Lake.

Nine-year-old Patrick Walls shows off the catfish he recently hooked at Calaveras Lake.

Last month, Calaveras Lake was overrun with children as part of Kids’ Fish Day, an annual event hosted by CPS Energy, and staffed by employee volunteers.

This Saturday, 40 children disabled children from Respite Care of San Antonio will spend the day fishing. After a big breakfast, they’ll learn water safety from a Texas Parks & Wildlife game warden, and get their own pole, tackle box, hat and shirt.

Parks & Wildlife makes sure the day will be a success – they net off a small cove, stock it with more than 700 pounds of catfish fish the day before, then make sure they’re nice and hungry the morning of Kids’ Fish Day.

“When they catch their first fish, it’s so wonderful to see their faces,” says Lorie Svoboda, who works in current asset management, and has been volunteering for Kids’ Fish Day with her husband and son for the past three years.

“It’s a great way to share our knowledge and love of the outdoors with the kids,” she said.

This Post Has 1 Comment
  1. Bev23o51@gmail.com on said:

    I am a annual member of Calaveras and Braunig Lake.. I am in the process of trying to reach and entity or supervisor above both of these Lakes supervisors.. In regards to pinning down all of the camp ground folks that come in and utilize the canopies without paying for them.. The office does not drive around three times a day or at all they sit in the office so I’m on the computer doing much of nothing and all these folks are utilizing all of the canopies without paying 15 to $20 for them sometimes for days if you drive the park at any time you will find there are no white signs posted of anyone renting these canopies.. They will and are not doing anything as a follow-up to make the money for the park and put a stop to this.. But yet they will charge you to drive around the park for 30 minutes maybe longer at $7 a person but yet will not go out and try to make the big money in forcing these folks to pay for their canopy usage not even on the holidays when it is packed they will not take the responsibility to do this so in all essence these parts are not making the money that they could to generate to fix maintenance items upgrade the park take care of the necessary needs to upkeep trucks tractors mowers buy extra equipment or even hire another full-time extra employees to keep the job done what I am visualizing with this is the fact that these two parks are overbooked with folks Mini that I have spoken with no license or fees or paying for their canopies stay for days catch fish even with the wildlife guy driving by and checking them and who is losing the money out Thousand Trails CPS and the park system so I thought I would post here and maybe call the news and see if someone of a higher entity can follow up with the supervisors and try to remedy this situation people should not have to pay $7 to drive through or stay a couple of hours but yet their primary money is packed in folks utilizing every kind of be in the place and sometimes standing room only when other people are paying the small price thank you

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