Catfish Farm Caters to Customers, Special Kids

Thursday, July 13, 2006
Owner Lanny Parkhurst shows off a big fish to children visiting his Big Whiskers Catfish Farm.

A farmer's crop is what determines his wealth. It is what establishes his identity amongst his peers and in the community.

The soil is also an important factor. Often it is tilled and treated with fertilizers, but Marshall County farmer, Lanny Parkhurst did not have to take any of these things into consideration when he began work on his farm. In fact, he spent a good bit of his time searching for someone who would be willing to take his soil.

Parkhurst's original goal was to establish a 40-acre farm and be able to earn a living. After much research and time spent learning from other farmers, he knew that he would have to be very careful with what he chose to do with his land.

"It's extremely difficult for a small farmer to make a go of it these days. Farmland is being swallowed by big corporate industries and subdivisions," said Parkhurst, "but I was determined to make this one work."

Parkhurst came up with a unique idea, which combined farming with a classic American outdoor sport. When he pitched the idea of starting a catfish farm to his wife, Teresa, he admitted that she had to take a little time to come around.

"It was kind of hard for her to grasp what I was going to do, but she was very supportive and now that almost everything is complete, she loves it. She loves people, especially the kids," he said.

About two years ago, Parkhurst officially began working on his newfound project, which he has playfully named 'Big Whiskers Catfish Farm'. He determined that the excavation of the soil would be the largest expense, however, fortune would soon shine down on this farming fisherman's dream in the form of a father and son duo known as Paul and Brandon Vaughn of Vaughn Excavating.

"Paul is the one who approved and started the project. He explained that topsoil was at a premium. Vaughn Excavating needed topsoil and I wanted to dig catfish lakes, so we agreed on a deal. It was a win, win situation," he said.

The Vaughns and Parkhurst worked together for quite some time; creating two catfish lakes on the property before Paul passed away.

"His son Brandon has now taken over the project. He is working on lake number three and we look for it to be open by the fall," said Parkhurst.

Currently, Parkhurst has a combination of large sports fish and pan size fish, which are usually between one and four pounds contained in one lake. They are a mixture of farm-raised channel catfish and blue catfish, which Parkhurst recommends for sport fishing.

"Our goal is to ultimately have one lake dedicated to large sport fish, 10 pounds and up. It will be catch and release. The other lake will be for pan size fish. It will also be a catch and release or you will be able to pay extra to catch and keep them," he said.

There is a mandatory catch and release fee of $10. For those fish that are caught and kept, the fisherman will be charged an extra $2.25 per pound.

"One of the reasons I do catch and release is because so many competitors will charge for every fish that is caught regardless of whether it is kept. Our $10 pass is a whole lot more reasonable."

Big Whiskers Catfish Farm generally has about 3,500 pounds of catfish circulating in its waters at all times. Parkhurst explained that the purpose of the third lake would allow them to breed their own catfish.

"I've talked with several people who run operations such as this and I've researched studies at the Universities of Florida and Alabama to get a better understanding of the technical side of how to care for the fish. By breeding them ourselves, it will enable us to keep the price of the fish down and it will also allow us to sell fingerlings to people so that they can stock their own ponds," he said.

Parkhurst hopes that in the near future Big Whiskers will have its own fish cleaning facilities.

"We will give people the option of allowing us to clean the fish for them, or they can do it themselves," he said.

Currently the only facility available for the fisherman to use is what is known as the 'club house', but it is stocked with many of the amenities of home. The club house is air conditioned. It has completely handicap accessible restroom facilities. Dinning areas are located outside on the porch and inside. Snacks and some fishing products, such as live bait are also available for purchase at the counter.

"We can rent fishing poles, but for the most part everyone brings their own. We're still growing. I'm still being visited by wholesalers, but we're really not out to try and compete in a retail market. What we provide is basically just a convenience to our customers," said Parkhurst.

In the meantime, the couple has been working on some clever ideas to keep their customers content. One of the most popular ideas, so far, has been the Saturday Fishing Tournaments. The prize money is based on the number of participants that sign up for the tournament each Saturday. The winners of the past month's tournaments include; Daniel Jones ($146), Ronald Cates ($196), Kevin Lonning ($203) and Kelly Clark ($350).

"The tournaments are becoming more and more popular. We had 50 people the Saturday before," said Parkhurst.

Night fishing is also growing in popularity. Big Whiskers is open from 7:00 a.m. -- 11:00 p.m. everyday. Parkhurst said that they could actually light up the north bank like 'a tennis court'. He said that they would also work to accommodate large parties, a feet which Parkhurst proved that he was more than capable of when MTV Productions paid a special visit to the farm just a short while ago.

Eddie George, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, was acting as a coach for the MTV series 'Made'. The object of the series is to work with underprivileged high school aged kids to try and make one of their dreams come true within the span of a month.

George who was helping an overweight teenager with leg deformities reach his goal of becoming his high school's prom king, brought the 'Made' series' cast and crew to Big Whiskers Catfish Farm for a little fun and relaxation. The show is scheduled to air on Wednesday, July 19.

Even after the glitz and glam of the TV network's cameras, Parkhurst still remains focused on providing quality service and treating each and every customer as if they were stars.

"One of our biggest features is that you can drive to the spot where you want to fish. That is a major convenience," he said.

Parkhurst also takes pride in the fact that families can feel safe and secure when they're at the farm.

"I am CPR and First Aid certified. We also have a weather alert system installed for customer information. At some places you're out there by yourself, but there's security here," he said.

With grandchildren of their own, the Parkhursts realize that peace of mind is a wonderful thing to have.

"This is literally a mom and pop place. We just try and make it a good day for people."

Big Whiskers Catfish Farm is located just off of Hwy. 50 before I-65 exit 32. Turn off of Hwy. 50 onto Old Columbia Road. From there turn right onto Brush Creek Road. Big Whiskers Catfish Farm is approximately 4/10 of a mile down on the right. Feel free to contact the Parkhurst's for more information at 270-7072 or visit their website at