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One of Mike Wathen’s newly caught largemouth bass swims near the front of his tank as he anchors a new addition – a fish cover – to the natural rock bottom of his new fish tank in Gibson County, Ind. (AP Photo/The Evansville Courier & Press, Denny Simmons)

Massive aquarium fulfills man’s lifelong dream

April 01, 2013 at 11:01 AM

The Associated Press

OWENSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — When the air temperature hit 27 degrees there wasn't a lot of rejoicing, but it was a heck of a lot better than the 22 degrees the thermometer read when Mike Wathen first climbed into his pickup truck at about four in the morning. The rural Owensville, Ind., man was going fishing, and a little frigid weather wasn't going to stop him.

Usually a catch-and-release kind of guy, Wathen was this time in a catch-and-keep frame of mind. It didn't really matter what kind of fish the longtime nature enthusiast caught as long as it was big. Anything too small would most likely seem out of place in his new aquarium — a 16 1/2 foot long, 12' 1" wide and 6' 6" deep fiberglass and acrylic masterpiece custom created by Alex Parris whose Marine Design out of Indianapolis builds about 30 tanks each year to be sold around the world. Only a handful are big ones.

"His (Wathen's) is by far on the bigger side for a private tank," Parris told the Evansville Courier & Press ( ). "(It) was a little more challenging than most since it had to be structurally sound while also being free-standing."

Wathen's tank uses fiberglass-reinforced plastic with a large, 3-inch thick acrylic front section. The walls are molded using multiple layers of fiberglass, balsa wood (for its light weight and strength) and more layers of fiberglass.

"Only a handful of tanks are big enough to have to use scuba gear (to clean it)," Parris said.

His company travels all over the world building custom aquariums.

"The craziest thing we ever did was crane a tank over a house," Parris said.

Wathen planned out every part of his tank, starting with the 24 yards of concrete in the stand that holds the tank.

"The footers were poured in three different pours so they weren't connected to the floor of the barn," Wathen explained. "That way, if we got any movement, it wouldn't crack my floor."

He has the tank set up to drain into another pond in the yard.

"I designed it so this water can be completely reused down there. The advantage to that is all my water that I treat I can run it down there gravity quick. That was the hardest thing to design."

Wathen, whose day job is with the Vanderburgh County Engineering Department, has been like a kid on Christmas morning since the tank was able to hold water — 7,326 gallons of water, to be more precise. It would hold more if not for the 5 1/2 tons of natural rock and gravel that make up the tank's floor.

"I want to emulate water bodies as accurately as possible," Wathen said of his continually evolving master plan that started more than two years ago. "As we look at it right now, it's a slice of Kentucky Lake. I can make it a slice of whatever I want it to be."

"It'll be all native fish," he continued. "I'll probably change it around depending on the season. As summer gets here I'm probably going to have a large snapping turtle. Go with some gar and some bowfin, some quillback carp, freshwater perch, pickerel ... maybe even some stripers."

At this point, Wathen has only six fish in the tank, compliments of his friend and Kentucky Lake fishing guide, Kirk Weber. When Wathen arrived for their fishing trip a couple of weeks back, heavy frost made the approach to Weber's 20-foot bass boat a little dicey. Adding to the less-than-favorable conditions, the water temp was only 45.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Usually fish aren't thinking of biting if it's colder than 46 degrees," Weber said, "but Mike needed some fish for that tank."

When all was said and done, Wathen left with two massive black crappie; three good-sized largemouth bass (6 lbs. 11 oz. was the biggest); and one three-pound smallmouth with a big attitude. All survived the long ride home to Wathen's southern Gibson County homestead, although the water in the transport tank was a more than a few gallons shallower than when the trek started.

Wathen, who started fishing and trapping as a kid, still holds onto his love of the outdoors and is hoping he can impart some of that feeling to the kids in the area. A group of Girl Scouts has already visited his aquarium, and more field trips are on the docket.

As to what other plans he has, he's not quite sure. He knows he'll use it in his lake consulting business, Wathen Environmental, but he's in more of a wait-and-see frame of mind when it comes to the future.

"I just wanted a fish tank," he stated simply. "I've wanted a large fish tank since I was real small."


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press,

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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