"It's awful," says Kenneth Tomlinson, who recently discovered a pile of dead fish he estimated weighed at least 300 pounds at the Blown Out Bridge ramp in north Wilson County.
"You could smell them a mile away, and buzzards were flocking everywhere," he said. "It's a health hazard. What's so bad is that this is a popular place for people to bring their kids to fish from the bank."
Tomlinson, who tends some nearby farmland, brought his tractor over and buried the decaying fish. But he suspects that as soon as he gets one mess cleaned up, more dead fish will be dumped.
"It's been going on for a couple of years," he said. "I've called the sheriff's office and the TWRA, but so far nobody has done anything about it."
TWRA spokesman Mitchell Bailey said it is illegal to dispose of fish in such a manner, and that Wilson County game warden Tanner Romsdal has been alerted to the situation. Anyone caught dumping dead fish in a public area will be cited.
"First of all, it's littering, even though the fish are bio-degradable," Bailey said. "Plus, it's illegal to even clean fish in a public area like a boat ramp because of the odor and the mess that would be left behind. So obviously it's illegal to dump a pile of fish, as has been described."
Tomlinson said the fish being dumped are mostly carp and buffalo, with an occasional gar. He said the fish range in size from five pounds to 35 pounds.
These species are classified as "rough fish" and it is legal to hunt and kill them with a bow. The bow fishermen believed responsible for the illegal dumping hunt primarily at night, using an electric light to spot their quarry as the fish swim near the surface or in shallow water.
Bow fishing has become popular in recent years, with clubs formed and tournaments held to see who can bag the most fish and the biggest fish.
"I don't have anything against bow fishing," Tomlinson said. "I'm sure most of the people who do it are good, responsible folks. But the ones who leave piles of fish to rot at the boat ramp give the rest a bad name."
Rough fish like carp, buffalo and gar are generally not considered edible. They are caught and hunted primarily for sport. Rough fish caught on fishing tackle can be released, but when shot and killed with an arrow, release obviously is not an option.
An occasional dead fish will be cleaned up fairly quickly by scavengers. But when large numbers of fish are involved, scavengers can't dispose of them. Burying them or hauling them to an unpopulated area for disposal (with permission of the land owner) are possible solutions.
"I don't know what they can do with the fish after they kill them," Tomlinson said, "but they shouldn't dump them out in a public area and leave the mess for somebody else to clean up."