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Corps considers banning fishing close to dams
Dec 06, 2012 12:00 am
Fishing guide Bill Bethel, who specializes in catching big rockfish and striper hybrids that lurk in the churning currents below dams on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, is concerned over a proposal to ban fishing there.
“The Corps of Engineers wants to prohibit fishing within 1,000 yards of dams while generation is in progress,” says Bethel, whose clients include members of the Tennessee Titans and country music entertainers.
“If that happens, it will ruin our striper-fishing industry because the best fishing is below dams during periods of generation. I don’t even bother booking a trip when there’s no generation.”
The Corps confirmed that it is considering “a plan to restrict boat access to hazardous waters directly upstream and downstream of all hydro-electric power plant facilities along the Cumberland River and its tributaries.”
Dams that would be affected include those at Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Cheatham, Dale Hollow and Barkley.
Bethel says that such a ban would not only disrupt striper fishing but also affect the state’s popular wintertime sauger angling. Many sauger fishermen like to fish close to the dam where the fish congregate during the cold months of up-stream migration.
It’s called “fishing the boils” – casting lures and baits into the churning water that surges though the dam’s generators.
Taking a boat into such rough, roiling water can be dangerous. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency requires all boaters to wear a life jacket when fishing below a dam.
Billboard-sized signs on both sides of the river below the dams warn boaters about the dangerous waters and remind them that wearing a life jacket is mandatory.
However, not all fishermen obey the life-jacket rule. Last year Bethel rescued a fisherman whose boat capsized below Cheatham Dam.
“He ran his boat right up to the dam in the fast water and it got caught in the undercurrent and turned over,” Bethel said. “Luckily I was fishing close by and rushed over and threw him a floating seat cushion with a rope tied to it. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket and would have drowned in another minute. You can’t swim out of that fast water.”
Bethel always wears a life jacket and requires his guests to put one on as soon as the boat leaves the ramp. But some other fishermen don’t do it, and by doing so they risk their lives when they run a light-weight boat into the churning water.
Nevertheless, Bethel opposes a below-the-dam ban intended to protect reckless fishermen from themselves.
“Banning fishing there wouldn’t stop them because they’re already ignoring the life-jacket rule,” he says. “Adding another regulation wouldn’t do any good. They’d just ignore it too.”
Bethel supports the mandatory life-jacket requirement (but is critical of the lax enforcement) and credits the Corps for posting signs warning boaters to be careful when approaching dangerous waters. But he says that’s as far as the Corps should go.
“We’ve got adequate safety rules,” he says, “we just need to enforce them. I’m opposed to banning fishing below dams where I’ve fished for 25 years without a problem. I hope other fishermen feel the same way, and let the Corps and TWRA know it.”