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Protection extended for area tail-waters fishing

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:38 PM

Boaters and fishermen will continue to have access to the tail-waters immediately below 10 dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries at least through 2017.

That's the period approved by Congress in recent legislation designed to keep those waters open and accessible to boaters.

It put to rest -- at least for that time period -- a contentious battle with the U.S. Corps of Engineers which last year attempted to block access to the waters immediately below such dams as Old Hickory, Cheatham and Percy Priest lakes.

The Corps cited concerns about the safety of boaters in the sometimes-turbulent waters during periods of hydro generation.

When news of the planned blockage leaked out, a backlash from fishermen prompted politicians to get involved in the dispute. That prompted the Corps to back away from its plan.

One of those politicians, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, responded to the recent legislation in a statement:

"Passage of this legislation is a victory for generations who have enjoyed the right to fish below publicly owned dams on the Cumberland River."

Alexander helped push through the Freedom to Fish Act last year that curbed the Corps plan to restrict boating access.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was a strong opponent of the Corps plan. TWRA officials noted that some of the best fishing in the state is found in the swift waters immediately below dams, and supported the fishermen's uprising against the Corps attempt to block boating access.

The TWRA pointed out that warning signs are posted below dams advising boaters of the possibility of turbulent waters in those areas, and also that wearing a life jacket is mandatory there. It maintains that fishing in the tail-waters is safe as long as care is taken and regulations are obeyed.

Corps officials claimed that the warning signs were often ignored and that the life jacket regulation -- which is supposed to be enforced by TWRA officers -- is frequently violated.

Ironically, a boater drowned during the debate -- but the drowning occurred in Cheatham Lake above the dam, not in the fast water below the dam.

The recently-passed legislation takes note of the Corps' safety concerns, and calls for state agencies to enforce safety regulations below the dams.

Guaranteeing access to the tail-waters for at least the next three years was welcome news for not only area fishermen, but also for fishing guides who frequently take clients into those waters.

"As Bobby Wilson (TWRA Fisheries Director) said, some of our best fishing is below those dams," says Lebanon guide Jim Duckworth. "It's a resource we can't afford to lose, and there was no reason for closing it off. If a boater takes common-sense precautions and does what he's supposed to do, it's perfectly safe to fish there."

During the winter months sauger fishing is good below dams, and the rest of the year such species as catfish, white bass (stripe) and rockfish/hybrids congregate in the currents to feed on baitfish.

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