Drowning emphasizes dam-fishing danger

It's a timely warning, because cold weather means prime-time sauger fishing, and many sauger fisherman prefer to fish immediately below the dams. Some, in fact, fish within a few feet of the walls.
Nov 18, 2013
Fishing below dams is productive, but the fast water can be treacherous.


A fisherman drowned below Cheatham Dam last week after falling out of his boat in the churning water.

Since the man was alone, details about exactly how the accident occurred are unknown. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which headed the recovery effort, said the Clarksville man had been "fishing near the dam" when he was reported missing. His empty boat was later recovered downstream.

According to TWRA investigators, the man "often fished near the dam," indicating that he was familiar with the rough, turbulent water that gushes through during periods of generation.

The fatal accident comes on the heels of this summer's controversial effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ban boats from entering the fast water below Cheatham and other area dams on the Cumberland River system.

The Corps cited safety concerns as the reason why it wanted to keep boats out of such tailwaters. But an uprising by fishermen -- supported by the TWRA and some prominent politicians -- forced the Corps to abandon its plan to place barriers below the dams to keep boats out.

Many veteran fishermen such as guide Bill Bethel, who frequently fishes below Cheatham and Old Hickory dams for rockfish, vocally opposed the Corps plan. They insisted the water is safe if precautions are taken.

The TWRA requires all boaters in such areas to wear life jackets. However, the regulation is seldom if ever enforced. I've fished below Cheatham, Old Hickory and Cordell Hull dams numerous times in recent years and observed many fishermen not wearing a life jacket.

Frankly, I don't like to fish such rough water, with the boat rocking and churning in the rolling water. It's difficult fishing,  and I always feel a tad uneasy, even with an experienced boater like Bethel.

I prefer fishing further downstream, where the current is not as strong and the fishing is more comfortable. I've caught plenty of fish in the slower water.

But others prefer to fish close to the dams, where big rockfish feed on shad and other forage fish that school in the fast water. They won a heated debate with the Corps of Engineers over their right to fish there.

Last week's drowning probably won't revise the debate, but it does serve as a grim reminder about how dangerous the churning tailwaters can be.

It's a timely warning, because cold weather means prime-time sauger fishing, and many sauger fisherman prefer to fish immediately below the dams. Some, in fact, fish within a few feet of the walls.

Wintertime fishing is especially dangerous because falling into the water will result in hypothermia. Combine that with the hazards of navigating a boat in the churning water and it makes for some risky fishing.

Even someone who has experience in fishing in such turbulent water is not immune from an accident, as last week's drowning proved.

Fishermen won the right to fish there, but they also bear the responsibility for their safety.



Mr. Woody, i believe you need to make some very important corrections to your article. Keep in mind a man lost his life, the very least you can do, is to make sure you have your facts straight before chastizing the man and trying your best re-ignite a fight that sensible, hard working fishermen and sportsmen made to preserve OUR RIGHT to fish OUR WATER.Which im sure you can remember neither yourself, a self proclaimed fisherman, nor your paper ever gave assistance in the fight to keep our waters open. But i did notice your little plug about you prefer to fish farther downstream where its more calm....would that distance away from the turbulent water be about the same distance that the CORPS deemed fit for safe fishing???? Im going to take a stab at that and say yes.
The man was NOT below the dam in the churning waters, as you so put it. He was on the up-stream side of the dam. The TWRA stated he fished below the dam frequently, but never said that is where he was fishing when the accident occured.
Conveniently enough, the CORPS just so happens to be running this same article on their webpage. Quite frankly, the Lebanon Democrat, yourself, and the CORPS all need to take a lesson in Class, and Respect and get your facts straight before you all run off at the mouth trying to poke the stick during a tragic situation. Shame on your paper, shame on you and shame on the CORPS.


Excellent comment TNBronzeback. Articles like this is why the media is so despised!!! They are just looking to stir something up!! What is really bad is once an article like this is posted the damage is done whether a retraction is posted or not!!! PATHETIC!!!

Doug Markham

Please remove this article. It is INACCURATE. The death occurred above the dam. Not in any "churning" waters. Many folks worked to help recover the body, including Cheatham and Dickson County emergency management teams and the TWRA. The man was not wearing a life jacket, which may or my not have played a role in his death, but far more deaths occur above dams than below dams and most could be be prevented with life jacket use---- Doug Markham (TWRA)

Rick Duty

Respectfully, the sportsman who died deserves to have the news reported with a measure of accuracy, that does not embroil his passing in politics past. It is my understanding through TWRA sources, that he did NOT drown in the waters below Cheatham Dam, but was indeed in the Johnson Creek area well behind the dam, and apparently, tragically, was not recovered wearing a PFD.

Regarding the safety of the tail-waters below the dam, the only real controversy in the Corps of Engineers attempted closure of these fisheries, was the twisted rationale they presented, and their abject refusal to follow their own internal policies regarding local input into such projects. Inaccuracies in accounting for accidents, and thumbing their noses at the people - more specifically the people's representatives in Washington, underscored a mysterious if not arrogant self-appointed autonomy. So askew was the rationale behind the Corps' closure attempt, that when finally compelled to block them with legislative action, the results were nothing less than astonishing. The Freedom to Fish Act was introduced in the Senate on May 16th, and passed with unanimous consent. On May 21st, a House voice-vote passed without dissent. The President signed the Act into law on June 3rd. In times when our federal government is viewed as highly dysfunctional, our congress passed the Freedom to Fish Act with a unanimity not often seen since the attack on Pearl Harbor. This, was a direct response to the common sense associated with the principles of separation of powers, and the bogus attempt to twist safety records to rationalize the attempted seizure of public trust assets. On this occasion, the Corps was dead wrong, the people spoke up loudly, and our congress responded in rare but magnificent style.


Mr.Woody, this article is irresponsible journalism. The facts of your article are biased and not factual. If you had looked at a map of the area you would have seen that Johnson Creek is well ABOVE the dam, and was NOT in a turbulent area below the dam. Hammy


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