Fisherman drowned above dam, not below

Doug Markham said "near the dam" in this case referred to an area above the dam, not below.
Nov 19, 2013



An area fisherman who drowned last week was fishing above Cheatham Dam, not below, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency which oversaw the rescue operation.

Initial reports said the Clarksville man was fishing "near Cheatham Dam" when he apparently fell out of his boat. Officials were further quoted as saying the man "often fished below the dam."

 Since fishing below the dam is popular because schooling bait fish attract game fish such as rockfish, white bass and sauger into the fast water, it was widely assumed that's where the accident had taken place, especially considering the "near the dam" reference.

However, TWRA spokesman Doug Markham said that assumption was incorrect. He said "near the dam" in this case referred to an area above the dam, not below.

A debate about the risk of fishing in such turbulent water prompted the U.S. Corps of Engineers to propose closing the areas to boating. That effort was defeated last summer in the wake of a fishermen uprising, supported by the TWRA and several prominent politicians.

While a number of fishermen have drowned over the years after falling into the fast water below dams, Markham said the recent fatality did not occur in that area, and the TWRA wants to set the record straight and make the public aware of it.

The TWRA insists such areas are safe for boating if individuals take proper precautions.

Markham said the drowning victim was not wearing a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket is mandatory for all boaters in the water immediately below the dam, but is not required for boaters above the dam, although they must have one per person aboard.

An investigation into the cause of the accident continues.


Rick Duty

Mr. Woody still chooses to paint the tail-water safety picture with a yellow tint. He speaks to, "A debate about the risk of fishing in such turbulent water..." In fact, NO such debate ever took place. The debate was centered on the Corps' planned 24-7 closure of the tail-waters during ALL water conditions. The fishermen/boaters and the wildlife management teams of both embroiled states, fully recognized the hazards associated with boating immediately below the dams during periods when the spill gates were open, creating that turbulent discharge. All sides agreed, that pre-discharge warning systems regarding the impending change of conditions were essential.

In the 42 years of record keeping associated with the 10 dams along the Cumberland River, not a single fisherman has been lost to the tail-waters during non-discharge periods. During turbulent release periods - with warning beacons, loud claxons and bold signage in active use - 4 boaters have paid the price of ignoring those warnings. The details of those 4 accident reports underscore a chain of decisions beyond ignoring the active warnings, that contributed mightily to the fatalities. Of all 14 tail-water drowning incidents across 42 years, more have fallen in from the bank than were lost in boats during discharge periods. During that same record keeping period, hundreds of boat related deaths occurred on Corps lakes and beaches.

When following the general rules of boating, and more specifically adhering to the warning system immediately below the dams, the tail-waters of the Cumberland hold no more risks than any other river fisheries.


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