Are we in trouble?

About the author

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick is better known to the bass fishing world as the Smallmouth Guru. He lives in Celina, Tenn., and is the owner of Punisher Lures.

I’m writing this as a concerned man. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) told me they counted 183 dead smallmouth bass in Dale Hollow Lake today. My son, Jonathon, saw several more around the docks in a local marina. I made a few calls. Lake Cumberland has had some dead fish and so has Old Hickory Lake. Here’s what the TWRA thinks is happening:

The weather has been brutally hot and the rain almost nonexistent. This has pushed water levels lower and water temperatures higher than normal and for longer periods of time. These two factors work together to lower available oxygen levels.

This trend has been made worse by extremely heavy electric demands. To meet those demands high volumes of cold water are being pulled through the dams for power generation which further lowers the water level in the lake. What’s left is hotter, still.

All this has combined to make the habitat for bass, and especially for smallmouth, uninhabitable.  They can’t move to another lake, so they roam around and struggle until they die. It’s a sad story that I hope isn’t happening in other parts of the country, but I fear that it is.

I’ve noticed lately that the fishing has gotten tough — tougher than usual for this time of the year. The bite has been weak and hesitant, too. When you do manage to hook one, it doesn’t seem to fight as hard as it should. In general, I’d say things just haven’t been right for at least two weeks, maybe three.

I didn’t pay much attention to those things until I heard what I heard today. Then it all started to make sense to me. I suppose it’s an example of hindsight being better than foresight. I think the smallies around here have been sick for a while, and they’re just now starting to die.

I’m no fisheries biologist. All I know is what I experience on the water. Maybe the TWRA is wrong, and I’ve lost my touch for summertime fishing. They sent a couple of the dead fish off to be analyzed by professionals to make sure of things. We won’t know the answer for a long time.

Hopefully the weather will pass and things will get back to normal soon. If it’s not the weather, though, maybe the TWRA and other state agencies can do something before the end of the year.

Regardless of how it turns out, I’m hoping it’s something local that is only happening here in this part of the country. I’d hate to see it become a widespread problem. It’s hard enough to keep big smallmouth populations healthy and growing without fighting issues like this.

Let’s hope for the best. Mother Nature has a way of correcting things before they get too far out of whack. That’s the beauty of it all.

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