If not for impoundments built and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, waters for bass fishing would be but a fraction of what they are today. By extension, tournament fishing, tackle innovation, and all the rest associated with the sport would not have evolved as they have.
As bass anglers, we owe much to the Corps, and therein lies a seeming contradiction that drives many of us to distraction:
These reservoirs were not created for bass fishing, nor are they managed for bass fishing. But because they are so critically important for the existence of the sport, many of us simply cannot accept that reality. We can’t rid ourselves of the mistaken idea that, when the Corps acts, it is doing so solely to impact the fishing in one way or another.
For example, when the Corps lowers the water during or just after the spawn, many of us are certain that the move was done either to intentionally damage the fishery and/or to remind anglers who is in charge.
The truth is that recreation might be an authorized use on a Corps impoundment, but water storage typically is not allocated for recreation. And that’s a crucial difference.
Additionally, a single Corps impoundment is not an independent entity unto itself, especially when it comes to flood control. Reservoirs on a river system all are interrelated in their management.
Consider Table Rock Lake on the White River chain, where more than 13 inches of rain fell within 72 hours in late April of 2011, contributing to an historic 21-foot rise.
Beaver Lake is upstream, while Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry are downstream. Between Bull Shoals and Table Rock, is Lake Taneycomo, a riverine impoundment not managed by the Corps, but which must be considered in management decisions.
“It’s a complicated system,” said Greg Oller, Corps manager for Table Rock, who added that a White River water control plan helps determine when to release and how much, based on storage capacity of the impoundments.
Adding to that complication is the fact that the White is a tributary of the Mississippi, as is the Arkansas. When heavy rains and floods occur, flow down those two waterways must be considered as well in determining releases. Gauging stations help track what’s going on.
“From Beaver to Newport (on lower White River) is a lot of uncontrolled area, including the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek,” Oller said. “Those elevations can bounce up based on water inflow from rain.”
And then there’s the heavy rain that poured into Beaver, just as it did to Table Rock. That came barreling down the White River and into Table Rock at 300,000 cubic feet per second. High, muddy water also pushed in from the Kings and James rivers, as the lake rose perilously close to the top of the dam.
By contrast, construction of these impoundments on the White were based on flooding in 1927 and 1945, when peak discharge was 200,000 cubic feet per second.
“A lot of people were upset with the flooding downstream,” said the Corps manager who didn’t sleep much during this critical period. “But Table Rock prevented a tremendous amount of damage.”
Oller is a fisherman himself and recognizes that these high waters often are good for fisheries, even as they are devastating for homes, towns, and farms in the floodplain. Flooded shorelines provide abundant habitat for fry to feed and avoid predation. “The flood events that we had in 2008 and again in 2011 should make these fisheries hot spots for years to years to come,” he said.
He added that the Corps “tries to be sensitive” to fisheries-related issues, but has limited options.
“We can’t manipulate the water level based on the spawn,” he said. “When water is drawn down during that time, it is based on an authorized allocation of water.”
As an example, water pulled for hydropower during a dry spring could cause a low-water situation that damages the spawn.
For fisheries particularly, low water can be more devastating than floods, Oller added. “You get locked into a drought and that can last for months and even years,” he said.
Bottom line, though, is that water is cyclic. There will be droughts. There will be floods. And in managing our impoundments during these times, Corps employees must utilize a complicated system based on authorized uses and allocations --- not what bass fishermen want to create optimal fishing conditions.
As a kid, I didn’t just love to fish.
I lived to fish.
Over the years --- and usually fishing --- I’ve met many who felt the same way about their childhood.
Reading comments on Facebook and in fishing forums, I can see that many adults never outgrow that feeling. That’s good.
In fact, the world would be a better place if more people felt that way.
I’m not talking about forsaking a family, giving up a job, and throwing away responsibility to go fishing 24/7. I’m talking about recognizing the value of fishing for relaxation, enjoyment of nature, and as a dangling carrot to get you from Monday to Friday. I’m talking about time spent with children and grandchildren that allows you to share knowledge and experience, as well as pass on the passion for a wholesome activity that has brought you so much happiness.
Sadly, many who do not fish are rising to power in all levels of government. They come from a background that says preservation --- look but don’t touch --- is better than conservation --- sustainable use of a resource through good stewardship. Some are adamantly anti-fishing, with close ties to extreme environmental groups. Others simply give no thought or value to recreational fishing and would consider its demise an acceptable loss for implementation of their agendas.
What can be we about this? Well, we could take them fishing. That really is the best solution. But we might have to abduct some of them to get them out of their cubicles, and that could get complicated and messy and charges might be filed.
The alternative is to organize and stand strong for recreational fishing. I know, I know: Fishing is your escape from things like organizing and standing strong. It takes you back to childhood, when living to fish was pure and uncomplicated.
I understand and respect that feeling. But I also know that neglecting to defend what you love against an overzealous enemy is the surest way to lose it.
The irony is that those of us who fish --- about 40 million annually --- far outnumber those who would take it away. But the latter are committed to a preservationist agenda, while we who fish are committed to fishing more than we are protecting our right to fish.
Or at least that’s the way that it has been.
“We’re the biggest recreational sporting group in the country, but we’ve hardly been organized enough to tie our shoes,” said Bob Eakes, owner of Red Drum Tackle in Buxton, N.C.
Eakes and his business were among the first casualties in this war against recreational fishing, where many of the early volleys are being fired at saltwater anglers. Under the guise of protecting birds and turtles, the National Park Service (NPS) elected to side with three environmental groups and shut down access to nearly half of the world-famous surf fishery at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The battle to reclaim that fishery is still going on, but there’s no doubt that the NPS is no friend to recreational fishermen.
“Twenty-one national parks are waiting to see how this plays out,” Eakes explained. “And we’re starting to see issues in freshwater as well.”
On inland fisheries thus far, recreational fishing is being attacked mostly by groups who want to ban lead fishing tackle and associations and municipalities who use concerns about the spread of invasive species to shut down access.
But more is on the way. By executive order, the federal National Ocean Council can decide where you can and cannot fish on oceans, coastal waters, and the Great Lakes, and it has the authority to extend its reach inland to rivers and lakes.
That’s why your support for Keep America Fishing is so vitally needed. “No one has been trumpeting the message that the public’s right to fish is at stake. But with Keep America Fishing (KAF), we now have a way to do that,” said Eakes.
Garnering more than 43,000 messages of opposition from anglers, KAF helped defeat an attempt to impose a national ban on lead fishing tackle a few years ago.
Go there to learn about the issues, get involved, and make a donation.
Three hundred thousand people in Africa now have clean water, thanks to Global Water Partners, which bass fisherman Bruce Whitmire founded in 2009. Since 1996, he's helped drill wells that supply clean water for 12 million.
Think about that.
"Every one of us had a gift that makes the picture complete," he says. "This is where I fit--- lovin' on people and helping them have a better life."
He uses bass tournaments to help solicit support for GWP and spread the word that an estimated 2 billion people still lack access to clean water.
"When parents send their children out to a mud hole to bring home water, that water is supposed to bring life. But what it brings is death and disease," says the Texas angler. "They need clean water for life and health."
Read Whitmire's inspiring story here.
An in-state attempt to wage war on black bass and stripers in the California (Sacramento-San Joaquin) Delta has been repelled --- at least for now.
Led by agricultural groups, a coalition was calling on the California Fish and Wildlife Commission to changes in size and bag limits for these non-native species that have been established for more than a century.
Translation: They wanted all limits removed on one of the world's best bass fisheries.
Why? Native salmon and other fish are suffering because of drought and growing demand for a limited water supply. But because bass are predators and high-profile, they're easy to blame for the decline of native species.
The same thing has happened in the Northwest, where both Oregon and Washington wildlife agencies have made management decisions based on politics and science. Up there, size and bag limits have been removed on the Columbia and other rivers. The feds are involved too, and on the wrong side, of course. Check out War on Bass Is Spreading.
But in California, the petition to wage war on bass was withdrawn by the petitioners before its scheduled review by the Commission. It had been vehemently and vocally opposed by B.A.S.S., California Sportfishing League, and other groups.
“Our coalition had science on our side and we were able to show the Fish and Wildlife Commission that all fish need water and this was simply a water grab that sought to make striped bass and largemouth and smallmouth bass the scapegoats for the status of salmon stocks, said Scott Gudes, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).
Representing millions of sportsmen and women nationwide, including tens of thousands in California, the coalition engaged supporters who sent a clear message to the Commission that this was a water issue, not a fish issue.
"This is a real victory for anglers. But we need to be vigilant. No doubt the agricultural industry that pushed this proposal will be back. Anglers need to stay unified," added Gudes.
These are the groups that targeted bass:
The Coalition for Sustainable Delta, California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation, Kern County Water Agency, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Northern California Water Association, San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, Southern California Water Committee, State Water Contractors and Western Growers were the petitioners.
These are the groups that spoke up for bass and anglers:
American Sportfishing Association, B.A.S.S., California Sportfishing League, Coastal Conservation Association California, Coastside Fishing Club, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Fishing League Worldwide, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Water4Fish.