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Corps of Engineers Plan Riles Anglers, Would Gut World-Class Public Fisheries

More than a million Tennesseans enjoy fishing each year, with tens of thousands more traveling from around the nation to visit world-class tailwater fisheries below dams on a number of Cumberland River reservoirs.

Those incredible public resources—and the billions in associated economic impact—are slated to be eliminated through a unilateral directive from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Commander Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp. Affected fisheries include Old Hickory, Cheatham, J. Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Center Hill, and Dale Hollow, where a physical barrier would be installed to keep boats from within several hundred yards of the dams.

While the Commander cites public safety as the chief concern, the numbers do not support such a drastic change: Of all the deaths that have occurred on Tennessee’s rivers and reservoirs over the last 50 years, less than three percent were below the dams. Nearly every one of those was the result of failure to wear or properly inflate a life jacket as required by law.

Mike Patterson served 30 years as the Corps of Engineers Resource Manager at Cheatham Lake in Tennessee and as Assistant Resource Manager at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. As professionals with extensive knowledge and experience regarding tailwater safefy, Patterson and his staffs worked on water safety issues on a daily basis.

“During my 18 years as Resource Manager at Cheatham Lake, there was never a single drowning of a boating fisherman in the tailwaters immediately downstream of the dam. Nor was there a recorded drowning in the history of the facility previous to my stint as Resource Manager,” Patterson said.

“Statistics throughout the District simply do not support the Commander’s decision to prohibit thousands of safe fishermen from enjoying the quality fishing in the tailwaters immediately adjacent to our dams. His perceived safety issues are simply not realized by accident statistics and accident rates.

“I served under approximately 18 previous district commanders, and none of them ever saw the need to ban boating fishermen from our tailwaters, because there was never a valid reason to do so.”

Despite a long-standing agreement with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and a highly effective life jacket education and enforcement campaign, Lt. Col. DeLapp put the policy in motion without any public notice or input. In last week’s Tennessean, DeLapp said that public meetings were not necessary.

However, after outcry from the fishing community and pressure from elected officials, two meetings have been set: on Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. at McGavock High School in Nashville, and on Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at Upperman High School in Baxter.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Mike Butler said few issues have generated as much consternation in the outdoors community.

“This really appears to be a solution in search of a problem, and it would have such a dramatic impact on our nationally celebrated fishing waters,” Butler said. “These tailwater fisheries are heavily utilized and are statistically some of the safest places to fish from a boat. The motels, restaurants, bait shops, gas stations and other businesses in these communities that benefit from the resource would be gutted.

“With all of the Corps’ flood-related challenges in recent years, one would hope they would focus their efforts on addressing those very real issues.”

The public is encouraged to attend the meetings on Jan. 15th and 17th, and to contact their Congressional representatives via

Since 1946, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation has been a champion for our wildlife and natural resources, and the people who love them. To learn more, visit

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