TVA fisheries biologists blanketed Chickamauga Lake near Wolftever Creek Tuesday for the agency's annual sport fish survey.
This is the 15th year TVA has conducted the continuing effort to monitor the health of game fish, especially bass and crappie. The fish are collected using boat-mounted electro-fishing equipment. The units harmlessly stun the fish for a brief time, causing them to surface, where they are collected, measured, weighed and then released unharmed.
Of course, it takes time to quantify the scientific data that will be posted on TVA's website, but TVA fisheries biologist John Justice said results looked excellent during Tuesday's survey.
He said the "catch per unit effort"—basically the number of bass and crappie they shocked up during each 30-minute run—was very high. Early in the day, the largest bass they had seen weighed more than 9 pounds, with several other bass weighing more than 7 pounds. However, Justice said the sign of a healthy population is not just based on big fish.
"We want to see multiple year classes represented," Justice said. "In other words, it should look like a bell curve when you plot it all out, and we are seeing good size distribution with multiple year classes represented."
Justice isn't just a scientist, however. He is also a fisherman and is well-aware of some of the record-breaking bass catches coming in this year.
"I've fished on this reservoir since the mid-80s, and the fishing is as good now as it's ever been," he said.
Justice is watching the results of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Florida Bass Stocking Program with great interest. The Florida strain of bass typically grows much larger than our native strain.
Justice agrees with TWRA biologists who say there are probably a variety of factors bringing about the huge bass Chickamauga Lake is producing this year, but how important is the Florida Bass Stocking Program?
"That's the $64 question," Justice said. "There are several factors driving this, in my opinion, and I think that's definitely one. We have Florida-strain bass stocked in other reservoirs, but they're not doing as well as Chickamauga is ... It is a combination of several things, in my opinion."
To see the results of TVA's sport fish surveys from past years, click here.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.