TVA Equipment Delivery Affecting Chickamauga Lake Fishing

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The TVA vessel M/V Freedom is steaming upriver now with a major equipment delivery to the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. TVA has dramatically raised water level on Chickamauga Lake to aid in off-loading the equipment once it reaches Watts. Bar. (Photo: TVA Facebook Page)
The thin red line indicates current water levels on Chickamauga Lake. While dramatic fluctuations for flood control purposes are fully expected during unusual rain events, the most recent rising red line is to accommodate a heavy equipment delivery to the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. (Screengrab from TVA web page)

Area fishermen are expressing some concern over an unusual change in Chickamauga Lake water levels recently. In the last week the Tennessee Valley Authority has raised water levels by nearly four feet.

Such events are not unusual in the case of exceptional rainfall, but in this case the Agency is raising the water to accommodate the offload of a huge steam turbine at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, located on the upper reaches of Chickamauga Lake. The turbine and other equipment, expected to be delivered Friday, will be used during a routine maintenance outage at the plant.

Many bass anglers are still finding great success on Chickamauga Lake, although they admit that the dramatic change in water levels normally seen at this time of year is affecting how and where they are finding fish. (Photo: Capt. Ben Hayes)

The concern among fishermen and at least one biologist is how the unusual change in water levels might impact the successful spawn of crappie and largemouth bass. Water levels will be lowered again following delivery of the equipment. Falling water levels when fish are spawning have sometimes proven to have dramatic negative effect on populations. The fish may lay their eggs in shallow water and then if the water drops, it can leave those eggs high and dry.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Resources Agency Mike Jolley said, “It should not impact bass spawning very much. We don’t normally expect bass to be actively spawning until mid- or late-April.”

Jolley is slightly concerned about crappie however.

“As for crappie, it depends on how fast they drop the water down,” he said. “If they drop it down over two or three days it might impact some of those early spawning crappie.”

Some anglers have already reporting finding lots of crappie in relatively shallow water on Chickamauga Lake, which is where they typically go when they are spawning. TWRA biologist Mike Jolley says a dramatic drop in water levels, once TVA’s equipment is delivered, could negatively impact “early spawners.” (Photo: Richard Simms)

Travis Brickey, a TVA spokesperson said, “The anticipated water level drop would be less than a foot per day. We may keep it between 677 – 678 feet (about a three-foot drop) until April 1. Depending on rainfall and weather forecasts, we may intercept the normal operating guide in April [when Chickamauga Lake levels are routinely raised slowly over a six week time period].

As for impact on fish spawning, Brickey said, “We don’t expect any problems with such a short rise and the water is still cool.”

Jolley said a single raising and lowering of water levels right now isn’t a major concern.

“Our biggest concern is what we call yo-yoing water levels — when the water goes up and down several times in a short time period of time. The current situation doesn’t concern me as much as if it were two or three weeks later.”

Some area anglers are concerned that a dramatic change in water levels could potentially hurt a successful spawn. A TVA spokesperson and at least one TWRA biologist say, however, there is no major cause for alarm. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Nearly every angler agrees however that dramatic water level changes affect fish behavior — where and how they find and catch fish. Those fishermen might, however, disagree on whether it’s good or bad. Some anglers adapt to changing water levels easily and think it makes fishing better – while others believe the opposite.

But neither Brickey nor Jolley are expecting any major impact of fish spawning success. Continuing for the next week or two, however, anglers can expect to have to make some adjustments they normally wouldn’t have to make this time of year.

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