A Historical Look Back Outdoors

Prior to 1997 fishermen on Chickamauga Lake were allowed to keep 10 bass per day and there was no size limit. Now there is a minimum 15-inch size limit and the daily creel limit is five bass. However, very few bass anglers ever keep bass to eat at all. (Photo: Richard Simms)

I’ve been at this freelance outdoor writing business for 34 years now (plus a few years of professional writing before that). In the beginning it was all done by typewriter. I’ve still got some published clippings but otherwise, those writings have gone away.

However I graduated to a computer around 1990, give or take. Somewhere around here I still have some 5.25-inch floppy discs (that held a massive 360 KB of data) with my original computer-written stories. But I didn’t wise up enough to start saving everything in a usable format until 1996 (writing primarily for the former Chattanooga Times newspaper at the time).

Historians like to say, “We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been.”

In that context I like to go back and peruse my stories from 22 years ago to remember “where we’ve been” I assume many of you weren’t even born at the time. So let’s reminisce a while.

New Limits Established on Bass & Crappie

In January 1997 I wrote, “It’s a done deal.  Bass anglers can quit shopping for big livewells.  Crappie anglers had better go a buy a ruler.  On Wednesday, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission voted to cut the statewide daily bass limit from 10 fish to 5 fish.  And beginning March 1, you can’t keep a crappie less than 10-inches long.”

One of TWRA’s most experienced biologists [Anders Myhr, now deceased] told me, “the biology of a 5-bass limit is not there — it’s a philosophical thing.  It’s not going to help you that much without other regulations.”

That means he didn’t think the limit reduction will have any significant impact on catch rates or average sizes.  But he supports the reduction because, “there’s no reason anybody needs to keep 10 bass a day!”

At this time the creel limit on crappie was still 30 fish per day per person. However in 2007 the crappie creel limit in East Tennessee was reduced to 15 crappie per day. Crappie creel limits vary, however, across the state. Consult the Tennessee Fishing Guide for details.

The first year of the new law wildlife officers (game wardens) were directed to be lenient in enforcing the new regulations. TWRA Information Officer Dan Hicks at the time said, “Officers have been told specifically to issue warnings this year. The only citations that will be issued, at the officer’s discretion, will be for flagrant, purposeful violations.”

In 1997 there was still no minimum length limit on bass. That didn’t happen until the year 2000 when they established a 14-inch size limit on largemouth (raised to 15-inches in 2002) and an 18-inch size limit on smallmouth.

In 1997 there were a lot of complaints about the lower bass creel limit and even more complaints when size limits were established. But now, in 2019, thanks to the Florida bass stocking program and good regulations, Chickamauga Lake has become known as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the entire country.

Before 1997 250,000 acres of land owned by Bowater Paper Company in Tennessee were open to public hunting. Most was in pine plantations, harvested to make newsprint at the time. But there were still plenty of surrounding hardwoods and habitat for whitetail deer. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Bowater Closes Land to Deer Hunters

It was also January 1997 when Bowater Paper Company [now known as Resolute Paper Products] announced it would no longer allow the public access to more than 100,000 acres of land it owned in Rhea, Hamilton, Meigs, Bradley, McMinn, Roane, Polk, Monroe, and Loudon Counties. Gary Gilmore, an official with Bowater at the time said, “The first calls we got were people raising hell. The next set of calls were people wanting to lease land.  And sometimes they’ve done both at the same time.”

Many hunters, including me, considered this the beginning of the end of deer hunting as we know it. Until then we had easy access to thousands of acres of excellent deer hunting. In the ensuing years Bowater closed all of its 250,000 acres of land in Tennessee and deer hunting clubs sprang up en masse, leasing Bowater properties right and left. Today there is some public deer hunting area remaining (TWRA wildlife management areas and limited TVA public lands). However the overwhelming majority of hardcore deer hunters must pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year to belong to private hunting clubs and leases.

Rocky Mountain Elk in Tennessee

It was 1997 when TWRA biologists first considered the possibility of restoring elk to the Volunteer State. Elk were once native to the state. (Photo: Richard Simms)

March 1997 was the first time ever that biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency first broached the idea of bringing elk back to Tennessee. The first effort was to establish a free-roaming herd of elk on TVA’s Land Between the Lakes (LBL) in Middle Tennessee. That idea stalled out but became a reality elsewhere in Tennessee when TWRA released elk on the Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area near LaFollette, Tenn. The Agency had to abandon relocation efforts a few years later due to fears of CWD (now a reality in West Tennessee). However the elk herd on Royal Blue has grown large enough that TWRA issues fifteen hunting permits for bull elk each year.

Too Many Snow Geese

Federal officials have established special seasons with no limit on the number of snow geese hunters can kill. However huge flocks of snows still overwhelm many Midwest states. (Photo: Richard Simms)

It was 1997 when U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologists first announced that snow geese were becoming overpopulated and wreaking ecological havoc arctic breeding grounds and agricultural areas. “The geese are literally consuming their own habitat,” said Paul Schmidt, then-chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Management Office.  “They break open the turf and uproot plants, especially grasses and sedges, leading to erosion and increased soil salinity.  In turn, fewer plants grow and you have a vicious cycle with habitat conditions growing worse each year.  The end result is a degradation of the fragile arctic ecosystem.  Action needs to be taken soon.”

Of course federal officials did take action by soon establishing a spring snow goose season, with no bag limit on snow geese in many places. Hunters are also allowed to shoot with unplugged shotguns. The liberal spring season obviously reduces the population somewhat but snow geese are still considered a nuisance in much of the Midwest and other areas.

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