BUTLER — “The fishing used to be so bad in this lake it was known as the ‘Great Dead Sea,’ ” Freddie Taylor said Tuesday as he watched workers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stock a load of crappie in Watauga Lake.
Taylor was one of several members of the Carter County Hunting and Fishing Club who gathered at Little Milligan Boat Dock to express gratitude for the effective partnership that has changed the lake into a popular fishing attraction that is causing fishermen in other regions to take notice.
The fishermen expressed appreciation for the TWRA workers who had transported the load of crappie from the Eagle Bend Fish Hatchery in Clinton. In the past five years, the TWRA has stocked Watauga with 370,000 crappie.
James “Speck” Smith, who has been a member of the hunting and fishing club for the past 30 years, discussed the improvements he has seen during that time.
“They are really good people to work with,” Smith said. “Ever since TVA let us put up fish attractors, we have worked with the TWRA to improve the fishing.” He said the club and TWRA has put in many attractors consisting of brush piles and used Christmas trees. Other attractors include structures made of plastic pipe.
State Rep. Kent Williams, who represents Carter County in the Tennessee House of Representatives, said this past summer was one of the best he has ever had for catching trout in the lake.
“TWRA has done a great job,” Williams said. “The crappie fishing is the best we have ever had.”
Williams said some of his fellow legislators have targeted the TWRA for elimination, but he has been working with the agency, particularly to bring a TWRA cold water fish hatchery to the a parcel in the Cherokee Industrial Park on the Watauga River in Elizabethton.
The architectural plans have been drawn for the hatchery, but the project was placed on hold last year because of the state’s revenue shortfalls. Williams said with revenues up significantly during the first part of this fiscal year, he said the hatchery project might get funding during the current fiscal year.
Williams said the revenues from hunting and fishing licenses and the sales tax revenue on hunting and fishing equipment is significant. The tourism dollars from hunting and fishing is also on the rise, especially since Watauga Lake is no longer considered a dead sea.
Taylor, who is secretary for the hunting and fishing club, said the effective partnership between the club and the TWRA has also been good for the environment. Looking out over the calm waters reflecting the fall colors of the surrounding mountains, Taylor said, “these are just really good people who care about doing the right thing and care about protecting the environment. That is why I am here.”