A Quantitative Comparison of Two Quality Tennessee River Tailrace Fisheries

Sportfishing in the turbulent waters downstream of Wilson and Wheeler dams on the Tennessee River is widely regarded as superior quality by anglers, sports writers, and fishery scientists. Access point creel surveys were conducted from February 1988 through January 1989 and January through December 1990 in the Wilson Dam and Wheeler Dam tailraces, respectively. The objectives of the surveys were to document fishing effort, catch, harvest, and other fishery characteristics, particularly for smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), in popular tailrace areas in the Alabama portion of the Tennessee River. During the 1988 Wilson Dam tailrace survey, 280,948 angler-hours of effort were expended, of which 117,207 hours (42%) were directed at smallmouth bass. Catfish {Ictalurus spp.) were the most exploited group, representing 29% of the harvest by weight, and temperate basses (Morone spp.) and smallmouth bass combined for almost 50% of the harvest. The overall catch rate of smallmouth bass was 0.51 fish/hour for anglers targeting this fish at Wilson Dam, and the catch rate was highest (0.80 fish/ hour) for night fishing during summer. Similar rates were identified during the Wheeler Dam creel survey. Anglers expended approximately 244,012 hours of effort during the Wheeler Dam tailrace survey, and most anglers (43%) fished for catfish. Only 23% of the anglers fished specifically for smallmouth bass. Total harvest (136,000 kg) of all fish at the Wheeler Dam tailrace was approximately twice the total harvest at the Wilson Dam tailrace. Catfish, temperate basses, and sunfish {Lepomis spp.) were the principal fish groups harvested. The typical smallmouth bass angler fishing the Wilson Dam tailrace resided locally, fished frequently (23 days/year; 5.3 hours/trip), and considered catching modest-sized smallmouth bass (305-406 mm) as the most important characteristic of quality fishing. At the Wheeler Dam tailrace smallmouth bass anglers fished more often (40 days/year; 6.5 hours/trip) and resided throughout north Alabama. These anglers considered catching trophy (>508 mm) fish to be the most important fishing characteristic. The majority of smallmouth bass anglers during both surveys were satisfied with fishing. These results provide management objectives for quality sportfishing in dam tailraces.

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