A recent article in B.A.S.S. Times got my attention. Robert Montgomery’s “Controversy on the Coosa?” detailed a difference of opinions between mangers of the Coosa River system and anglers, specifically revolving around aquatic vegetation treatment and the health of the resource.
This case presents a unique scenario. Alabama Power functions as the largest water manager in the state, responsible for nearly a dozen massive reservoirs that bass fishermen know by name: Mitchell, Jordan, Neely Henry, Logan Martin and more fall under the reigns. As managers, Alabama Power, rather than the state fish and wildlife agency, provides control of aquatic vegetation.
It should be noted that this group is not some run-of-the-mill, spray-happy industrial coalition. On the contrary, Alabama Power employs fully-trained biologists to ensure treatments are performed correctly, taking into account the many stakeholders they represent.
Consideration must be made, however, for that group. Residents around the massive, manmade reservoirs of the Southeast aren’t always concerned about keeping things wild.
In Montgomery’s article, we learn that Alabama Power typically receives as many as 1,000 requests annually from residents desiring treatments. Commonly, manicured lawns give way to manicured shorelines, high-dollar docks and ski boats. Water weeds here are unwelcome visitors.
On the other side of the coin, we’ve got anglers who often consider any spraying to be detrimental. In all, Alabama Power’s job is tricky.
The concern of the anglers is valid and positive. At my first reading, I notice a rebuttal from Alabama Power, stating that fish are becoming tougher to catch due to fishing pressure, not habitat loss, giving anglers the misconception that numbers are down. That type of reasoning doesn’t fly with me, never has, and shouldn’t with Coosa River locals. As bass fishermen, we are continuously upping our game. Recent catch rates all across the country have increased, for the most part, due to technological shifts in angler efforts. There have been immense increases in fishing pressure everywhere – not all have led to excuses.
Water levels are a concern throughout the system and likely a bigger culprit of habitat problems. To increase recreational access, lake levels have been managed more constant, and wintertime drawdowns have become minor or non-existent. Such has led to a lack of natural die-off of certain plants, growth of others, and a reduced recharge effect usually experienced after drawdowns.
Back home in Florida, we see this all across the state, and now learn of the detrimental effects. Homeowners, kayakers, water skiers, hunters, fishermen – just about everybody occasionally falls into the group of lake-users that resist water level change. Yet that change is often necessary to ensure quality experiences for all.
One additional detail should be noted. Often, water managers are accused of an overall eagerness to spray, like there’s some covert motive behind it. And, while there may be bizarre exceptions, for the most part, not spraying is the goal.
Water resource managers find the best way to control problem vegetation is to spray often in small amounts. Water hyacinths are a prime example. Left untreated, hyacinths are capable of doubling in size every two weeks. Doing the math, a two-acre spread of hyacinths can exceed a hundred acres in a summer. At that point, spraying becomes a job nobody wants.
This frequent assessment and treatment often gives anglers the wrong idea; that massive spraying is going on continuously. Often, really, it’s more boat riding than blasting for the management crew. At least it should be.
Water willow is noted as being an important specie on the Coosa River system, and one area anglers are seeing reduced, despite efforts by volunteers – as well as Alabama Power – to replant and restore willow stocks.
Initially, I wonder how much water level manipulation has to play. Again, with reduced fluctuations comes more erosion, intensified by increased boat traffic. Could this be to blame for the willow woes?
To spray or not to spray; the habitual question. We see concern here, too, for the continued practice of accepting vegetation die-off as part of the program. I can attest to the dangers of this mentality, as entire sections of backwater lakes on the St John’s River near my home have become fish-less muck holes, where once valuable bass and panfish habitat existed. The spray-and-forget-it principle has never sat well with me.
Sure, easy for me to say, as I’m not managing 150,000 acres of water for dozens of user groups. But what’s important is the awareness.
Our society is now at a point where awareness has become easy, thanks to social media. For some things, that can be detrimental. Yet, for others, like environmental concerns and water management, awareness helps us stay in the loop on issues that can really affect our lives and passions.
While an article in a big pub get us talking, it’s the awareness of local anglers and lake users – and their ability to keep the heat on thanks to social media – that has the greatest potential to influence management practices.
Keep after it, Coosa River anglers. We’re watching.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)