By Dave Ongie
Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of stories on Boone Lake.
For Chad Jones, the routine remains more or less unchanged.
He still hops in his truck with his boat in tow, following a ribbon of two-lane asphalt toward Boone Lake. Sure, he has to put in at a different spot – the boat ramp down by Pickens Bridge would’ve been under water back in the old days. But once he hits the water, it’s just him and the fish.
“From a fishing standpoint, there really isn’t much difference right now,” Jones said. “I can fish all the way around to where the river comes in on the Watauga side. You can fish all the way back down by (Boone) Dam and you can go all the way around to Davis Boat Dock, which is still pretty far.”
After spending so much time on the lake over the years, Jones can certainly sense the banks have closed in a bit since the Boone Dam Project led to an extended drawdown of the reservoir. Some of his favorite coves are now well above the waterline, but Jones hardly feels claustrophobic on a lake that is still plenty large enough to accommodate fishermen, wakeboarders, boaters and swimmers.
“A lot of people say, ‘Gosh, there’s no water.’ But there is still a lot of water left, a lot of fishing, a lot of recreational use,” Jones said.
There was plenty of water in the reservoir to host the U.S. Title Series, which puts on professional boat races. The organization held a race on Boone Lake back in late August that featured around 80 competitors, and the event organizers came away impressed.
“It’s breathtaking,” said Ray Rodda, who works with the series. “It’s probably the most scenic course we run.”
The extended drawdown has certainly come with its fair share of challenges, especially for landowners and business owners on the lakefront. The reservoir is still approximately two-thirds full, but that isn’t much of a consolation for marina owners with a gulf of overgrowth separating them from the water that was once the lifeblood of their existence.
“Seven to 10 years is a long time for a business owner on the lake to try to strive through what’s going on,” Jones said. “I feel for them.”
However, there are also plenty of stories of agencies and private citizens pulling together to ensure folks in the area have access to a clean, safe lake until the dam is completed. The TVA certainly went to great lengths to minimize the ill effects of the drawdown. Jerry G. Foust, TVA Recreation Strategist and Tourism Development Specialist, pointed to the work done by the TVA to improve access to the water for boaters, swimmers and those who reach the lake from public shorelines.
“We spent time and effort getting the boat ramps extended, particularly at Devault (Bridge) and Pickens Bridge so that the boaters would have access,” Foust said. “We worked with some of the public shoreline areas to make sure they still had access to the shoreline for shoreline fishing. At the dam reservation, we put in the new beach and the picnic area.”
Water quality is a big concern, as is the health of the fish population. On both fronts, collaboration has been key to keeping Boone Lake healthy while the project continues. Foust said the unique
partnership between the TVA, private citizens, local governments and other federal agencies has allowed the sailing to be relatively smooth on the reservoir during the Boone Dam Project.
“We have tremendous partnerships with the Boone Lake Association, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency and the local communities there in working toward water quality activities, working on the reseeding of the perimeter around the reservoir for habitat purposes and stabilization of the shoreline,” Foust said.
Jones noted that the TWRA is still stocking fish in Boone Lake, and a recent survey by TVA Fisheries Biologist Jon Michael Mollish and three other TVA biologists showed a thriving fish population. An electrofishing survey on the South Holston and Watauga arms of the lake turned up 25 species of healthy fish.
“It’s a snapshot of the health of the reservoir,” Mollish said. “We’re seeing a large diversity of fish, and the first we see are healthy.”
That’s good news for Jones, who is looking forward to another fall out on the water.
“Fishing’s good,” he said. “For me, it’s not changed much.”