A few years ago, four fishermen below Cheatham Dam were nabbed with 420 white bass – 360 more than the daily limit of 15 per person.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency game wardens, acting on a tip, staked out the area and nailed the poachers when they came off the water at the end of the day.
The March, 2013 bust exposed some of the worst fish-poaching in modern game-management history. It served as a reminder about two things: how easy white bass (stripe) are to catch during the spring run, and how some unscrupulous fishermen take advantage of it and threaten the resource.
When the stripe are running and a school is located, it’s not unusual to catch one on every cast, on any type of lure – spinner, jig or crank-bait. TWRA officials said the four Cheatham poachers caught their 420 stripe on standard fishing tackle in a 12-hour period.
Stripe fishing is hard to police because anglers are allowed to keep fishing after putting a 15-fish limit in the cooler. They’re supposed to release any others they catch, but some don’t.
Fifteen stripe a trip is plenty for anyone for personal consumption. The game warden who busted the Cheatham Dam poachers said they were providing fish to commercial markets.
And as abundant as stripe can sometimes be -- with schools of fish numbering in the hundreds -- they have their breaking point. If poachers take 420 a trip, time after time, reproduction and growth rates can’t keep pace.
In recent years once-spectacular stripe fishing has declined in parts of the Cumberland River. Some theorize the problem occurs periodically, caused by a poor spawning seasons.
Others blame it on rampant poaching.
One thing most fishermen agree on: when poaching of that magnitude is exposed, the violators should have the book thrown at them and made an example of.
Unfortunately, all the TWRA can do is present its case to the court, and upon conviction, punishment is up to the judge. The Cheatham poachers had to pay restitution of $6,000 to the TWRA, plus attorney fees and court costs. They also lost their fishing privileges for three years.
None of that was a deterrent. Two years later two of them were caught again, with more illegal stripe.