The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission (TWRC) has declined to revise the existing smallmouth fishing regulations on Norris Lake, an issue which has been at the heart of a dispute with some Legislators.
The new Norris Lake smallmouth "slot limit" went into effect March 1. Anglers are only allowed to keep one smallmouth under 17 inches in length, and another more than 22 inches in length. They can keep nothing in between. Tournament anglers say that regulation is entirely too restrictive and seriously impacts their ability to hold successful bass tournaments on Norris Lake.
Bobby Wilson, TWRA's incoming Chief of Fisheries, said he was neither surprised, nor disappointed in the Commission's decision to keep the regulation as-is because, "I think (the new regulation) should bring Norris Lake to a trophy smallmouth bass fishery similar to what we have on Dale Hollow."
As the home of the existing world record smallmouth Dale Hollow already had a great reputation. However most anglers say the Dale Hollow smallmouth fishery has improved dramatically since TWRA instituted similar "trophy" regulations there several years ago.
TWRA officials have steadfastly insisted that they passed the new trophy regulation on the recommendation of the Norris Lake Fisheries Advisory Committee (NLFAC), a 25-member committee made up of government leaders, businessmen and anglers from the 5-county area bordering Norris Lake.
There was some possibility that the Wildlife Commission would vote for a "compromise regulation" which was first presented at the NLFAC meeting held April 13. That compromise would have allowed Norris bass anglers to keep two smallmouth bass over 18 inches... and probably would have appeased the tournament anglers who are objecting to the new trophy regulations.
However with 17 of 25 members present on April 13, that compromise measure did not pass at that public meeting.
Wilson had several follow-up conversations with key Norris Lake committee members by telephone and e-mail following that meeting. Earlier this week he said that he felt most members would not object if the compromise measure passed the Commission.
There was lengthy discussion in Wednesday's TWRC Fisheries Committee meeting both "for" and "against" the compromise. However committee members who were against any change argued in part, that they should continue to respect the decision the NLFAC made in its public meeting.
The Fisheries Committee voted against any change in the current trophy regulation, therefore the issue never advanced to a vote by the full commission. TWRC Fisheries Committee members include Johnny Coleman (chairman from Livingston), Jeffrey Griggs (from Lexington), William Brown (from Chattanooga), Mike Hayes (from Tiptonville) and Dr. Jeff McMillan (from Bristol). (Todd Shelton from Greeneville was absent).
A TWRA news release issued following the meeting said, "The commission strongly respects and supports the decisions made by the NLFAC."
The new Norris Lake trophy smallmouth regulation is at least partially to blame for a bitter dispute between a few legislators and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission (TWRC), the governing body over TWRA which formally sets all wildlife rules and regulations.
The House amended the "Sunset Law" governing the Wildlife Commission... extending its existence only one year rather than the customary four years. That action came as apparent retribution by a few key members who voiced strong concerns with the Wildlife Commission's willingness to "communicate" with legislators or the public. The companion bill has not been acted upon by the Senate. Chattanoogan.com Outdoors has covered the issue at length. Click HERE to access previous coverage.