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Drought Taking a Toll On Mid-South Fish

The widest-reaching drought in more than fifty years is taking its toll on fish.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The widest-reaching drought in more than fifty years is taking its toll on fish. Water temperatures, on average, are five degrees warmer than ever before and scenes of fish floating belly-up have become common.

So, the question is: how are fish in the Mid South affected by the drought?

As hot as it gets in the Memphis area, you would think local fish populations would be devastated. But, while the fish are not escaping the heat entirely, it turns out our fish are better equipped than most to fight off the effects of the drought.

When one Mid-South fisherman was asked how fishing conditions have been, he had a one word reply.

“Lousy!”

And thanks to the drought, that has been the norm for many fishermen. Even in normally cool Iowa, nearly 60,000 dead fish were found along the Des Moines River.

“We lost probably four hundred to five hundred fish,” said Eric Beene, “but considering the amount of fish we put in, that’s not a lot.”

Beene is the owner of Catch‘Em Lake, near Shelby Farms in Memphis.

In fact Catch‘Em Lake, like much of Tennessee, has been spared the huge fish kills prevalent across the county.

“Our fish are used to having access to deeper waters,” said Tim Churchill, “cooler waters; and springs that host more oxygen.”

Churchill is the Tennessee State Reservoir Coordinator, for the Fisheries Management Division of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

But, drought warms those waters.

“And the fish can’t get to the oxygen,” Churchill told abc24.com, “and then they go belly-up.”

Huge aerators at Catch ‘Em Lake solve that problem, continually putting oxygen back in the water, which is currently heated forty degrees above optimal temperature.

“In July we had to keep it going almost non-stop,” Beene said.

Other fishing spots don’t have that luxury.

“The Mississippi River, wow,” said fisherman James Croley, “I won’t even fish the Mississippi River.”

The drought is creating fish kills throughout the Mid South.

“In north Mississippi,” said Beene, “there have been a lot of them; ponds are getting so low. You drive down I-55 and you can see tons of dead fish.”

“The drought has been pretty bad.” Croley agreed.

But, they were still biting at Catch ‘Em Lake.

“A nice channel catfish,” said one fisherman, brandishing his catch into the air, “that makes it all worth it.”

“We’ve got very good conditions for growing fish to larger sizes,” said Churchill, “and older ages.”

So, Tennessee fishermen can take comfort in that.

The most recent readings at Catch ‘Em Lake showed the water temperature at 96 degrees; 58 degrees is where they like it.

For dedicated fishermen, there is a rodeo August 25, 2012 at Catch ‘Em Lake.

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