Chickamauga, Tims Ford, Fall Creek Falls among 18 'Bill Dance Signature Lakes' to share $15 million in improvements

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Dec. 24—With a $15 million investment, Tennessee will become home to 18 Bill Dance Signature Lakes bearing the angler's stamp of approval — and three of them are in the Chattanooga region.

Chickamauga Lake, Tims Ford Lake and Fall Creek Falls Lake are among those targeted by the project to launch in 2022. Officials hope to increase visitation to the lakes and honor the legacy of Dance, an 81-year-old Tennessee native, according to a news release from the state.

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Tennessee is home to about 500,000 acres of lakes, and 1.7 million people from Tennessee and elsewhere fish here, state officials said, citing data from the American Sportfishing Association.

Born and raised in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Dance and agency partners selected the lakes for their ability to be a "destination fishing location" and provide quality fishing fun for avid anglers, amateurs and families. Endorsed by Bill Dance Outdoors, projects slated to begin in 2022 should be near completion by fall of 2024, officials said.

"You know, there's plenty of good fishing spots in our state if you know where to look for them, governor," told Lee in a for the project. "Tennessee's got everything from big waters to bank fishing.

Good facilities and a well-managed fishery are the keys to world-class fishing, and the 18 Tennessee lakes in the project fit the bill, he said.

"If I'm going to lend my name, I want anglers of all ages, from experts to amateurs, to have a legendary experience," Dance said.

The state improvements — above and below the waters' surface — include increased stocking, habitat and fisheries management, along with improved access for fishing and boating. The collaborative effort among state agencies for wildlife resources, tourism development and environment and conservation aims to establish Tennessee as the heart of fishing in the Southeast and drive economic activity across the state, officials said.

The Bill Dance Signature Lakes project includes nine large reservoirs with a proven track record for quality fishing for a variety of catches. In partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority, reservoirs will get new or upgraded "best-in-class" ramps to improve public access for recreational and tournament anglers.

Each of the 18 lakes will see such above-water upgrades as courtesy docks, ample parking, additional access points, fishing piers and signs, to name a few of the updates. Several smaller lakes, many of which are located within Tennessee State Parks, will be managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for Bill Dance-approved family fishing with regular stockings to ensure the best chance for success.

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The 18 lakes in the project touch 39 counties, including 22 at-risk or economically distressed counties. Officials said the project can create new revenue streams in those communities by increasing visitation. In Tennessee, fishing generates $1.2 billion in economic impact annually and supports 7,480 jobs, the state estimates.

Anglers in Chattanooga want some of the planned improvements but would like to see other problems addressed, too, according to owner Kim Trotter.

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Local anglers are talking about how the $15 million should be used to prevent shoreline erosion caused by the wakes from large cruisers on Chickamauga, she said Thursday.

Trotter also said customers are concerned about overuse of chemicals in the water to treat weeds.

"What they're telling me is that they want to stop contracted spraying for grass," she said. "They're saying that if it needs to be done, it needs to be done by TVA or TWRA because it has been seen at times these contractors whenever they get done they're just dumping that leftover spray anywhere."

Local anglers would like to see the number of commercial fishing guides on the popular Chickamauga Lake regulated because the increased pressure on fish from groups of paying customers is amounting to a great number of anglers fishing the lake at the same time.

"They feel the guides are literally beating the lake to death," she said, noting some fish are being caught repeatedly.

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"Of course, they would like to see the . They're very concerned about that," she said, running down the list of concerns identified by customers.

"The last thing that was mentioned to me just yesterday is they feel like they should release fry into our area lakes at least once a year to improve the fishing," she said. That also is among the goals of the lakes project.

"Several years ago a Florida strain of [large mouth bass] fry was released and when they did that it improved the population tremendously," she said of the new strain that is producing huge catches on Chickamauga.

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She understands anglers, including commercial guides and their customers, want to fish, and there are only so many bodies of water.

Anglers "are like our family and we want to give them the best, and we like to sit and talk with them and find out what their concerns are to see if there is anything we can do to help them," she said. "It's not all about selling bait and tackle, you know what I mean?"

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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