Technicality ends War on Lake Mitchell

Published 5:00 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

While I was watching over the folks as they put out their nets, some coward put sugar in their gas tank, and they only made it a few miles toward home. They asked if they could leave their boat as they towed their truck to Demopolis. When they had returned, their boat had been taken to the nearby woods and burned! Now, the sick thing was while the boat was burning, these “men” riddled the boats with bullets! That day I lost all sympathy for their cause.

Of course, by now, we were getting a lot of statewide media coverage, and our situation was worsening. Somehow, cooler heads prevailed, like in the Western movies, and just in the nick of time. In rode the cavalry in the form of legal experts and officials with the Department of Conservation with a solution, but would the public buy it?

Sheriff T.J. Lockhart—by then he was mayor of Jemison—opened the meeting and described my position best: “I’m just as bitter as you are about what’s happened on the river, but if you turn to violence, we’re on opposite sides!” The more than 100 people gathered at the Chilton County Courthouse listened to an official of the legal section outline the steps taken by the department. He explained that state law gave the department regulatory powers over hunting and fishing in the state and, as of sundown, net fishing would be banned in lakes where the newly introduced saltwater stripe had been stocked.

Biologists had said that the stripe was so delicate that it would die from fright if caught in the nets! The lawyer was getting their attention, but they wanted something else. Then it came. The net fishermen would be given 48 hours to remove the nets! Of course, there was caution that this regulation would also be challenged in court, and, honestly, it would probably also be overturned.

But, my friend and the late Rep. Tom Stubbs of Shelby County, who at the time had a cottage on Lake Mitchell, had already pre-filed a bill to close net fishing and permit it on local levels—directly opposite of the law that then-Senator Obie Littleton co-sponsored in the senate that named certain lakes closed. This is the one that we operate under today.

The net fishermen left, vowing to return as they charged the department of bowing to political pressures. Sure, pressures were applied—that’s the way our system works. Local laws that fit local problems, but do it legally. I think we all learned something from the situation. We must live in harmony and respect the rights of others. If you don’t like the law, try to get it changed—meanwhile, we must comply.

In all fairness, only a very small number of the fishermen, be they trotline or sport, participated in the act mentioned. Also, of all the net fishermen that I checked and literally tons of fish they took, I never saw a game fish taken or any other law violated.

It’s ironic that such a delicate little fish could avert an all-out war. At this writing, that same fish, weighing 30-40 pounds, finds itself in lots of controversy because he is so big now that he eats and destroys other game fish!

For several reasons, stocking of the saltwater stripe has been discontinued on Lake Mitchell.