‘We expect the fish population to explode’: TVA surveys with electrofishing as Boone Lake’s water returns

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Sport fishing is expected to be a popular activity as Boone Lake is set to return to normal summer pool this year.

As the seven-year repair project for Boone Dam wraps up, the Tennessee Valley Authority is closely monitoring the fish population’s health.

The TVA uses an electrofishing process to survey fish. Officials said this type of monitoring is typically done in the fall, but as the Boone Dam project concludes, it’s being done this spring, too.

TVA Fisheries Biologist Jon Michael Mollish says typically ‘a couple thousand’ fish a day are caught and inspected. He says electrofishing is the best method to capture fish.

Mollish said fish serve as important bioindicators for the overall health and water quality of the Boone Reservoir.

Jon Michael Mollish collects fish on Boone Reservoir

A device at the front of a boat sends a mild electric current through the water, temporarily stunning the fish. They are released back into the water afterward. Mollish said fish normally recover in a few seconds.

“[Electrofishing] allows us to use a net to dip those fish up, bring them onto our boat, and then we catalog them with a data logger; we look for parasites; we test the overall condition of the fish,” said Mollish. “And then we return them back to the water unharmed.”

A carp in Boone Reservoir

From bluegills, to catfish, to longnose gar — each catch helps represent the state of the lake as water returns to dry areas for the first time in seven years, creating new habitats for the fish.

“It was going to be a mystery once the Boone project was going on, with how the fisheries community would respond and what all we would see,” Mollish said. “Turns out, everything’s been really stable and been really good. Nothing’s looked abnormal.”

The healthy state of the fish population also indicates there will be plenty to catch as crowds return to the lake in the coming years.

“With the habitat that we see in the reservoir right now, we expect the fish population to explode in the next three to five years,” said TVA Water Resource Specialist Shannon O’Quinn. “People will hopefully be coming from all around to fish Boone Reservoir. The bass fishing will be great in the future.”

While the fishing conditions are projected to be great for anglers, the TVA has warned boaters for months that they need to be cautious on the water this summer. Floating debris remains a concern as efforts continue by the TVA and local groups to restore the lake to its former condition.

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