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How rare is Bailey’s sturgeon?

This Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency versus Mick Bailey fish story begs the question: just how rare is catching, and being able to mount, an endangered lake sturgeon in Tennessee Valley Authority waters?

Bailey, a self-proclaimed “avid fisherman” from Alcoa, has received Knox broadcast media attention for catching a “rare” 28-inch, “almost” eight-pound lake sturgeon in Fort Loudoun Lake in Knox County.

Specifically, “at kind of a favorite spot I like to go, under the Pellissippi bridge” near Topside Road earlier this summer, he said.

“When I first caught the fish I wasn't sure what I had, it kinda scared me at first,” Bailey added about the early afternoon catch. “At first I thought it was some half-alligator, half-shark type thing. I was afraid to reach my hand down.”

Bailey said he pulled it off with a pole given to him by his grandfather at age 8, “A Zebco 202, it's more of a kids rod and reel.”

When the sturgeon struck, Bailey said, “that little fishing rod and reel went right down in the water. I fought with that sturgeon, walking from one side of my [15-foot] bass boat to the other, for about 18 minutes before I landed him. ... It wore me out.”

When finding out what kind of fish he had, Bailey said he discovered “it was an endangered species ... and you're supposed to report it to the TWRA.”

Bailey said the TWRA person he spoke to said, “'You've got to be kidding me, you actually caught one of those?'”

Later, after Bailey said he provided TWRA information confirming the catch, the Alcoa fisherman quoted a TWRA official: “'Wow, It's a one-in-a-million shot. ... They are considered very rare.’”

Bailey said TWRA informed him that in 2008 “they had put 2,600 of them, approximately, into Fort Loudoun Lake. Reason being, they were going to try and clean up the lake some.”

Moreover, Bailey said the TWRA official told him: “I would go in the records books as the first guy to call and claim that he caught one out of Fort Loudoun Lake.

“I'm real tickled about that; I've talked to several bass anglers and every one of them said they've never seen one and never caught one and probably never will.”

Saying he was promised “a certificate” from TWRA for his catch, Bailey added the catch ranks “at the very top” of his career fishing accomplishments.

But TWRA officials had a somewhat different take.

Allen Ricks, TWRA information officer, said the sturgeon indeed is a “rare fish, a protected fish,” but added, “It's illegal to take one. ... It has to be released if you do.”

Bobby Wilson, TWRA Chief of Fisheries in the Nashville office, said “it's not that terribly unusual” to catch a lake sturgeon in TVA waters “because we've been stocking them for 12 years now in the French Broad River. ... 90,000. Most of those have been in the Tennessee River system.”

While Wilson said “it's a big deal” to catch a lake sturgeon, he added that since 2005, “We've given over 140 certificates out to people that have called in or written in or e-mailed in to let us know they caught one.”

“They're a little more common in Fort Loudoun, only because we stock them in French Broad River so they come straight down to the lake. Twenty years ago it would have been unheard of.”

Bailey said that after talking to Jason Hennegar of TWRA, the wildlife agency is sending “a permit” allowing him to keep the sturgeon. Bailey said he intended “to have it mounted.”

However, Wilson said that after talking to Hennager, “He didn't know about giving anybody permission to keep a dead sturgeon. ... We would only give permission if it was, like, an educational institution or a museum.”

Ricks said lake sturgeon can grow to “almost 100 pounds, six-feet long.”


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