Family Fishing at Tennessee’s Williamsport Wildlife Management Area
Sixteen years ago I had the phenomenally good fortune of being assigned to write about the opening of Williamsport Wildlife Management Area (WMA). It was the research (fishing, of course) that was so satisfying. I would have paid for the opportunity; never have I caught so many largemouth bass weighing more than five pounds.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s (TWRA) Information Officer, Doug Markham, and I spent two half-days catching fish to illustrate the article before the WMA was opened to the public. We fished so late one day that we were locked in – “please brer fox, don’t throw me in that briar patch.” Unfortunately Markham got his key to work – otherwise I would have loved to have spent the night fishing.
When I visited there last week to get a fresh look at the WMA, luck was with me again. Bernie Caperton and a couple of his friends were “jawing” in the concession area. Edward Lyles and Curtis Jackson rounded out the attendance at the “angler’s liars table.” Jackson had just put up his hooks for the day and showed me the catfish he caught that morning.
Caperton, retired from TWRA and was among those who developed the WMA’s infrastructure, explained that the tailing waters flowed from lake to lake: first through Egret to Heron to Goldeneye to Shellcracker and then into the Duck River. Egret and Heron’s banks are, in Caperton’s words, “the consistency of pudding.” The soft mud shorelines make them unsafe and fishing is banned from these ponds, but they both have wildlife viewing areas. Caperton has a road named for him.
Birth of the WMA
Steve Patrick, then manager of TWRA’s Regional II in Middle Tennessee and now Assistant Executive Director, explained how it all began: “Occidental Chemical worked closely with TWRA on developing some of Monsanto’s properties for wildlife viewing. When Occidental Chemical closed their operation at Williamsport they had 1,850 acres at this site and wanted to give it to TWRA. They approached the agency about donating the property that contained six ponds, acres of deer, turkey and small game habitat.”
Patrick continued, “We had to do an environmental assessment of the property, check the conditions of the dams to meet state safety requirements, and sample the fish for contaminants. The results showed us this environment was healthy. The ponds were tailing areas for the phosphate washers; no mining was done on the property. The ponds cleared the water of sediment before running into the nearby Duck River.”
Not only did Occidental donate the property but during the first five-year period they funded 25 percent of the development. The state of Tennessee is the beneficiary of their generosity.
All About Ponds
Although there are six tailing, or settling ponds (Egret, Heron, Goldeneye, Shellcracker, Blue Cat and Whippoorwill), within the WMA’s ten-mile perimeter, only four are for fishing. They are:
Whippoorwill – 25 acres
Blue Cat – 80 acres
Goldeneye – 13 acres
Shellcracker – 46 acres
As TWRA looked closer at the inhabitants of the ponds by electrofishing, they discovered that there were no young largemouth bass in Shellcracker or Blue Cat, but there were a lot of large bass in all the ponds except Whippoorwill.
The poor-to-nonexistent bass reproduction was blamed on the abundance of five-inch gizzard shad. The bass fed almost exclusively on them. Nothing was preying on the bluegill, so the ponds were over-populated with one- to three-inch bluegills which were eating the bass eggs and fry.
In the mid 1990s, TWRA began to bring the ponds to a healthier population ratio by stocking bass four inches long (too large for bluegill to eat) and removing shad. The reduction of shad induced the bass to begin dining on bluegill. This had the desired effect and soon the ponds were “in balance.” Within a couple of years the bluegill populations shifted from an average of two inches to four inches because of bass predation on the smaller fish.
Today the fishing ponds are primarily managed for trophy bass with an eye on maintaining a harmonious balance among the other species including the latest addition of Cherokee bass.
Whippoorwill is a children’s fishing pond. Adults are allowed to fish but they must have a child under 16 with them. (Maybe TWRA should have a rent-a-kid program so older anglers can fish this pond.)
Creel and length limits:
1 largemouth bass 20 inches or longer.
5 catfish 14 inches or longer.
20 bream, no length limit.
2 Cherokee bass (hybrids)15 inches or longer.
15 crappies 10 inches or longer.
This well maintained WMA is ideal for families seeking outdoor experiences. Williamsport also offers hunting (deer, turkey, dove and small game), picnicking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and photography.
Although there are no designated hiking trails, a splendid option is to trek through the hardwood forests, open fields, along the roads and around the ponds (except Egret and Heron).
The four fishing ponds have launching ramps, fishing piers (with the exception of), picnic areas and boat rentals. Bait & tackle, fishing licenses, restrooms, drinks and sandwiches are available in the concession building.
Williamsport WMA is about ten miles northwest of Columbia on State Route 50 and two miles east of the Natchez Trace Parkway on State Route 50.