Low lake levels have affected businesses throughout the county, but when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped issuing permits for nighttime fishing, it was just one more blow to businesses, said Kerry Hicks, owner of The Smokin’ Fisherman, a bait and tackle store.
"Basically, because of the lower lake levels we decided to actually stop all special-events permits that we issue for nighttime," said Michael Lapina, a ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Buford Dam office.
"And that’s just to try to help keep boaters safe. Because at nighttime it’s much more difficult for you to see rocks and stumps and shoals that may be just underneath the water’s surface."
He also said permanent navigation markers are "high and dry," so dangerous obstacles that are not marked may be surfacing.
Hicks argued that the corps’ safety concerns are unwarranted for tournament fishers, because they have extensive knowledge of the lake."People getting hurt on the lake are those that don’t live around the lake, the pleasure boaters. Fishermen ain’t getting hurt. A lot of the humps and the bumps that are out there that you see now, we used to fish when it was underwater. ... We watch out for that stuff," Hicks said.
The restrictions only apply to tournament groups, so individuals still can boat and fish at night.
Lapina said besides safety, congestion was another factor in the corps’ decision to halt permits for nighttime tournaments.
Fishing tournaments can draw up to 200 boats, which can put stress on the low number of ramps that still are usable.
Lapina said the reason the corps issues permits for the tournaments is to ensure the number of boats using a particular ramp will fit while leaving spots available to the public.
Only 10 boat ramps are currently usable on Lanier. Hicks said last year when the lake was full, there would typically be five night-tournaments a week on the lake.
He sells tobacco, tackle and fishing supplies in his store, and also organizes local fishing tournaments on Lake Lanier.
Hall County Commissioner Steve Gailey estimates the county’s revenue is down 15 to 25 percent with the shallower lake.
"I want more fishing," Gailey said, explaining that it brings in a lot of money from sales taxes.
Gailey said the county is "ready to start" on the expanded boat ramp project for Laurel Park that would allow boats to launch regardless of the water level, making the lake more appealing to fishermen.
"As the lake drops, the business drops," Hicks said.