Chuck Williams

Tempers flared. Guns were involved. Now, you can’t fish from this Columbus dock.

Incident involving guns sparks changes to fishing at Columbus boat launch

A recent incident involving fisherman has caused changes to where you legally can, and cannot fish, at Rotary Park on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia.
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A recent incident involving fisherman has caused changes to where you legally can, and cannot fish, at Rotary Park on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia.

Where I come from, you want to start a fight — a real knock down, drag out — mess with somebody while they are fishing.

As an ol’ boy from Eufaula, I know a thing or two about the written and unwritten rules of the water.

One rule, is don’t mess with the line of somebody who is fishing from the bank. A partner to that rule is if you are fishing from the bank near a public boat launching facility, pull your line out of the water while boats are being launched or taken out.

Pretty simple rules, huh? It pretty much means just be nice to your fellow man or woman and show a little respect.

Well, in early March at the boat launch ramp at Rotary Park just below Bulldog Bait & Tackle some folks broke the rules. As a result, nobody can fish off the pier that stretches 90 feet or more out into the Chattahoochee. They can still fish on the bank north and south of the launching facility, but the prime spot is off limits to folks with a fishing pole, a few crickets and a little time.

The details that led to this are about as murky as the water those folks love to fish. Guns may have been drawn. Fishing lines may or may not have been cut. And other lines may have been crossed. There is no Columbus police report on the incident, so there is no official documentation to what happened.

But the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has looked into it and determined something happened.

Here are the facts, as we know them:

▪  The ramp at Rotary Park is owned and controlled by the Georgia DNR, specifically its Wildlife Resources Division.

▪  The ramp was built, in part, by federal funds. Federal regulations restrict fishing from piers at boat launching facilities. For that to be enforced, it has to be posted.

▪  For years, fishing has been allowed on the pier at Rotary Park, which is “L” shaped and runs well into the river.

▪  In early March some people were fishing off the pier when a confrontation between someone in a boat and someone on the dock started, DNR Sgt. Jeremy Bolen said. “There were conflicting details,” Bolen said. Guns were involved, Bolen said.

▪  The area is popular for those who launch boats because it is free and the only public launching site in downtown Columbus. It is popular for those who fish from the bank because of the distance the dock stretches into the river.

▪  In the last two weeks, DNR has posted a sign at the ramp, stating that fishing is not allowed from the service pier.

▪  Because the ramp is owned and managed by DNR, the game wardens are the only ones who can enforce the law.

F.D. Williams owns and operates Bulldog Bait and Tackle and he has seen this battle coming.

“People on the dock have not been pulling their lines in, so they had to take this measure to keep people from getting killed,” Williams said.

I thought people went fishing to relax.

This week, the Chattahoochee Riverwarden weighed in on Facebook by asking this question: “Following an altercation involving firearms, DNR recently installed this sign at Rotary Park and is enforcing it. Some community members are responding by claiming to have lost their access to public waters. Thoughts? Keep it polite.”

It didn’t get the response you would expect, only about 15 comments. Maybe everyone was out wetting a hook. This time of year everything on the river is running.

DNR has been put in an awkward spot. Do they actively enforce the rule and cite those who are fishing from the dock? Or do they deal with the far more serious matters of water and game enforcement? What would you rather have them do: write a ticket for someone fishing on a dock or take someone operating a boat under the influence off the water?

Ken Edmonds, a fisherman from LaGrange, was putting his boat in the river Wednesday morning when he was asked about the incident. A regular at the ramp this time of year, he heard there had been an issue.

“You can come sometimes and that dock is covered up,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t want to get out of the way and you will have harsh words.”

But Edmonds seems like a live and let-live kind of guy.

“I understand they just want to fish, so do I,” he said while readying his boat for launch on a perfect fishing morning. “I understand both sides of this thing. I used to fish from the bank.”

He’s a voice of reason.

And, when it comes to some who fish, reason does not seem to be the catch of the day.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams