HomeLocal News

UPDATE: Biologist- Catfish in Chickamauga Lake died of disease brought by change in water temps

  From Local 3 News: UPDATE- The mystery of hundreds of dead channel catfish found in recent weeks on Chickamauga Lake may be solved.


From Local 3 News: UPDATE- The mystery of hundreds of dead channel catfish found in recent weeks on Chickamauga Lake may be solved.

A spokeswoman with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) told us on Tuesday that biologists with Habitat Protection and Fisheries are now saying the catfish all died from a disease that was brought about by a sudden change in the water temperatures, a disease that only channel catfish could catch.


More testing will continue to confirm that hypothesis.


Officials were at first stumped by the fish deaths, because no other species seemed to be affected – meaning chemicals, a virus or bacteria had to be ruled out as the culprit.


The dead fish reportedly covered 32 miles of shoreline, from the lower part of the reservoir to Chickamauga Dam.


The fish averaged in size of just over a pound, with the largest concentration of fish found near the dam.


The disease is known as columnaris, or ‘saddle back disease.’


It was reported in Wisconsin in 2022 and in Minnesota in 2007.


For whatever reason, they are highly susceptible to it whereas other fish are not,’ our Outdoors correspondent Richard Simms says. ‘No one can really know exactly why it occurs. It’s just like when there is a serious flu outbreak among people – whether COVID or the regular flu. It just happens periodically and there is really nothing that can be done about it other than to let nature take its course.


We checked our archives and found that this phenomenon has happened in Chattanooga in the past — with a different species.


Back in February 2018, thousands of dead threadfin shad were seen in several waterways that flow into the Tennessee River.


Then, as now, the die-off was blamed on sudden changes in water temperature.



Previous- Something fishy is going on at the Chickamauga Lake after hundreds of dead catfish turned up last week.


Biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are ruling it as an isolated event, but many people are wondering what may have caused it.


People have reported a number of dead catfish have been found along the shoreline, and what’s strange about it is that they’re the same size and color.


“You know it’s just a foul smell. I mean, it’s death,” said Randy Jumper of Chattanooga. I’ve been coming out here for 40 years, and no, I’ve never seen anything like it.”


Along the shoreline of Chickamauga Lake, there’s a deplorable smell that lake-goers can’t ignore.


The incident has residents like Randy Jumper and others believing something is happening beneath the water.


Since only one type of fish has been impacted, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency doesn’t believe chemicals or bacteria were the cause.

After receiving numerous calls concerning the fish, the agency says they found 300 channel catfish along more than 32 miles of shoreline.


When asked about the dead catfish, another Chattanooga Resident, Joshua Murtagh said “Other than in Florida, whatever they say after hurricanes and stuff like that, no, not really.”


The TWRA reported that the catfish weighed about a pound each and most were found near the Chickamauga Dam.


Channel catfish are bottom-feeders and inhabit rivers, streams, reservoirs and other waterways in North America.


Residents like Jumper are hoping that biologist can solve this strange mystery.


“So something is going on there, it’s not random, or they’d be different sized and different fish. You know, it’s just that one breed, one catfish, that size; I don’t know what would cause something like that, but something caused it,” Jumper explained.


The agency is saying that all of the catfish died at the same time, but due to the decay, samples could not be taken to determine the cause of death.


The TWRA says they’re monitoring the lake.