I’m typing this from 200 feet above the flood plain. Here, for centuries, people have watched the river do its worst below. Towns were eviscerated. Economies ruined. And now, it seems that the river is at it again. Or is it?
The bluff where I sit eventually became Memphis. And from its vantage point, you can see the Mighty Mississippi breaking its banks again. You can also hear the news reports of historic flooding. Here in Memphis, the memories of 2011’s flood — one that reached the toes of this very bluff — are fresh. That flood was a real historic event, but one in which the media overindulged, reporting a 50-yard puddle at the foot of Beale Street as if an entire region were underwater. So what is the scene really like on the ground right now? FTR called a few tackle shops to find out.
Benton, Ky. — The surging waters making headlines on the Mississippi River begin here, in major tributaries like the Tennessee, Ohio and Missouri Rivers and their thousands of smaller partners.
Fast Eddie’s Bait & Tackle makes a living off of the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake. Waters in the area have been rising for about two weeks. “They are getting to where they can’t get their boats in the water now,” says owner Eddie Davenport. “It’s over the ramps. I think it’s getting ready to crest right now, but it’s gotten pretty serious. They are having to put extensions under docks.”
Davenport says he’s sure the flood waters have affected business. “Nobody is coming out to bass fish,” he reports, “but they are catching a lot of catfish right now. It seems like they are doing a good job with them. They are feeding right up on the bank in that muddy water. It really hasn’t affected us as much as some of the resorts around here. We are far enough away from the water.”
Caruthersville, Mo. — The waters flowing past Eddie Davenport will eventually make their way here, near the front door of Louie Mansfield’s Grizzly Jig Company, about a block from the Mississippi River that’s rolling past downtown Caruthersville. News reports of record-breaking floods about an hour north in Cape Girardeau have been streaking across the headlines for days. But further south, Mansfield says the flood waters near his store have been “normal high water.”
“It takes two rivers to flood us,” Mansfield says. “It takes the Ohio, too, which caused all the problem back in 2011, and this is mainly the Mississippi. From the Cape [Girardeau] up is where they mainly had the problem. Our predicted crest was 46 feet. They put the flood gates up based on the prediction, but the actual crest only got to something like 42 or 43 feet. You could see water splashing over the sea wall in 2011.”
Baton Rouge, La. — “The water really hasn’t gotten to us yet,” says Mark Mathews of Superior Bait & Tackle. “It’s about 10 days away.” Mathews says high water can be a good thing for the area’s fisheries. “At first,” he says, “it’s a little hard to deal with when they open the spillways up, but it’s really nice in the future. It turns the water, it freshens it up. That flood water brings in a lot of nutrients. It allows mother nature to do what mother nature was intended to do. It’s the delta. It’s the swamp. It’s what made us.”
“Before we would get a disaster,” he calmly notes, “the Corps will start opening locks. We’re accustomed to it.”
So that’s that. National headlines are bleak, but the actual story of the nation’s rising waters — at least in our industry — seems a bit more subdued. Torrents of muddy water spewing from flood gates make for entertaining video, and certainly can result in life-threatening situations. Floods, no matter the scale, are no laughing matter. But the story of a mega-flood like 2011 or 1993 has not, so far, seemed to pan out.