Extensive repairs to the lake’s southeast levee at Trace State Park in eastern Pontotoc County are nearing completion. The work began in July on the $1.2-million project. Dirt work and riprap operations are complete. Stone work is being completed along with erosion control measures and graveling of the levee road. Weather permitting, Pittman Construction officials are hoping to complete the project by the first week in November.

If you’re married to a fisherman, you might want to put a good umbrella on your Christmas wish list.

For months now fishermen have been praying for dry weather so long awaited levee repairs could be completed on the dam at Trace State Park in eastern Pontotoc County.

Levee contract construction officials said last week they hope to wrap up the finishing touches to the project by the first week in November.

After four years of no fishing or skiing at Trace State Park, work began in July to repair the collapsed levee.

A $1.2-million contract was awarded to Michael Pittman Construction Company of Corinth last fall to repair the interior dam wall of the lake. For the past three and a half months machine operators have worked to replace approximately 1,800 feet of levee on the south interior side of the lake bed.

Last Thursday project manager Zack Hastings said the work is “down to the short rows.”

“We’re less than a month away,” Hasting said. “By the first week of November we hope to be done and out of there. Of course if it was to set in raining that would factor in just how quickly we’ll finish up.”

“But we’re done moving dirt and riprap. We have to put more stone on top of the levee and do the sodding and grassing. And we’ll put new gravel on the top of the levee. When it rains we may lose a day or two getting gravel trucks in and out, but it’s coming together."

Larry Pugh, Fisheries Bureau Director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, said last week that once work is completed the State Department of Finance Administration (DFA) will complete a final inspection of the levee project.

“When the DFA inspector and engineer agree we’re good to go, we can close the drain valve and start catching water,” Pugh said. “We’re really close to being finished and thankfully lots closer than we’ve been in four years.

Once the drain valve is closed, those Christmas umbrellas may come in handy when local anglers reverse their prayer requests to heavy winter rains to re-fill the 600 lake.

Pugh said he’s cautiously optimistic about the resumption of at least limited fishing in the lake next summer, but he emphasized it all depends on how fast the lake re-fills.

“I’m cautiously optimistic and I hope we can fish out there some next year, but no one knows exactly how much rain it will take to re-fill the lake because it’s never been drained this low before,” Pugh said.

Over the past several years Pontotoc County has recorded heavy rainfall during the November through April months.

From January 1 through April 30 this year, official records showed Pontotoc County receiving 36.17 inches over that four months period. In February 2019 rain fell on 10 days but a whopping 16.31 inches was recorded.

“We were able to launch a boat at a the boat ramp back in March, so if we get a repeat of that kind of typical winter/spring rainfall we might get things rolling,” Pugh said.

While the eastern (ski side) half of the lake was completely drained for the levee repair, the western (fishing) side of the lake retained low levels of water.

“The west side of the lake still has water and fish,” Pugh clarified.

“Meanwhile we’re going to be redoing all the piers, and if get enough rain we may can do some fish restocking in the winter. We would love to start putting fish in the big lake (western fishing side) in December if we get enough rain and we could get hatchery trucks in there. That’s the big plan , it just depends on the rain we get."

“Once the lake fills back up we will do several different days of evaluation to look at the fish population, what size fish we have, how many, get an idea of those numbers. I’m counting on that west side of the lake.”

Pugh said that restrictive catch limits are a real possibility when the lake does re-open.

“The catch 22 is can we go ahead and open with reduced limits, would the public prefer that, or wait until the population completely re-establishes. I would rather open with more controlled regulations and let people go ahead and be fishing instead of keeping it closed.”

“When the lake reopens these fish are going to be stupid, they haven’t been fished in four years, the fishing will be easy and the last thing we want is to over-harvest.

“Once the water’s back up and both sides of the lake reconnect, we’ll see how the fish re-distribute, how many per species and determine abundance estimates before we go wide open.”

Pugh also noted that the trees that have grown up on the dry lake bed on the skiing side have been poisoned.

“The problem has been the willow trees. When you have a lake dry this long the willow trees grow up above the level of water and obviously, its the ski side and we don’t need any navigation hazards out there in the lake. We didn’t spray the entire lake bottom, just the willow trees.”

Pugh added that estimates are being sought on the cost of re-decking the lake’s piers.

“We’re gong to re-deck the piers. We have three three fishing piers, two courtesy piers and we’re adding a courtesy pier at the big boat ramp."

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