Roller Dam Safety

The sign on the left shows how close the Coast Guard sign is to the upstream end of the fishing float where a good number of people enjoy fishing for walleyes, perch and other species. Boaters are reminded to stay on the southside of the danger line, 150 ft. away from the roller gates of Lock & Dam No. 7 in Dresbach. 

By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Small boats and roller dams can sometimes create a dangerous combination. And Minnesota DNR conservation officer Tyler Ramaker has seen those elements mixing at Lock & Dam No. 7 in recent weeks.

“The closed area below the Dresbach dam has been drawing anglers,” Ramaker reported. “We see it when perch and walleye are moving up towards the dams to spawn. It can be a great place to fish. And that’s what’s so tempting about the closure, is that there’s fish there. 

“What I have learned in the last couple weeks is that the Corps of Engineers has removed some of the signage that boaters and anglers are used to seeing, that had words to the effect of: ‘Danger, closed area,’ or ‘No entry beyond this point.’ But what remains are the coast guard symbols on the east and west banks, and when you draw a line between those, anything upstream is within the closed area. So the closed area itself has not changed, but the representation of it has. And that has confused some anglers who are fishing from boats, and taken some boaters by surprise.”

Ramaker said regulations that remain in place keep waters 150 feet below the dam closed, as well as an area 600 feet above the dam in Pool 7. It’s intended to reduce injuries and – in some cases - the loss of life. 

In the spring of 2017, a Lansing, Iowa man was drowned when his boat capsized and went under the roller gates at Lock and Dam 8, near Genoa. Authorities reported the man had tried to anchor in a restricted area, but the device failed to hold the boat in place.

As far as the closed area near Dresbach dam, “If boaters are experienced they can inch their way in there and put their trolling motors on spot lock or anchor and fish just below the closure,” Ramaker noted. “That’s not illegal. In fact, you can even cast into the closed area (from below). The closed area is specific to boats, so you can cast your jig into the area...”

Drawing an imaginary line between the marker signs isn’t difficult, he added. And there’s another marker to check when water levels are near normal or lower. “There is a buoy on the downstream side in the center of the channel, that oftentimes is covered due to high water. That’s just another indicator for boaters that they’re really trying to look for, to line up that buoy if they can see it...

“If you know where it is and you know where those symbols are, it’s easy. You can line them up on either side of the river... 

“Ultimately, it’s no different from any other hunting or fishing regulation. Hunters and anglers are ultimately responsible for their behavior and for knowing what those symbols mean. But sometimes where it does hang some people up is when someone from central Wisconsin or Minnesota arrives and is not familiar with all the symbols (on the Mississippi) and what to look for. They are not seeing these when they fish their home lake, but when you boat on the river, you are in a different boating environment. There’s an education that you need to come prepared with to safely operate on the river...

“Novice boaters can be at risk, but unfortunately, what you oftentimes see is that experienced boaters are the ones that become complacent and put themselves in a (dangerous) position... Sadly, sometimes they are the people who are hurt or killed. People who have lost that respect for the power of the river.”

Currents, especially near the dams, can be extremely powerful, the officer noted.

“If it will take a boat under, it certainly will take a human under even with any sort of life jacket on. You don’t stand a chance.”

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