.....Advertisement.....
Friday, October 30, 2009

Underwater discovery

Now it's no longer a fishing tale: Advanced sonar finds that there really is a bridge buried in the lake.

The current Hales Ford Bridge (left) under construction in the early 1960s. The former bridge (right), which spanned the Roanoke River, was still in use.

Courtesy of Appalachian Power

The current Hales Ford Bridge (left) under construction in the early 1960s. The former bridge (right), which spanned the Roanoke River, was still in use.

John Shepelwich (left), a spokesman for Appalachian Power, and J.D. Abshire discuss the bridge Abshire found in the lake recently using sonar technology.

Laurie Edwards

John Shepelwich (left), a spokesman for Appalachian Power, and J.D. Abshire discuss the bridge Abshire found in the lake recently using sonar technology.

J.D. Abshire found the old Hales Ford Bridge, which spanned the Roanoke River before the valley was flooded and the lake filled in, about 60 feet underwater using StructureScan, a new sonar program for Lowrance's High-Def Systems.

Courtesy of J.D. Abshire

J.D. Abshire found the old Hales Ford Bridge, which spanned the Roanoke River before the valley was flooded and the lake filled in, about 60 feet underwater using StructureScan, a new sonar program for Lowrance's High-Def Systems.

J.D. Abshire caught more than three large striped bass on a recent fishing excursion. He caught photographic evidence that will lay one big lake rumor to rest. He found a roughly 300-foot-long bridge that spanned the Roanoke River before it was dammed to create the lake.

"It's almost like finding sunken treasure," said Abshire.

A broker for Abshire & Associates Realtors of Rocky Mount, Abshire also beta-tests and validates fishing products for Lowrance, a marine electronics company.

Currently, he's beta-testing Lowrance's StructureScan. The sonar imaging module gives anglers an almost photographic view of the water's bottom as well as any structures where fish might congregate.

Abshire has been beta-testing StructureScan since late July during his fishing excursions on Smith Mountain and Philpott lakes.

"I've heard the old tale myself many times: There's a bridge there. There's no bridge there," said Abshire. "I was finishing up a fishing trip and I said, 'I'm gonna see if that bridge is there.' "

He punched a few buttons to switch the view on his 10-inch Lowrance High-Def System and "Bam, there it was," said Abshire. "I found it on my first try."

He drove back and forth parallel to the current Hales Ford Bridge, dropping waypoints, or positional icons, to save the location. Then he took screen captures of the whole length.

The HD System allows anglers to save files to SD cards, so when Abshire got home, he had proof for his big fish story.

He e-mailed photos to his daughter Naomi and her husband, Alan Arthur, owner of Blackwater Boat Company. And like rumors, the news spread like wildfire.

John Shepelwich, a spokesman for Appalachian Power, which built the dam that created the lake in the 1960s, said he was floored when someone e-mailed him the images.

Appalachian recently had completed a bathemetry reading, which maps the lake bottom, as part of its relicensing process and found no evidence of the bridge, said Shepelwich.

"It's fascinating," he said, when Abshire took him on a boat ride last week so Shepelwich could see for himself.

Before the valley was flooded, Appalachian employees and contractors dismantled anything in the valley that might float to the surface and become a navigational hazard. Those employees long since have retired, so Appalachian had no record, written or verbal, of whether the old bridge had been dismantled as well.

"It has no impact on the operation of the facility," said Shepelwich. "But it's cool."

The StructureScan will become available to the general public on Thursday, Nov. 12. The suggested retail price is $599. It has to be used in conjunction with a Lowrance HD Display, available with 5-, 7-, 8- or 10-inch screens. HD Displays start at $809 and run upward of $2,500.

"It's worth it to an avid fisherman," said Abshire.

Unlike conventional sonar-imaging fish finders which show black-and-white or colored blurs or clusters that anglers must learn to identify as trees or lake bottom, the StructureScan shows anglers exactly what's underwater.

"Most fish relate to structure and or cover," said Abshire. "Find both in the same spot with forage nearby and you will probably find the fish."

With the new equipment, he has found the mother lode of underwater structures.

Andrew Golden, marketing director for Rushton Gregory Communications, which services Lowrance, said he's been hearing similar stories from beta testers, including one who found a school bus in the ocean.

"Its main use was for fishing," said Golden. "But a lot of people are finding it very useful for surveying, for recreational diving, for so many different things. The uses are pretty limitless."

Now debunking or verifying "sunken treasure" rumors can be added to that list.

Shepelwich said he'd like to ride all over the lake just to see what's down there. He'd like to make a special stop near Vista Pointe, where an entire town is rumored to be submerged.

Abshire, avid angler that he is, has fish on the mind -- that is, the rumored Volkswagon-sized catfish that lives near the base of the dam.

"If I could get clearance to go past the buoys at the dam, maybe I could debunk one of those other myths," he said.

Golden said if the catfish does exist, it would be big enough to be seen not just as a squiggle on the screen, but as an actual catfish. You might even be able to make out its whiskers.