From his boyhood days of fishing the banks of the Ohio River and Kentucky ponds south of Cincinnati to the rivers, lakes and fields of East Tennessee, Anthony Chitwood loves what he’s doing and is doing what he loves.
Officer Chitwood is a 16-year veteran of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and was recently selected as TWRAs District 41 Wildlife Officer of the Year. This is the third time he has won this prestigious award.
He patrols nine miles of the Tennessee River and Fort Loudoun Lake, 24 miles of the Little Tennessee and 24 miles down Watts Bar below the Fort Loudoun Dam.
In many instances, he’s a first responder, emergency services professional who also happens to be an armed state game warden.
Chitwood, 46, stays busy on the job. He has issued 53 hunting, fishing and boating citations and made 44 officer-assists.
Quick facts about Anthony Chitwood:
- A native of Villa Hills, Kentucky, who came to Knoxville in 1992 to attend the University of Tennessee.
- Earned his degree in wildlife and fisheries science from UT in 2003.
- A three-year member of the Pride of the Southland Band and played the snare drum.
- He still rides mountain bikes and skateboards with his sons. He also plays in indoor soccer leagues two nights a week. He hunts, fishes and camps with the family.
- He and wife Holley, who works at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, have two boys – Brennan, 14, and Lucas, 9. Brennan is following his father as a drummer in the Lenoir City High School band.
After 20 weeks of training – 10 weeks of police academy and 10 weeks of TWRA training – his first assignment was in Gatlinburg as the “bear control officer.” He was there for 10 months in 2004.
“Wildlife management is really people management and in Gatlinburg it’s all about managing the people,” he says.
In 2005 he came to Loudon County as a game warden. After 15 years he knows the roads, waters, ponds and hunting areas like the back of his hand. He’s the only full-time warden there and as he says, “It’s a 12-month job here.”
His year is reflected by the calendar – April to September having a heavy patrol presence on the water; then into dove hunting season and early waterfowl; a long deer season from the fourth Saturday in September to early January; and then the next regular waterfowl season ends before February; and right now, it’s bear-hunting season.
One major focus area is protecting the illegal harvesting of paddlefish that gather below Fort Loudon Dam during the first two weeks of May. Paddlefish are a pre-historic fish, a cartilage fish similar to a shark. It feeds with its mouth wide open – called filter feeding. Chitwood says that fishermen come from all over to catch this fish and they’re after the paddlefish caviar – the pickled roe that is eaten as a delicacy. At some places the caviar sells for $80/ounce.
Paddlefish can grow to six feet and weigh as much as 100 pounds. Most caught here are 25 to 50 pounds. Fishermen do what is called “jerk fishing” to snare the fish with a treble hook somewhere on its body. The paddlefish does not grab bait or hooks with its mouth. “We have fishermen here from Canada, Washington State, Utah, California, Iowa, New York … everywhere … after these fish,” Chitwood says.
The rub with the law comes when a fisherman exceeds the legal limit – only two paddlefish per person during those two weeks, the only time when it’s legal to fish for them.
Chitwood loves the job. “There’s no such thing as a normal day in this job. Drunk boaters, boating accidents, illegal hunting, shining deer, dope and drinking on private property, finding people with warrants out on them, coming up on car accidents and helping, being in court,” he says. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.