By Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer

Back in the spring after a heavy rain I fished the mouth of a creek on Old Hickory Lake – or tried to. It was like trying to fish in a city dump.

There was so much trash and litter floating on the surface that is was impossible to cast and retrieve a lure through it. Granted, a lot of the garbage was carried into the lake by flood waters, but the stuff had to have been deposited on the ground somewhere to start with.

How did it get there?

Litterbugs threw it down and left it.

This was the unsightly scene on the Cumberland River after a heavy rain.

Similar messes can be found on virtually every island on Percy Priest Lake. Picnickers and campers leave behind piles of garbage – plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass, rubber, cardboard, broken ice chests, rope, old shoes, broken tackle, snarls of fishing line, used diapers …

Even in such relatively pristine areas as the Radnor Lake Natural Area, Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, paper wrappers and other trash are routinely discarded along walking trails.

It makes you wonder: how lazy can someone be to carry a bottle of water into the park, drink it, and toss the empty bottle on the ground instead of carrying it out and dropping it in one of the trash cans located at the trailhead?

An empty plastic water bottle doesn’t weigh much. It can’t be a burden to carry it out. So leaving it behind has to be a matter of pure slovenliness.

Litter is not only unsightly, but it can harmful to wildlife. Twice over the years I’ve seen doomed herons flopping around helplessly in tangled fishing line – once below Percy Priest dam and again at Reelfoot Lake.

Discarded monofilament takes decades to disintegrate. Snarls of line thrown into the water or left on the bank will pose a threat to wildlife – and human swimmers – for generations.

In addition to getting tangled in discarded line, ducks and geese sometimes ingest bottle caps, bits of glass and plastic.

I have a photo of a deer with a bottomless plastic bucket stuck around its neck. It looks humorous – until you consider the plight of the animal.

In the 1980s, the state launched a vigorous anti-littering campaign to try to reduce the trash strewn along highways. The “Tennessee Trash” ads were fairly successful, shaming motorists into stopping throwing burger wrappers and other litter out of the car windows.

Apparently today’s litterbugs need a reminder.

Most parks and natural areas have “No Littering” signs posted, and all have trash cans located around their parking lots. But they are not always heeded. It’s common to see aluminum cans, plastic bottles and wads of paper thrown on the ground within a few steps of a trash can.

Litterbugs are tough to catch in the act, but when one is nabbed he or she should be made an example of: sentence them to a few weekends picking up trash. Once they spend several days picking it up, they may think twice before throwing it down.

I realize that littering is not a big deal in the grand scheme of pollution – dozens of waters in Tennessee are too poisoned and toxic to swim in or eat fish from – but it’s aggravating because littering is so easy to avoid.

Slobs who turn the state’s natural areas into a trash bin need to clean up their act. If they refuse, drop the hammer on them. It’s time to squash the litterbugs.