Xao Le, 44, and his brother Cong Le, 28, both of Jacksonville, died when the canoe they were fishing in capsized, Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown said.
The two brothers and a cousin were fishing at night with nets in the Coosa River near Robins Mill Road in Ohatchee, Brown said.
Mark Rouleau, assistant chief of law enforcement with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, said fishing with nets as the brothers were doing is illegal at Lake Neely Henry.
The canoe overturned shortly after 1 a.m., knocking the two brothers into the 47-degree water, Brown said. The cousin, who had stayed behind on the riverbank, left to call for help, but when he returned, both brothers had disappeared, Brown said.
Xao Le’s body was found shortly after rescue efforts began at around 2 a.m., said Etowah County Rescue Squad captain Mike Bettis. The fisherman drowned after he got caught in the nets that were attached to the canoe. Cong Le’s body was found underwater at about 7 a.m. not far from where the canoe capsized Sunday, Bettis said.
Neither brother wore a life vest, and the water temperature was very cold Sunday morning, Brown said.
“Hypothermia can set in fast at that temperature,” Brown said.
Net fishing, also called gill-netting, uses various-sized nets made of fishing line that are often attached to the bank at one end then stretched across the water, weighted at the bottom with floats attached to the top of the net. Gill-netting is legal in some Alabama lakes, but never at night, Rouleau said.
“A lot of folks like to put them out for striped bass,” Rouleau said.
Fishermen using gill nets illegally likely are going after striped bass, Rouleau said.
Catching illicit anglers in the act and making cases against those net fishing at night isn’t all that common, Rouleau said. Most fishermen are caught when they exceed the limit of their sport-fishing licenses, he said.
Rouleau said that rising fish prices in recent years have increased the market for fisherman to illegally catch striped bass in Alabama, with those fish often sold in neighboring states.
“Usually they catch them and take them over to Georgia. The Atlanta market or somewhere around Atlanta. We have issues with this every year,” Rouleau said.
The rising demand for fish makes gill-netting that much more attractive, Rouleau said, but the dangers of the method can far outweigh the profits, he explained. He said he was surprised at the manner in which the brothers were fishing Sunday in Ohatchee.
“I’ve been around gill-netting just about my whole 30-year career. I can’t see how anybody can work a gill net out of a canoe,” he said.
Hauling in a large net, heavy with fish, requires a stable platform, Rouleau said, and lots of things can go wrong, from the prop of a passing boat to a log that becomes stuck in the net.
Etowah County Rescue Squad captain Mike Bettis, who responded to the drowning Sunday, said he isn’t certain how large the brothers’ net was, but said “It was a lot of net.”
“That’s scary. You’ve got to have a stable platform to work from, and a canoe is just not stable,” Rouleau said.
Rouleau said Monday that police were still investigating Sunday’s incident.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct information about the legality of fishing at night. Night fishing is legal at Lake Neely Henry, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.