published Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Tennessee trouting thrives despite heat


by Dan Cook
  • photo
    Photo by Dan Cook Signal Mountain's Tic Smith catches trout in the fast-moving Tellico River.

Summer arrives and the thermometer rises. Fish like bass and crappie go deep, seeking cooler waters.

They relocate to places harder for fishermen to find.

Yet trout fishing continues to thrive, largely because of a strong stocking program of the cool-water fish in Tennessee.

About a million trout are placed in state streams each year by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, including winter and warmer weather programs. About 325,000 of those go into 75 streams and small lakes, mostly in East Tennessee. Most places where they are stocked have little or no natural reproduction for them.

Trouters represent only a fragment of the overall license sales in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which surveys fishing activity every five years, indicated from its 1991, ’96 and 2001 reports that about 135,000 resident and nonresident fishermen in Tennessee annually take advantage of trout opportunities. According to the 2003 survey, the average Volunteer State trout angler fished 9.4 times, with an average trip length of 4.7 hours. Eighty-three percent caught rainbow trout, 40 percent caught brown trout and 10 percent brought in brook trout.

Fifty-eight percent used bait, 61 percent cast artificial lures and 38 percent had fly-fishing gear.

Chilhowee Lake was stocked heavily earlier this year, offering area fishermen ample opportunity to get started. Likewise, the Hiwassee River, along with Polk County creeks Goforth, Tumbling, Greasy, Spring, Big Lost and Turtletown, are prime areas for fly-fishermen as well as those with spinning reels.

This year has had a few drawbacks. Goforth stocking was suspended until road repair was completed on U.S. Highway 64.

The drought of two years ago continues to have its effect on area trout fishing, according to Jim Herrig, fisheries biologist for the Cherokee National Forest through which the aforementioned streams flow. Few big Hiwassee fish have been witnessed, although the number of catches has been strong.

TWRA fisheries biologist Jim Habera of Morristown echoes Herrig.

“The mountain trout are still down from the drought we had two years ago,” he said, “on the average down about 40-50 percent.”

Yet recovery usually appears fast there, he said, giving hope for rainbows, brook and browns all to be more plentiful soon.

McNabb Creek, located in the area of the equally popular and swift-flowing Tellico River, showed recovery a couple of years ago following its apparent runoff damage from the Cherohala Skyway construction. Lately, however, there have been no signs of brookies who used to live there, though rainbows have appeared.

Heavy spring rains have helped matters in some cases, but weather effects have delayed stocking in other places. Whiteoak Creek in Houston County and Standing Rock Creek in Stewart County are examples. They faced delayed stockings in May due to flooding.

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