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TWRA trout stockings brings rainbows to the masses
Dec 28, 2012 12:00 am
I cast my gob of crimson salmon eggs into the slow current and traced its downstream progress as the line drifted with the flow.
The bait bounced along the rocky bottom – bump, bump bump – then suddenly the line twitched and tightened.
I set the hook, and from the dark-green depths a sliver torpedo exploded in a spray of water, rainbow-hued sides dazzling in the sunlight. A 12-inch trout danced across the surface, then dived back down and surged into the current. My ultra-light rod bowed, and wispy 4-pound-test line peeled from the reel’s loose-set drag.
The trout jumped again, dove, jumped again, and finally began to tire as I lead it into the landing net where it thrashed in the mesh.
The fish joined three speckled companions on a stringer, and I re-baited and cast again.
I wasn’t fishing in some remote trout stream out West, or jockeying for position in one of the legendary waters in the East. I wasn’t tramping the gravel banks of a pristine Alaskan river or ensconced at a wilderness outpost in Canada.
I was fishing in the Stones River below Percy Priest Dam, 15 minutes from bustling downtown Nashville.
It was early December and the river was high and cold and brimming with rainbow trout, thanks to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s annual winter stocking program.
Hundreds of thousands of keeper-sized trout are transported from hatcheries around the state and released into numerous streams and lakes. Most of the trout run 12-13 inches, fun to catch and fine to eat. And that’s what they’re there for.
The trout are intended to be caught and kept. Most of the waters in which they are released grow too warm during the spring and summer for the ecologically-sensitive fish to survive. There are exceptions, such as Marrowbone Lake whose spring-fed depths can support trout year-round. There are also a few holdovers in streams and rivers – I once caught a stray two-pound rainbow trout in the Tennessee River.
But the vast majority of the stocked trout are caught fairly quickly, one seven-fish limit at a time. Culling (catching a limit, then replacing smaller fish on the stringer with bigger ones) is discouraged because of the high mortality rate for hooked trout.
Critics of the trout-stocking program say the TWRA funds could be put to more effective use by stocking species that are native to the waters – bass, bluegill, catfish, walleye and crappie – which could survive year-round.
The TWRA’s position is that the trout is a special species and folks should get an opportunity to catch an elite fish even if they aren’t elite anglers.
Fishing for wild trout generally requires extensive travel, expensive equipment and a fair degree of expertise. Hatchery trout, on the other hand, are accessible to every Tennessean and don’t require fancy tackle and a textbook knowledge of aquatic insect life to match the hatch.
Artificial lures and flies are effective, as is an array of baits – from salmon eggs and yellow corn to worms and commercial trout nuggets.
For a list of stocked waters and stocking dates consult the Tennessee Fishing Guide or visit tnwildlife.org and click on “For Anglers.” A trout license is required (the sale of which helps fund the stocking program) except for holders of Sportsman and Lifetime Licenses. Other rules and regulations are detailed in the Fishing Guide.