Around dawn Saturday, anglers from all over the state will begin casting their lines into the cool waters of Wilkes County’s trout streams. It’s the first Saturday in April, the traditional opening day of trout season in North Carolina on streams designated as “hatchery supported.”
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission fisheries biologist Kevin Hining said rainbow, brook and brown trout have been stocked in these streams, with rainbow and brook being the predominant type.
Rainbow and brook trout make up 40 percent each of the trout put into streams and 20 percent are brown trout, Hining said.
Brown trout are a bit more difficult for hatcheries to raise in large quantity, they are a bit more difficult for anglers to catch and therefore tend to remain in streams longer and gain size.
A small percentage of large “brooder” trout—some of genuinely trophy size—are put in streams each year.
Brooders are female trout that are released in streams after they no longer can produce a sufficient supply of eggs and are of no further value to the hatcheries in this capacity.
Some brooder trout caught in years past have been in excess of 20 inches in length, a big fight for an angler on any day.
Each load of trout in stocking trucks contains 4 percent trout that are 14 inches or larger, with the rest being an average of about 11 inches, Hining said.
Over 43,000 trout are being stocked in Wilkes streams and ponds from March through November, according to information from the N.C. Wildlife Commission.
On hatchery-supported streams, a limit of seven fish may be kept per-day and natural bait—such as worms, corn, minnows, salmon eggs—and multiple-hook lures may be used.
The most popular lures for trout fishing in this area tend to be small, flashy spinners like the Panther Martin, the Rooster Tail or the Mepps. These are designed to imitate minnows, which are favorite meals for trout.
There are no size restrictions for trout on hatchery-supported streams, which are conspicuously marked with green and white signs.
Most of these streams are stocked at frequent intervals from March through August.
Those wishing to try their hand at trout fishing must have either an up-to-date, North Carolina fishing license and trout stamp, a comprehensive fishing license (covering all public fishing areas and types of fishing in the state) or a sportsman’s license, which also covers hunting.
Anglers from outside the state must purchase a nonresident fishing permit. Short-term licenses are also available.
Any of these licenses may be obtained at sporting goods stores and many retail outlets in Wilkes and surrounding counties.
Those fishing without a proper license have a good chance of receiving an expensive citation from an N.C. wildlife officer, it was noted.
After getting a license and buying bait and lures, the next hurdle is where to fish.
Hatchery supported waters in Wilkes include: East Prong of Roaring River from State Road (SR) 1737 to the SR 1943 bridge; Middle Prong of Roaring River from Basin Creek to SR 1736-1746; Boundary Line, Pike Creek and Bell Branch ponds in Thurmond Chatham Game Lands, along with Pike Creek in the game lands, located on Longbottom Road; Middle (or Clear Branch) Prong of Reddies River from its headwaters to Old N.C. 16 North; South Fork of Reddies River along (new) N.C. 16 North; North Fork of Reddies River from its headwaters to SR 1559 bridge; Darnell Creek from SR 1569 to North Fork of Reddies River; South Prong of Lewis Fork from headwaters on U.S. 421 West to bridge at Lewis Fork Baptist Church; and Fall Creek, the en tire creek to its confluence with Lewis Fork on U.S. 421 West.
Lewis Fork, East Prong of Roaring River and Middle Prong of Roaring River are the most heavily stocked streams in Wilkes and generally receive the heaviest pressure from anglers.
A popular addition to the hatchery-supported streams in Wilkes in recent years has been Cub Creek in the area of Wilkesboro’s municipal park.
The popularity of a couple of fish-for-fun days for children in 2005 and 2006 went a long way toward convincing the wildlife commission to add Cub Creek to its list.
Another fairly recent addition to Wilkes trout waters is the section of the Reddies River from the North Wilkesboro municipal dam down the Yadkin River Greenway to the Reddies’ confluence with the Yadkin. This mile stretch of water has been heavily stocked with all three varieties of trout and is under the delayed-harvest rules.
A section of Elk Creek at Leatherwood has also been designated and stocked as delayed harvest. There is a parking area on Elk Creek at the confluence of Laurel Creek.
The delayed harvest designation means all fishing is catch-and-release until the first Saturday in June, when these areas convert to the hatchery-supported rules. From dawn to noon on that day, fishing is restricted on these streams to those who are 15-years-old and younger, Hining said. After that, all ages may fish and bring home the fish they catch.
This continues until October, when the delayed-harvest rules again come into effect.
The adjacent mountain counties of Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga, along with some streams in Surry County, also have many of the most popular hatchery supported streams and rivers in northwest North Carolina.
Well-known streams in Alleghany are the Little River around Sparta, Brush Creek, Cranberry Creek and Meadow Fork Creek in the Laurel Springs community.
Popular with fishermen in Ashe are the North Fork of the New River flowing along N.C. 88, Helton Creek (which is now a delayed harvest stream), Big Horse Creek, Three Top Creek off N.C. 88 in Creston, Cranberry Creek from the Alleghany line near Laurel Springs, Peak Creek off N.C. 88 and Pine Swamp Creek near the Watauga County line.
The Wildlife Resources Commission has opened up a lot more of Big Horse Creek for hatchery-supported trout fishing in recent years. This has a great deal to do with landowners allowing fishermen to be on their land.
Watauga always sees some of the biggest numbers of anglers of anywhere in the state. Popular waters include North Fork of New River to Ashe County, Meat Camp Creek upstream from N.C. 194 bridge; Howard’s Creek downstream from the falls on the native trout section to the South Fork of New River, Boone Fork and Elk Creek from headwaters to Powderhorn Mountain development on SR 1508.
Watauga River, which is under the delayed harvest designation downstream from Shulls Mill Road in Foscoe, is perhaps this county’s most popular stream. Upstream from Shulls Mill Road, Watauga has a “wild trout” or native designation.
A few Surry County streams are stocked with trout each year and these include the Mitchell River (delayed harvest rules), the Ararat River (lightly stocked), Paul’s Creek, the Fisher River and the Little Fisher River.
Wilkes, Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany all have streams designated under the standard wild trout fishing rules: single hook lures, four-fish daily creel, 7-inch minimum size with only one fish per-day over 14 inches.
In addition, Watauga, Alleghany and Wilkes have streams under federal guidelines as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s land.
Certain wild trout streams have more specialized regulations, such as catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only.
The most heavily stocked stream in Wilkes County is the South Prong of Lewis Fork Creek, followed by the Middle Prong of the Roaring River. The third most heavily stocked is the East Prong of the Roaring River below Stone Mountain State Park.
This doesn’t include the delayed harvest section inside the park, which begins immediately upstream from the bridge over the East Prong on Longbottom Road.
Most of the land through which trout streams in Wilkes and surrounding areas flow is privately-owned, Hining noted. He encouraged fishermen to pick up their trash, close any pasture gates they’ve opened and not damage any land or property.
Landowners do not have to allow fishing on these streams, and many have posted their land in response to abuses, Hining said.
Enough posted land on a stream will result in that stream being removed from the stocking list. Stony Fork Creek in western Wilkes is one example. Once one of the most popular trout streams in the area, Stony Fork was removed from the stocking list a number of years ago because too much land was posted.
The trend in recent years has been the addition of more stream acreage to the stocking list, Hining said.
Hining attributed this to the fact that fishermen, being respectful of the privilege of fishing on private property, are cleaning up after themselves and not doing any damage.