In the mountains and foothills of North Carolina, March is an exhausting month for N.C. Wildlife Commission personnel, just as it is for workers at the state’s trout hatcheries. It is during this month that every hatchery-supported trout stream and pond in the state is closed for stocking.
And there are thousands of miles of hatchery-supported water in the mountains and foothills, with some sections easily accessed by paved roads, others reached only by dirt roads that aren’t much better than cart paths and still others that require a bit of a hike.
For what it’s worth, I always go to the remoter sections of streams when it comes to stocked trout. When I was a kid, my father stuck to the principle that the fishing is always better away from other people.
It remains good advice, given the fact that the first hard rain will tend to distribute stocked trout throughout the stream. Besides that, I go fishing as much for the solitude and beauty of my surroundings as anything else. That’s why I usually prefer heading to a wild trout stream if at all possible.
Anyway, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the difficulty faced by wildlife personnel of accessing and stocking these streams. It’s a strenuous business.
This isn’t to say that stocking is limited to March. On the contrary, some streams are stocked heavily on a regular basis through October and most receive at least some fish through the period.
All of this activity in March is in anticipation of the opening day of trout fishing on hatchery-supported streams, which is traditionally the first Saturday in April. This is also the year’s biggest day for trout fishing, the day when streams receive the most pressure from anglers.
Three species of trout are stocked in our streams: brown, brook and rainbow. Armstrong fish hatchery near Marion is the primary supplier of brown and brook trout for Wilkes and 13 other counties all the way to the Virginia state line. This hatchery is located beside Armstrong Creek, which is designated as hatchery-supported.
West of Marion, Pisgah fish hatchery is the primary supplier of these two varieties, according to a biologist at the Armstrong hatchery.
Armstrong had some problems a number of years ago and had to borrow brood fish and begin growing a population of trout from scratch. Though this put pressure on other hatcheries, Armstrong has since gotten back to carrying its own weight.
Rainbow trout are another matter. Some are raised in North Carolina, but others are bought from out of state hatcheries, such as the federal compound at Erwin, Tenn.
Beyond better physical characteristics, the trout being brought in from out of state seem to possess at least some of the fighting spirit one sees in native rainbows, a wildlife biologist told me.
Hatchery personnel shoot for an average of 10 inches per-fish, but many, if not most, are bigger than that. Then there are the “brooder” trout. These are much larger fish which have been used to produce and fertilize eggs for hatchery production.
Armstrong lets these fish get to be at least two years old before harvesting their eggs and milt. This is done once annually in the fall, which is the natural spawning period for brown and brook trout.
After being used twice, the fish, now at least four years old, are stocked in streams. These trout generally are 18 inches or larger, and many are better than 24 inches.
But no matter which stream you choose, your prospects for catching a mess of trout are good. Just grab some corn or worms or a couple of lures and wade in.
Here are a couple of suggestions that may help increase the catch:
Work your way upstream, fishing each likely—and even unlikely—spot very thoroughly. You might be surprised that some pretty “unfishy” looking places actually hold trout.
Trout face upstream to feed, allowing the current to bring them their meal. Therefore, fishing downstream increases the possibility you will spook your prey.
Lastly, trout like to stay in places where they have some relief from strong current, and can take advantage to food coming downstream. They also will more likely be where they can have some cover, such as exposed tree roots in the stream or good-sized rocks.
By the way, don’t forget your fishing license and make sure you know the regulations on the particular stream you are fishing.
And for goodness sake, wait until opening day to fish your favorite hatchery-supported streams. Wildlife officers are highly aware of this problem and monitor the streams as closely as possible.
Violators will be ticketed and get to spend an expensive, embarrassing day in court.