It’s a sunny Friday morning on the Pigeon River when the bucket brigade assembles, five-gallon containers in hand. The stock truck has just arrived, making its way up windy U.S. 276 and down the equally squirrely N.C. 215, tanks loaded with fish and water.
A pair of fish culturists from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission stands atop the truck as a line of bucket-bearers forms leading up to it, and the work begins. Each bucket received a splash of water and a dollop of flipping, fighting trout — rainbow, brown and brook all mixed together in one writhing mass.
If all goes according to plan, by this time next year Jackson County will have been declared the trout capital of North Carolina, and county commissioners are already starting to talk about how to plan for the resulting increase they anticipate in angling tourism.
Jackson County is on its way to becoming the trout capital of North Carolina after county leaders unveiled a plan last week that’s been in the works since last summer.
“Anything that we can do to encourage tourists to come to Jackson County we ought to try to do, and I think we already recognize that we have this remarkable resource in Jackson County — the public waterways. It’s already being utilized and is such a treasure in Jackson County,” said County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan, who spearheaded the effort with Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Spiro. “It just makes sense to try to do what we can to further enhance it and to promote it.”
When the holidays wind down and schools go back in session, kids in some Western North Carolina classrooms will have more to look forward to than just books and lessons. For some, the first day back at school will also be a reunion with the tank full of trout sitting in their classroom.
“It’s just pretty cool to have a tank of fish to watch grow over the course of the year,” said Ben Davis, a science teacher at Robbinsville High School who’s in his fourth year participating in Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom program.
From habitat destruction to competition with non-native trout, Southern Appalachian brook trout have met their share of challenges over the past century. A new study illuminates another issue that trout — and not just brookies — might have to contend with in the years ahead.
Actually, a pair of issues — acidity and warming water temperatures. Neither of these are newly identified problems, but the study looks at their combined effect. The verdict?
Cherokee will institute a two-week fishing season closure each March beginning in 2016 after operating under a year-round season since 2011.
“We decided to open it up to year-round just to provide more fishing opportunities during March when the state fishing waters were closed, but we decided to go back to a compromise with a two-week closure in March to allow our operations to catch up for the opening day and allow a new level of excitement for the opener, knowing the waters haven’t been fished for two weeks,” explained Mike Lavoie, fisheries and wildlife program manager for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Bryson City will soon have another feather in the cap proving its worth as an outdoors Mecca. If all goes well, the town will get its name added as a Mountain Heritage Trout Water City by the time summer rolls around again.
“Trout fishermen come and they stay a while,” said N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who filed the original bill calling for the trout city designation. “They stay in your bed and breakfast, they eat at your restaurants and often they bring their other family members.”
A seemingly dead-end situation became a life-changing moment for Alex Bell.
“We came back to school from a tournament and they said our program had been cut,” he said.
By Colby Dunn • Correspondent
Each year, an estimated 50,000 people visit Cherokee looking to hit it big, but instead of casting lots at Harrah’s, they’re casting lines into the miles of stocked and protected streams that flow through the Qualla Boundary.
While the casino remains the dominant moneymaker in town, the town’s reputation as a fly fishing destination is gaining an economic toehold in the tourism business here. With fishing waters open year round, tournaments and derbies to choose from in every season of the year, and a stock of 400,000 trout poured into the ponds and streams annually, Cherokee can offer more than a few incentives to entice a fisherman seeking a new venue.
A crisp wind blows through Haywood County. Gazing upward, dark clouds slowly take over the sky while a few ominous raindrops are felt. For many, it may seem to be the official death knell to summer. But for Sally Eason, it’s a sign of great things to come.
“We love this weather, and we’re probably the only people around here that do,” she chuckled.