The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) manages trout fisheries in streams, tailwaters, and reservoirs in Region IV. Some of these fisheries, such as the South Holston and Watauga tailwaters, have gained regional and even national prominence because of their quality. Aesthetically pleasing surroundings are essential components of others, such as our mountain wild trout streams. Together, Tennessee’s trout fisheries provide a popular and important set of angling opportunities. Agency management emphasizes habitat preservation and the maintenance of wild stocks where they occur. However, artificially propagated trout, produced at six state and federal hatcheries, are also important for managing substantial portions of Tennessee’s coldwater resource.
The Blue Ridge physiographic province of eastern Tennessee contains about 1,000 km (621 mi) of coldwater streams inhabited by wild (self-sustaining) populations of rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss, brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis, and brown trout Salmo trutta. Tennessee's wild trout primarily occur within the nine counties that border North Carolina, as well as parts of Sullivan and Washington counties. Small populations may exist elsewhere (e.g., in a few spring-fed streams throughout the state), but would represent a small fraction of the resource. The Tennessee portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in Cocke, Sevier, and Blount counties contains another 395 km (245 mi) of wild trout streams. Most of Tennessee's wild trout resource outside GSMNP is located within the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) 253,000-hectare (625,000-acre) Cherokee National Forest (CNF). However, a substantial portion (~30%) occurs on privately owned lands and includes some of the State's best wild trout streams.
Rainbow trout, native to Pacific-drainage streams of the western U.S., and brown trout, native to Europe, were widely introduced into coldwater habitats during the past century and have become naturalized in many Tennessee streams. Brook trout are Tennessee's only native salmonid and once occurred at elevations as low as 490 m (1,600 ft) in some streams. Brook trout now inhabit about 237 km (148 mi) in 107streams, or about 24% of the stream length supporting wild trout outside GSMNP. Brook trout occur allopatrically in about 68% of the stream length they currently occupy.
Wild trout populations reflect the quality and stability of the aquatic systems they inhabit, which is linked to the quality and stability of associated terrestrial systems. TWRA recognizes the ecological importance of Tennessee’s wild trout resources, along with their value to anglers and the special management opportunities they offer. The Agency’s Streams and Rivers Strategic Plan acknowledges the continued need for trout population, habitat, and angler use data. Such information is essential to ensure that wild trout resources are protected and that appropriate management strategies can be developed and employed while maintaining angler satisfaction. TWRA has been intensively involved in obtaining and utilizing this information since 1990.
Many smaller Tennessee streams with unregulated flows can support trout fisheries, but are limited by marginal habitat or levels of natural production insufficient to meet existing fishing pressure. TWRA maintains trout fisheries in about 467 km of such streams in eastern Tennessee by annually stocking hatchery-produced trout (fingerlings and adults).
Cold, hypolimnetic releases from four Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dams in Region IV (Norris, Ft. Patrick Henry, South Holston, and Wilbur) also support well-established, year-round trout fisheries in the tailwaters downstream. Tailwater rivers generally have habitats and food bases that can support large carrying capacities and allow trout to grow larger than they normally do elsewhere. Tailwaters are typically stocked with fingerlings in the early spring and adult fish (catchables) throughout the summer. Adults supplement the catch during peak angling season and by fall, fingerlings have begun to enter these fisheries. Recruitment of natural reproduction (mostly by brown trout) contributes substantially to the fishery in the South Holston tailwater and, to a lesser extent, in the Wilbur (Watauga River) tailwater. Brook trout fingerlings were added to the Wilbur tailwater stocking program in 2001 and may provide another facet to this popular fishery. A tailwater trout fishery has also developed in the Holston River below Cherokee Reservoir, although water temperatures may limit angling opportunities during late summer and early fall in some years.
Reservoirs that stratify during summer months and have water that is suitable for trout below depths normally occupied by warmwater species are termed "two-story" fisheries. These reservoirs must have a zone with water below 21°C and a minimum dissolved oxygen concentration of 3.0 mg/L. Seven two-story reservoirs in Region IV (Calderwood, Chilhowee, Tellico, Ft. Patrick Henry, South Holston, Wilbur, and Watauga) have such zones and create an additional trout resource. These reservoirs are stocked with adult-size trout (typically rainbows) during the late fall and winter when reservoir temperatures are uniformly cold, and piscivorous warmwater predators are less active. Watauga Reservoir is regularly stocked with lake trout and provides Region IV’s best fishery for this species. Chilhowee Reservoir is also stocked with lake trout and Calderwood Reservoir has received them in the past.
The objectives of TWRA’s current Streams and Rivers Strategic Plan is to ”1) maintain and restore stocks of desired aquatic species and 2) protect and restore the ecological integrity of streams and rivers.” To help meet these objectives, new trout fishing opportunities, as well as proper management of existing opportunities, will be necessary. Acquisition of basic trout population data (e.g., abundances, size structures, age and growth characteristics, mortality rates, etc.) through standardized stream survey techniques will continue to be an important means for meeting these needs.