County may gain stocked trout waters
Watauga County may gain a new area of stocked trout waters on the Watauga River after the idea garnered support from county commissioners Tuesday.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission hopes to designate a one-mile portion of the Watauga River between Hubert Thomas Road and Laurel Creek as delayed harvest trout waters, said fisheries biologist Kevin Hining.
If approved, the commission will stock several thousand trout 10 inches or longer in the river between October and May. During this period, fishers must catch and release using only single-hook, artificial lures.
After the first Saturday in June, fishermen may use any type of bait and keep up to seven trout per day. The fish will not be stocked in the summer months.
Several more steps, including a public hearing and approval from the Wildlife Resources Commission, must be completed before the designation is official, Hining said.
"The very earliest we would be putting fish in this river would be October of 2014," he said.
The Wildlife Resources Commission identified the new area as a way to compensate for the loss of delayed harvest fishing on the Watauga River near Foscoe.
A section of delayed harvest waters used to extend from the Twin Rivers development through Broadstone Road, but over the years, public access has become more limited. The popular swimming hole near the Hound Ears dam, one easy access point, has been posted "No Trespassing" in recent years.
According to a 2009 study, trout fishing created a total economic impact of $174 million in North Carolina during 2008. It also found that Watauga County was among the most heavily fished destinations in the state.
Because angling opportunities are an important economic draw for the county, the Wildlife Resources Commission has looked for alternate sites "so we can keep these fish in Watauga County," Hining said.
Hining said the designation also may allow the Wildlife Resources Commission to spend money on improving and maintaining river access points near the new section, which includes the county-owned Watauga Gorge Park access at U.S. 321 and Old Watauga River Road.
The commission may look into improving other parking options, including at the Hubert Thomas Road bridge or the parking area commonly used to access Trash Can Falls.
The delayed harvest program does not carry any water quality or property use restrictions. Before the new waters could be approved, a public hearing will be held in September in Wilkesboro, Hining said.
The proposal was warmly welcomed by commissioners Tuesday.
"I think it's great. Fishing's a great activity. It's a family activity," Chairman Nathan Miller said. "I don't see why anybody would have a problem with it."
Commissioner Billy Kennedy agreed.
"I don't see a downside at all," he said.
A roughly one-mile portion of the Watauga River near Valle Crucis Park is already designated as delayed harvest trout waters.
The Wildlife Resources Commission also plans to create hatchery-supported waters in the South Fork New River near Brookshire Park in Boone in the coming year, Hining said.
Unlike delayed harvest fisheries, hatchery-supported waters are stocked in spring and summer, have no bait restrictions and may be fished immediately. The commission plans to begin stocking the Brookshire Park section in March 2014.
"We hope people come right behind us to take them out," Hining said.