This past Sunday, my fiancé, Mark, took me trout fishing for the first time up at Wildcat Creek. Wildcat Creek is located west of Lake Burton in the Chattahoochee National Forest and is about a two and a half hour car ride from Atlanta. After getting five Rainbows out of the two main holes beneath the falls and one brownie under the bridge, we decided to head north to our favorite spot: the headwaters of the Talulah River. There was a 10 degree temperature drop as we neared the GA/NC boarder and the campground was almost empty. We only fished for a little bit before Mark couldn’t fight his hunger any longer and decided to cook up the catch of the day: Rainbow Trout. As Mark and his dad prepared lunch, I wandered over to a tree that had fallen in the river to watch the trout swimming beneath me. Unfortunately I didn’t catch anything all day, but I had the time of my life being able to observe these fish in their natural habitats (and enjoying them in my belly).
There are three species of freshwater trout found in Georgia: Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Brown (Salmo trutta), and Brook (Salvelinus fontinalis), but the Brook Trout is the only native species. All of these species are aggressive predators eating anything from macroinvertebrates to sculpin, or even to smaller trout. Unfortunately, Brook Trout are not as aggressive as the Rainbows and Browns, and therefore the only native reproducing populations of Brookies are only found in streams without the other two species present. Trout require cold, clean, and swift moving water with a gravel-based substrate for successful reproduction. This is why trout are only found in streams located throughout North Georgia and are incredibly sensitive to environmental changes in their habitat. Urbanization which leads to an increase of sediment deposition is one of the biggest threats to Georgia’s trout populations. If the gravel substrate slowly fills in with fine sediment, the trout won’t have suitable egg laying habitats and will struggle with reproduction.
Thanks to the GA DNR and the US FWS, more than one million trout are stocked in Georgia every year. There is some natural reproduction, but it wouldn’t suffice the large number of trout anglers in the state. Stocking popular trout streams let’s the anglers still enjoy their favorite past time without depleting the trout populations. The GA DNR stocks all three species of trout to more than a hundred of North Georgia’s streams, but only once they have reached “catchable” size (9-11 inches). Anglers can find an interactive stocking map on their website, along with the rules and regulations for trout fishing in GA. Honestly, I had no idea that trout fishing in Georgia generated over a hundred million dollars annually. This makes me confident that, through more public outreach and education, we can conserve other species like we do with our trout. Just remember the best way to learn is through personal experience so… get out, get wet, and explore Georgia’s streams!