New boundaries in place for Watauga River

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   If you plan on fishing the Watauga River this weekend, be aware the quality trout zone boundaries have now changed.
   Starting this Saturday, the new boundary for trout fishing starts at the lower end of the first island downstream from the TWRA access area on Blevins Road and extends downstream to the railroad bridge at the town of Watauga.
   This does not include the island itself close to the TWRA access area.
   This replaces the old boundary, which previously stretched from Smalling Bridge to the Highway 400 Bridge in Watauga.
   "The reason that we did it now is that Rinker donated some property and it gave us a good opportunity to change the lower boundary," said Dennis Ward of the TWRA. "We've talked about extending the boundary for some time now, but the donation helped us to do this."
   The quality trout zone was established in 1988 and it gives guidelines when fishing for trout in this section of the river. These include a limit of two trout that are a minimum of 14" long. The use of anything other than an artificial lure, whether it is live bait, corn or any other natural substance, is prohibited.
   The zoning plan has helped this stretch of the Watauga become a hotbed for anglers in search of the big catch.
   "We see people come here from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina on a regular basis," stated Ward. "It's not out of the ordinary to see them come in other parts of the country. That section of the river gets fishing pressure from all over the country.
   "That's why we watch it pretty regular. We are not out there to bother anyone. You just see so many different people out there fishing. The public is aware of all the pressure on the stream also. If they see someone keeping small fish or extra fish, they are quick to let us know about it."
   It is important to note that the restrictions only apply to trout. Only statewide regulations must be followed in catching other types of fish. The areas of the river outside the quality zone, such as Johnson City and other parts of Carter County fall under state trout fishing guidelines.
   If there is a testament to how well the quality zone program has worked, it can be measured by the strong fish population not too long after a fire at a local industry dumped a large amount of waste into the river.
   "The fish population has really come back," said Ward. "We've been real pleased with how they have done. All the fishermen I have talked to are pleased with the fish population and how well they have come back.
   "We do a stream survey in the same stretch of water year after year. I've talked with the stream biologist and he seems pleased with the number of fish."
   The TWRA has also been hard at work doing their part replenishing the stream with the chief goal of developing quality larger fish.
   "We are pretty aggressive stocking above and below the zone," said Ward. "We also have fish stocked in the zone. We like to use fingerlings in the zone, as they grow there to be more of a wild fish.
   "The majority of fish we get to stock the river with come from the fish hatchery over at Erwin. We have another hatchery at Tellico and get more trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services."
   With the new property the agency has received, they further plan on helping the anglers of the Watauga by paving a ramp near the southbound portion of the boundary.
   The TWRA agents have been hard at work the last couple of days posting new signs along the river to ensure that everyone is made aware of the changes. Like stated earlier, they go into effect immediately. If you plan fishing this portion of the Watauga River this weekend, it is important that you pay close attention to the new zones, so you stay away from penalties and fines.