TWRA reverses Watauga quality trout zone boundary

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Commission on Thursday reversed an earlier decision to extend the quality trout boundaries on the Watauga River after experiencing public outcry from Carter County residents living along the river.
   "In essence, it is very similar to the way it used to be," said Frank Fiss, fisheries biologist with the TWRA in Nashville. "It is approximately 470 feet in difference, or .089 miles."
   The commission voted to keep the former upstream boundary at Smalling Bridge while setting the downstream quality trout zone boundary at the CSX railroad bridge.
   The agency changed the quality zone boundaries in January. The new boundary for trout fishing had been set at the first island downstream from the TWRA access area on Blevins Road to the railroad bridge at the town of Watauga.
   The original quality zone boundary stretched from Smalling Bridge downstream to U.S. Highway 400 at the city of Watauga. The TWRA Commission, which makes the agency's regulations, changed the quality zone from the downstream tip of the island below the Blevins Road access point downstream to the CSX railroad bridge.
   "We are talking about 470 feet of difference," said Fiss. "We wanted to allow everybody to fish there."
   The quality trout zone was established in 1988 to provide guidelines to anglers fishing for trout in this section of the river. The use of anything other than an artificial lure, whether it is live bait, corn or any other natural substance, is prohibited in a quality trout zone.
   Fiss said the boundaries were initially changed after the agency purchased property and developed a new river access area upstream from the old boundary. He also said the redesignation had generated opposition from landowners living along the river.
   Local lawmakers, Rep. Jerome Cochran, R-Elizabethton, and Sen. Dewey "Rusty" Crowe, R-Johnson City, said they had questioned the new boundary due to prohibitions for use.
   "We've been working to try and get this reversed because the property owners were really against it," said Cochran.
   Crowe said he had received dozens of petitions, letters, and telephone calls from constituents opposing the new quality trout zone designation.
   "The crux of this is that the history and heritage of that river runs really deep," said Crowe. "The people on that river had never denied a fly fisher the right to fish. For them to say, 'we appreciate that but you can't fish there with worms or corn', just didn't seem right to us."
   Both lawmakers felt the designation process did not afford county residents living on the river a proper opportunity to voice their opinions about the decision.
   "The people it involved were not contacted properly," said Crowe. "Jerome and I worked for some time with (TWRA Executive Director) Gary Myers, and I am really pleased that the TWRA Commission decided to listen to the people on the river."
   Cochran said what rankled many citizens was the notion that parents couldn't take their children with a rod, reel, and some nightcrawlers and fish along the banks of the Watauga at their leisure.
   "People can go down there and fish with their kids with worms and not get upset about what it is going to mean in terms of the quality zone regulations," said Cochran.
   The Watauga has grown into a popular destination for sports fishermen of all persuasion angling for a trophy fish in the quality trout zone and upstream.