The line twitched, tightened and tugged.
And from the clear, icy water a dazzling rainbow exploded.
A rainbow trout to be exact – one of approximately 85,000 stocked every winter by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in streams and impoundments across the state.
One of those impoundments is Marrowbone Lake. The day I was there last winter, the temperature was freezing but the fishing was hot.
Photo courtesy of TWRA
The TWRA’s trout stocking is underway.
Casting a tiny spinner into gin-clear, ice-fringed coves, I caught one trout after another. The fish averaged about a foot long. They were spirited little fighters, the winter sun glistening off pink-and-silver sides as they tail-danced on the surface.
The trout are stocked for the purpose of being caught, kept and eaten. Few survive once the water begins to warm in the spring, although a some do in deeper, cooler waters.
There is a seven-fish daily limit, no size limit, on the stocked trout. The TWRA discourages culling – replacing a smaller fish on a stringer with a bigger fish. Trout are delicate and usually won’t survive if put on a stringer and later released.
Once a limit is caught, an angler can continue to fish, but all trout caught beyond the seven on the stringer must be released. When releasing a trout it should be handled as little as possible, and with wet hands in order not to remove the fish’s protective slime.
The trout are hatchery-raised and transported to stocking sites by TWRA fisheries personnel. The trout will bite as soon as they are released.
In addition to a fishing license, a trout license is required, except for holders of a Lifetime License and Sportsman License.
Information about stocking dates and sites, along with detailed trout fishing regulations and license requirements, is available in the Tennessee Fishing Guide and on the TWRA website, tnwildlife.org.
Trout fishing regulations vary in some waters, such as the Caney Fork River, and size and creel restrictions may differ between rainbow, brown and brook trout. But the stocked rainbows are easy to identify (they are illustrated in the Tennessee Fishing Guide), and in most of the stocked waters they are the only trout species present.
Some critics of the winter trout-stocking program believe the Agency’s resources could be better devoted to stocking species of fish that can survive year-round and reproduce.
But the trout stockings are popular, affording average anglers a chance to catch a special type of fish, and the TWRA says the program more than pays for itself through the sale of trout licenses, bait and tackle.
Favorite baits include kernels of yellow corn, worms, salmon eggs and an array of commercial trout baits. The trout also can be caught on artificial lures, including small spinners, crank baits, and flies and streamers. A specially designed “Trout Magnet” jig is also effective.
I’ve heard complaints that hatchery trout are mushy and not good to eat, but I haven’t found that to be the case. The stocked trout are no more “mushy” than native trout, and are delicious when rolled in corn meal and pan-fried.
The little trout are testy and tasty. What’s not to like?