Georgia Trout Hatcheries Recover From Brutal 2006 Summer Heat

Survival rate and surplus from other states mean Georgia anglers will see a higher percentage of brown trout than usual.

GON Staff | March 1, 2007

A batch of rainbow trout fingerlings swim in one of the hatchery raceways. The WRD releases about a million catchable-sized trout in Georgia waters each year.

Despite a rough, hot summer at Georgia’s fish hatcheries, the WRD’s trout-stocking program is in good shape, and Georgia’s trout anglers have a good season to look forward to thanks to a mild winter and a little help from hatcheries outside the state.

“We had a tough time at the end of last summer. July and August were so hot that our stream temps in our stream-fed hatcheries were way up,” said WRD Trout Stocking Coordinator Perry Thompson. “We were having such a hard time in our hatcheries that we really went into survival mode just trying to keep our fingerlings alive for the spring of 2007.”

The hot, dry weather in July and August not only hurt growth and survival rates in the hatcheries, it kept the WRD from stocking many of the streams scheduled to receive fish after July 4, when stream temperatures peaked. By August, very few of the streams scheduled for stocking maintained temperatures low enough for trout to survive, and the WRD made stocking decisions on a day-to-day basis depending on the on-site conditions, Perry said. However, last year’s adverse conditions should not greatly affect this year’s fishing.

“We’ve had a fantastic comeback, I would say. Things actually look really good,” Perry said. “We were really afraid we weren’t going to have a very good year, but with the fall and the mild winter weather, we’re going to be able to stock a good number of healthy fish.”

Georgia’s hatcheries had good fall and winter survival and growth rates, but they also got a helping hand, receiving surplus fingerlings from the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Kentucky and a batch of brown trout from the Walhalla, S.C. hatchery.

Perry made an early estimate that the WRD will release a little more than a million hatchery-raised trout into about 130 Georgia streams and a few small lakes this season. That number is a little less than, but about on par with, the annual average. Most of the fish will be catchable size, in the 9- to 10-inch range with a few 12-inchers and larger mixed in on larger streams like the Tallulah, Soque and Chattahoochee rivers.

One difference in this year’s stocking program, that anglers might notice, is a higher percentage of brown trout than in previous years. Typically about 95 percent of the trout WRD releases during the spring and summer are rainbow trout, with the remaining 5 percent being brown trout. In recent years, many of Georgia’s hatchery browns were reserved for release into Lake Burton to create both a trophy fishery, and to control the population of blueback herring in the lake. Lake Burton is still getting its share of brown trout, but the WRD has more brown trout than usual this year.

“This will be the first year in a while that we’ve had this many brown trout to work with,” Perry said.

WRD fisheries technicians (from left) Robert Hosey, Pat Markey, Tony Beck and Andy Wentworth transfer trout from a truck.

The survival rate during July and August was better for brown trout at the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery, Perry said. The surplus fish from South Carolina also helped to increase Georgia’s percentage of brown trout available for stocking this season. Perry projected that 75 percent of the fish stocked this year will be rainbows, and 25 percent will be browns.

As usual, the streams and rivers that are most popular with anglers will get the most fish. Also, over the last five years, WRD has moved away from stocking streams and rivers bordered by privately owned land because public access to these streams is diminishing.

“It used to be one guy would own hundreds of acres, and he wouldn’t mind if people came on his property to fish,” Perry said. “But there’s such a development craze going on that land is being subdivided and with so many different landowners — they’re just not allowing people to fish any more.”

The percentage of brown trout to be released in Georgia will be higher than usual, meaning anglers may see more browns in the state’s hatchery-supported waters this year.

“We try to put fish where there is access — where people can get to them. There’s guaranteed access on public land, so that’s where our focus is. It’s based on the amount of fishing pressure, and whether it’s public land. It’s based on the size of the stream, also. If it’s all on public land, it gets more fish.”

Here’s a list of Georgia’s more popular streams and the projected number of trout they will receive:

• Chattahoochee River and tributaries in and upstream of Helen in the Chattahoochee WMA — 50,000 trout per year.

• Chattahoochee River tailwater downstream of Buford Dam — 159,000 trout per year.

• Tallulah River Rabun County — 50,000 trout per year.

• Toccoa River tailwater downstream of Lake Blue Ridge — 20,000 trout per year.

Other popular streams: Wildcat Creek, Rabun County; Panther Creek and the Middle Broad River, Stephens County; Rock Creek, Fannin County; Coopers Creek, Union County.

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