The goal of the program is to create more of them. The program recognizes cities with especially abundant and accessible waterways and works to make them even more accessible and well-stocked, creating a rewarding fishing experience. Then, it makes a special $5, three-day fishing license — which includes a loaner pole and tackle — available, designed for beginning fishermen who want to give the sport a try without laying a lot of capital on the line.
“The trout city is an intro and once you get the bug as a trout fishermen, we hope you will explore the more interesting and diverse waters of Western North Carolina,” Queen said.
Planning the waters
Swain County wants the designation, Bryson City wants the designation and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission wants to give it to them. It will just take some time to work with property owners to create additional access points through town and to decide what, exactly, the boundaries of the town’s Mountain Heritage Trout Waters will be.
Right now, it’s looking like the area will at least include the stretch of the Tuckasegee River between Governor’s Island Bridge and the bridge near Mountain Ford, a length of 2.5 miles. It could also include part of Deep Creek.
“It’s just a really good section down there. We’ve got access on the road on both sides,” said Eugene Shuler, head guide at Fly Fishing in the Smokies and one of the main forces behind the push to get Bryson City the designation.
No matter what the exact boundaries of the waters, they will be well-stocked. Mountain Heritage Trout Waters get a little extra stocking to promote success and, therefore, encourage budding anglers to pursue the sport further. The numbers are based on acreage of water and food available. Estimates put potential stocking numbers for the Tuckasegee portion of the designation at 24,000 trout per square mile.
“It will actually put that river as one of the highest trout count totals in the nation,” Shuler said. “It’s a staggering number of fish to go in that stretch of river.”
From October to June each year, that portion of the Tuck will be a catch-and-release river, with anglers allowed to keep their catches during the summer and fall. The rules and stocking numbers would likely be different for any portion of Deep Creek that fell within the designation, but those details are still being worked out.
A good thing for Bryson
What has been decided, though, is that this is a good thing for Bryson City.
“This area of the country is starting to get really widely recognized as a top fishing destination,” Shuler said. “I think the more that we promote that, the better off it’s going to be. Adding a trout city designation is going to be a huge step to moving that in a positive direction.”
“I think it’s just a natural fit,” said Swain County Manager Kevin King.
It’s not merely a symbolic designation. Trout fishing is big business.
“The [N.C.] Wildlife [Conservation] Commission has done an economic impact of trout fishing in Western North Carolina, and it approaches $200 million,” Queen said. “We have as large an impact in North Carolina as sport fishing does on the coast.”
If Bryson City can get recognized as a prime location for that sport — which, Shuler says, it most certainly is — it can draw on those tourism dollars as well.
That’s a strategy that has worked before. In 2009, Jackson County kicked off the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, which takes anglers to 15 prime spots in the county. Five years later, success is apparent. The trail is attracting new visitors, boosting Jackson County’s total tourism numbers and drawing anglers from as far away as Texas and Montana to fish its waters for the first time.
Swain County is pursuing a similar idea. A new fishing brochure from the Swain County Chamber of Commerce points out 26 separate fishing locations, including information such as the type of water, access instructions, type of fish and which fishing license is required. The fishing guide also has an online form, housed at www.greatsmokiesfishing.com.
With the Trout City designation in place, new anglers will be able to get their start in Swain County and from there explore some of the more remote, interesting waters on the map. Internal review at the Wildlife Conservation Commission will be wrapping up soon, and then a public input period will open. Finally, the commission is expected to approve the designation for good sometime in late spring or early summer 2015. That would make Bryson City the 12th Mountain Heritage Trout Waters city in North Carolina, and the sixth in Queen’s district.
“It’s an introduction fishing opportunity,” Queen said. “If you’ve never done it before, try it. We’re going to provide your poles. It’s only going to cost you $5.”
Brookie on the back
Anglers will soon be able show their support of the fly fishing life with a speckled trout license plate, recently approved by the N.C. General Assembly after N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville filed a bill to create the plate. The plate costs $30 above the price of car registration, with $20 of that going to the N.C. Wildlife Conservation Commission for work supporting fly-fishing in North Carolina.
“It’s a very simple and beautiful plate and we hope to sell tens of thousands of them and enhance the quality of trout fishing,” Queen said.
The full-color plate was designed by Waynesville resident John Jicha, professor of graphic design at Western Carolina University. It features a brook trout in the center on a light blue background, with the words “Native Brook Trout” written in italics at the top.