Trout fishing is big business in western North Carolina. Statewide, trout fishing had a $384 million economic impact, according to a study published in 2015 for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Trout fishing supports 3,600 jobs in North Carolina, and hatchery-supported waters draw the most anglers.
The Bobby N. Setzer State Fish Hatchery in Pisgah National Forest, the state’s largest, now produces about 250,000 pounds of trout annually, or 70 percent of the state’s total. The hatchery has 16 indoor rearing tanks, where trout are kept until they are about 3 inches long, and 54 outdoor raceways, where the fish are grown until they are at least 10 inches long. The trout are released into the nearby Davidson River, or are trucked to other local rivers, such as the North Mills or East Fork of the French Broad River, and 14 other western North Carolina counties.
Visitors to the hatchery, located next to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, can drop a coin in the fish food dispensers and watch a feeding frenzy take place among the rainbow, brown and brook trout.
•Rainbow trout are native to the Pacific drainages of western North America but have been introduced throughout mountain streams in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. As with other trout, rainbows inhabit streams, rivers, ponds and lakes with good water quality and temperatures that rarely exceed 70 F. They have a tendency, more so than brook or brown trout, the Resources Commission said, to live in faster currents. Spawning occurs primarily in late winter. The rainbow trout is named because of the broad, lateral stripe on its sides, which ranges from pink to red. Its back is olive-green, its belly is whitish, with heavy black speckling on all fins and the entire body.
•A brown trout is golden brown to olive brown with yellowish sides. Its back and sides have dark spots encircled with light yellow or white. Some brown trout also have orange or red spots on their sides. Native to Europe and western Asia, according to the Resources Commission, brown trout were introduced to North America in the late 1800s. Brown trout are often reclusive and live close to underwater structures, such as fallen trees and undercut banks. Larger specimens can often be caught near dark and after rain storms that result in dingy water. They can survive slightly warmer water temperatures than other trout species. Spawning primarily occurs in the fall.
•Brook trout are native to eastern United States and Canada, according to the Resources Commission. Two strains of brook trout exist in North Carolina. The southern strain is identical in appearance to the northern strain but is genetically unique and native to North Carolina. Rainbow and brown trout are believed to outcompete brook trout for habitat and food. Wild brook trout are often limited to small headwater streams. The brook trout is greenish brown, with light red spots on its sides. It has dark, wavy, worm-like lines on the back and white edges on the fins, including the tail.