Since a fish kill, in February of 2000, that destroyed more than ten miles of the trout fishery in Carter County, the Watauga River has been on the road to recovery, says the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
The fish kill was caused by runoff from the effort to put out a fire at the North American facility in Elizabethton.
Restocking of the river began in late spring of 2000. Since that time,
there have been 294,054 brook trout, 118,639 brown trout, and 932,043
rainbow trout released into the Wilbur tailwater, which includes the area of the fish kill.
TWRA has been conducting annual trout population surveys on the Watauga
River since 1999. Surveys are done with boats equipped with electrofishing equipment. The fish, temporarily stunned by the electrical
current, are dipped up with a net, measured, weighed, and returned to the
“The 2006 Wilbur tailwater (Watauga River) trout population assessment is
complete and produced the best electrofishing catch rates TWRA has ever recorded there,” said Jim Habera, TWRA trout biologist. “Catch rates for all size classes of trout (over 7", over 14", and over 18") exceeded those obtained in any survey since annual monitoring began.”
“Trout catch rates in the 10-mile section impacted by the 2000 fish kill, particularly for larger fish (over 14" and over 18"), have been steadily improving and are now well above the pre-kill level,” continued Habera.
“The highlight of the recent effort was a 29.8", 10.7 lb. brown trout
captured in the fish-kill zone just above the Blevins Bend access area.
This was the largest trout Agency biologists have ever taken during the
Watauga River monitoring program.”
The Watauga River includes a Quality Trout Fishing Area, which encompasses
that section from Smalling Bridge downstream to the CSX railroad bridge.
In this section, the daily creel limit is two trout over 14 inches in
length. Legal baits are artificial lures only.