Last week I fished a river that was teeming with trout. In just a couple of hours I strung a limit of seven rainbows, and released twice that many more.
I wasn't wading some remote wilderness stream, accessible only by pack-mule. I was fishing from the banks of Stones River below Percy Priest dam, with interstate traffic rumbling nearby.
I had the river virtually to myself. There was one other fisherman casting for stripe near the dam, and I met another coming in as I was going out.
The Stones River trout were stocked by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, part of two million keeper-size rainbows released every winter in waters across the state.
The TWRA website (tnwildlife.org) lists the tentative stocking schedule, which is also posted in the 2014 Tennessee Fishing Guide. There are trout-stocked waters within a short drive of every Middle Tennessee fisherman.
Nowadays I fish for stockers primarily in the Stones River and Marrowbone Lake. In the past I've caught them in Mill Creek, Calfkiller Creek, the Obed River, Bucksnort, Pine Creek and Caney Fork.
The first rainbows I caught, some 50 years ago, were stocked in the upper reaches of the Sequatchie River. Prior to that, the only trout I'd ever seen on were in the pages of Outdoor Life and Field & Stream.
Having grown up on a steady diet of farm-pond bass, bluegills and bullheads, landing a dazzling, tail-dancing rainbow trout was a breath-taking experience. Catching your first trout is like getting your first smooch from the prom queen, only better -- you don't have to buy the fish a corsage.
Wading the sparkling, icy Sequatchie and cleaning my speckled beauties on its fern-choked, mossy banks, I felt like my outdoor-writing hero, Ted Trueblood.
The TWRA's stocking program gives average anglers an opportunity to catch a relatively-exotic fish. Fishing for wild trout tends to be demanding in terms of tackle and travel, as well as challenging. Negotiating slippery river bottoms, reading the water, and matching the hatch with wispy flies on the end of a spider-web leader is not for everyone.
Hatchery trout are more accessible and less fickle.
A trout license is required to fish for trout, whether the fish are kept or not. The fee supports the TWRA's trout hatcheries, and related stocking expenses. A Sportsman's License or Lifetime License covers the trout license.
Once a seven-fish limit is on the stringer on in a creel, the angler can continue to fish, but all additional fish must be released. Culling -- replacing a smaller trout on the stringer with a bigger one -- is discouraged, because the once-strung fish probably won't recover.
The stocked trout are intended to be caught and kept for consumption. Not many survive the warming springtime waters, although some do.
Once dumped into the water, hatchery trout tend to remain in that area for awhile and are easily -- some feel too easily -- caught. Gradually, though, they disperse and become more like wild fish.
I caught my Stones Rivers rainbows on Trout Magnets -- tiny jigs with colorful plastic tails -- but small spinners are effective, as are salmon eggs, yellow corn and an array of commercial trout baits.
Trout are a double-treat -- exciting on the end of a line and delicious on a platter.