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Opening All Georgia Trout Waters to Year-Round Fishing

Fish2DMax

Jerry A
The general public in the State of Georgia will be asked to make a decision concerning our converting to an overall State wide year round trout season. Scoping meetings are an initial indicator followed by a survey to the 144,000 or so that purchased a trout stamp and provided their email address to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). The WRD is responsible for Fish & Wildlife Management in Georgia and in doing so regulates hunting, fishing, and the operation of watercraft in Georgia, protects non-game and endangered wildlife, and maintains public education to ensure that Georgia's natural resources will be conserved for our present and future generations. Programs are focused on game animals, sport fish and nongame wildlife, which includes threatened and endangered species.

I attended the Public Scoping Meeting held in Gainesville, Georgia on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 regarding proposed Changes in Trout Regulations. The keynote speaker was Mr. Jeff Durniak of the WRD and 5 of his staff along with two local Rangers from the Law Enforcement Division. We had an audience of ten interested anglers and business owners in attendance. Mr. Durniak said that a version of the presentation he was making would be made available to the public soon which I took to mean after the second Public Scoping Meeting next week. After that the anglers that provided their email address when they purchased their trout stamp would be surveyed and opportunities for additional public input would be presented after that. Allowing time for legislation it was not anticipated that any changes would be made prior to November1, 2015.

The presentation provided detailed research and outlined that this is really an opportunity to simplify Georgia?s complex trout fishing regulations. At present an angler must be familiar with the waters they anticipate fishing in or carry a map along that detail which waters are to year-round fishing and which are delayed harvest streams with a seven month season. No other changes are proposed beyond making all water in the State of Georgia applicable to a year-round fishing season. It is a simplification process that should make fishing for trout in Georgia easier for the angler.

Before I dive into the presentation let?s cover a few quick facts.

Georgia has 4,000 miles of designated trout waters. This includes spring fed streams in the Appalachian Mountain foothills along with three man-made tail water opportunities at Lake Blue Ridge, Lake Burton and Buford Dam on Lake Sidney Lanier. Of these 60% are already running at a year-round season status and 40% are the delayed harvest streams with a season that runs seven months from April to October. The 2014 delayed harvest Trout Season ran from March 29, 2014 to October 31, 2014.

Regarding wild trout Georgia has native Brown Trout in 20 streams, Brook Trout in 100 streams along with the plentiful Rainbow Trout throughout north Georgia. The Brook Trout is a federally monitored strain denoted as the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (SABT) that has lost significant habitat over the past few decades. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park biologists are continuing to study the SABT with intent to protect the delicate native fish.

So for our decision there are really two main issues to consider. First there's the Biology of a wild trout resource and second is the Social aspects associated with trout angling in Georgia. The wild trout were selected vs the put and take stocked fish because they are a native and natural entity that cannot be replicated in a controlled setting and replaced as the others are annually. Through many years of study and comparison on Georgia waters as well as neighboring States and one Federal agency the limiting factor for wild trout is the water quality, flow of streams and available food sources.

For trout in Georgia the water quality should be clear and below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This presents a problem in both streams and hatcheries in the heat of a Georgia summer. The constant flow of these streams is paramount to the survivability of the eggs and larval offspring. I found it interesting that the Rainbow trout spawn in the winter to the spring while the Brook Trout and the Brown Trout will spawn in the fall. You see the process is that the parent trout skims the stream bottom to remove silt and deposits the eggs into the gravel. The eggs mature and become egg sac carrying larvae while still living in the gravel at the bottom of the stream. They emerge at ?? to 1? in length and compete with each other for food. In a drought year the pools concentrate the available population. In a flood condition the gravel is displaced and it is known that the following year the number of trout in the stream will be low. But sampling indicated that they typically rebound the year after that as the data they presented showed.

The wild trout in Georgia have a short lifespan, perhaps 3-4 years. They mature early, may never grow beyond 8 inches in length and are resilient through drought, flood and other environmental factors. This does not mean that the fish have an easy time of it. To the contrary the cold water streams are primarily founded on granite bedrock, have low water hardness in most places while natural effluents like high iron content are present in other places and as with any ecosystem the available forage of aquatic insects are limited by nature. The Brown Trout is the only one that will supplement his diet with crayfish and other small trout.

None of these factors would change if the State of Georgia were to go to a year round season status on all streams. What also will not change is our Million Trout Stocking Program. This program encompasses the process of growing out supplemental 9 inch trout that the State of Georgia raises and places into these waters as a put and take angling opportunity. It was offered that they cannot promise what they cannot deliver with limited space in the hatcheries and a limited State budget.

The second issue concerning changes in the social aspect involves the deep rooted family traditions where they have always gathered to enjoy opening day of Trout Season for these delayed harvest, non-year-round, streams. There are business interests in the mountains that rely upon this annual spike in business and tourism. Lastly there would be an enforcement challenge for the Rangers that are already spread thin and the stocking program which was already detailed as a finite resource. Georgia has 9.5 million residents living in 159 counties and there are 175 Law Enforcement Rangers that cover the State. They absorbed the impact when the current trout waters were made year-round and have stepped up to the plate to cover the remaining 40% of streams on a year-round basis should the change take place. They are supplemented by residents and the Ranger Hotline. Call 1-800-241-4113 or *DNR (AT&T Mobility Customers) 7 days a week / 24 hours a day to report anything suspicious to the Law Enforcement Division Conservation Rangers (more commonly known as a "Game Warden").

Hard data was presented as comparisons were made from information collected from a six year study that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park biologists had performed as well as from the States of Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina through various collection and resultant studies they each have undertaken. Georgia is somewhat conservative with regard to harvest regulations and seasons compared to these surrounding States; all of which, according to the presentation, already have a year round trout season. Georgia has no minimum size limit, with the exceptions of trophy managed water, and a daily creel and possession limit of 8 trout.

A plug was made for the general public to Help Conserve Georgia Wildlife by purchasing or renewing a Wildlife License Plate. These efforts significantly contribute to Georgia?s Wildlife Conservation Fund. I believe they said that due to recent changes in the Legislature providing the funding to Georgia?s Wildlife Conservation Fund instead of the General Fund the figure they received increased from around $4,000 per month to $10,000 per month. With this they have purchased new trucks, accomplished much needed repairs at hatcheries and hired a few summer interns to help with the efforts.

During the Q&A portion of the program other issues were discussed including increasing the number of artificial only streams to which we were gently guided back to the main issue of the night?s meeting; a simplification of regulations to make a single year-round season for all of Georgia?s trout waters ? an important resource protected for the public to enjoy. Other issues were discussed and it was purely a pleasure for me to be a part of these proceedings and to interact with our WRD biologists and Conservation Rangers.  

Sources

Changes in Trout Regulations - Public Scoping Meeting Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014; Author Jerry Adams attended

PowerPoint Presentation of the meeting will soon be available at www.georgiawildlife.com

The Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) http://www.georgiawildlife.com/

DNR DIVISIONS & PROGRAMS http://www.gadnr.org/divisions

NATURAL RESOURCES IN GEORGIA http://www.gadnr.org/natural
 
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