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Game fish stocking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

One of the great ways to relax in the Great Smoky Mountains National park is by fishing in the creeks, streams, and rivers throughout the park.

Since fishing has been popular in the national park even before it was even designated a park, there has been tremendous pressure on the native fish stocks. Currently fishing in the parks waterways is fantastic due to current restoration efforts and in part due to the stocking of non native fish in the past.

Loggers first started stocking fish in the streams of Smoky Mountains in 1910. The fish they were stocking was the non native rainbow trout which to this day is one of the most sought after fish by anglers in the park.

Since the national parks creation in the 1930s, fishing has long been one of the parks most popular uses of the park and as a result the national park service had fish stocking programs.

Without realizing that the introduction of non native species was in direct violation of the National Park Service policies of protecting native species and the elimination of exotic species from the protected habit of a National Park, the park service ran a fishery management program that stocked fish for 30 years.

While the park service was stocking exotic fish, they were adding rainbow trout and northern strains of brook trout into creeks and streams all throughout the park until the early 1950s. After the early 50’s up until when the non native fish stocking program was dropped in 1975, the decision by the park service was to only stock non native fish in very heavily fished areas such as popular campgrounds, near picnic areas and some roadsides.

Fish Restoration in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

At this point there is no longer any fish stocking programs going on in the park but there are active native fish restoration programs to re-establish native species which have been quite successful.

The National Park Service policy and guideline of only stocking native species back into the park if the species endangered or threatened has been hampered by the lack of funds in the park service but thanks to the generosity of the following organizations which helped raise the moneys need with the park service, you may now fish for and keep brook trout which have been closed to fishing as a protected species in the park since 1976:

The brook trout have been in trouble since the early 1900 due to logging and the importing and stocking of the non native rainbow trout. As a result the brook trout which is the only native trout in the Smoky Mountains National Park was reduced to a quarter of its original range within the park borders. To restore the fish population did not just mean dropping Brook trout into the water and let nature take its course.

This successful fish restoration program began in 1987 and the areas that the restoration was to take place were carefully chosen. The restoration waters had to have natural barriers such as steep inclines, waterfalls and natural damning in order to prevent the re invasion of the of non native rainbow trout and brown trout who would decimate the brook trout’s population.

The nonnative trout were first removed mainly through the use of electrical fishing so as not to harm the fragile habit. Once the exotic fish were completely removed form the restoration area, the brook trout fingerlings were released in the wild. These areas were then closed to fishing for three years and carefully monitored to make sure the restored fish repopulated the restoration area. Once it was determined a section was successful, it was open to fishing.

The park service then conducted a 3 year fishing study of the areas that the brook trout have been repopulated and after checking 8 waters that were closed to fishing versus 8 waterways that were not closed to fishing, it was determined that the brook trout population did not suffer from angling.

Brook trout restoration joins the Elk restoration in the national park as a complete success. With careful monitoring and anglers sticking to the fishing limits set by the park service, we should expect the 100 miles of area that are exclusively occupied by brook trout expand.

On sad note, air pollution and the acid rain cause by the air pollution may be the next greatest threat to the brook trout population as well as many of the aquatic creatures of the park and the plants and animals that depend on them for their survival.

The other threatened fish species the National Park Service is attempting to restore right now are spotfin chub and the Smoky Mountain madtom who once thrived within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Your Smokies Fishing in the National Park pages: