The Transylvania Times -

By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

State Officials Note Changes In Trout Population - Brevard NC


November 23, 2017

The trout fishing experience in the Davidson River has been on a steady decline in the last couple of decades, according to representatives from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWCR) and local anglers.

Some local anglers say that the fishing was at its best in the mid-1980s.

This is partly due to new management practices at the Pisgah fish hatchery, beginning a few years ago. Before then, researchers estimate 500-600 fish were escaping the raceways per week, and the river was being fed, as well.

Large quantities of fish feed were released into the river on a regular basis, which helped the trout population. Those practices have been shored up, and the river has returned to more of a natural state.

Amanda Bushon, District 9 fisheries biologist and Jake Rash, cold-water research coordinator, summarized data collected at various sites on the river during the most recent meeting Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited. District 9 consists of the 12 most Western counties in the state.

Notably, the Davidson River had no data collected on it between 1993 and 2012. The two most recent sets of samples used to gather information came from 1990 to 1993 and from 2014 to 2017.

Bushon told the audience of about 35 people that the fishing hasn’t been as great recently, and she was tasked to tease out data to figure out what is going on.

The Davidson River is in Trout Unlimited’s collection of 100 Best Streams, a comprehensive guide to the best streams in the country. Bushon said that there are more than 4,000 trout streams in Western North Carolina, and 1,000 of them were managed to protect wild trout fisheries. The NCWCR started long-term monitoring projects all over the WNC region from 1989 to 1996.

“What we found out was that trout populations vary from year to year,” Bushon said. “Fast forward to 2012, we decided that in the face of things, like climate change, we needed to start thinking more about our trout populations again and figure out how they’re working. So, we started another long-term monitoring project in 2012. We have done a pretty good job in the first five years sampling different sites and adding to the database, which is the data for some of the trout populations at 500 sites in Western North Carolina.”

Rash is working with a Clemson University professor to crunch the data to help guide trout management. The data isn’t available to the public just yet, however.

To continue adding to this database, Rash is developing an ARC GIS survey app for smart phones, where users will be able to use GPS coordinates to identify problem areas, such as eroding and undercutting banks, sediment deposits, serious erosion issues or other forms of water pollution.

Users can then mark their location, snap a photo and send it along to those researching and studying local streams.

Sampling for trout in the Davidson isn’t easy, however. The river is wide, ever changing and deep in places. Access to sites takes time. Currently, sampling sites are above the fish hatchery at the Daniel Ridge parking area, at the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery itself, the confluence with Looking Glass Creek and the lowest site just above Avery Creek.

Scientists use a device that temporarily shocks the fish.The weight and length of the trout are measured, as well as species identification, and whether the fish appears to be farm-raised or wild-born. Abnormalities such as deformed dorsal and side fins from being crammed into the raceways show that those fish were farm raised.

Beginning at the upper site, scientists found that the fish with the highest population densities were the rainbow trout, with about 170 per acre. Brown trout densities at this location were about 50 per acre. Brown trout grow the largest of the different species found locally.

Moving downstream, Bushon said she found densities that were higher than she expected, at about 50 – 160 rainbow per acre, and higher numbers for brown trout, which were close to 100. At the lower site, the river appears to return to a more natural state, with samples matching the numbers of the 1990s.

To summarize, she said trout lengths are consistent, while density and biomass estimates vary. Sampling will continue through next summer.

“I didn’t see any big discernable trends, no drastic decreases except for the change in management at the fish hatchery,” Bushon said. “A lot of fish were going into a stream that was not meant to be stocked, and a lot of feed contracts and bad feed were coming into the hatchery over the years. Twenty percent of the feed could have been going out into the Davidson. I am sure some of you remember the floating mats of feed. We know from previous research that if you feed a stream it will grow. In the spring of ’14 new management shored up those historic practices and got the hatchery running more efficiently. None, if any, are escaping and there is no feed leaving the hatchery anymore either. Water quality leaving the hatchery is better. The stream was being artificially altered by these releases. Now, it’s returning to a wild trout stream.”

An audience member asked if they have stopped releasing eggs and fingerlings in the river. Bushon said that was no longer happening. Bushon said that some simple things that local anglers already know could help improve the trout health in the river, but educating visitors is difficult. Fishing when the water temperature is above 70 degrees is widely accepted as unethical, and handling the fish unnecessarily is also frowned upon. Working with the U.S. Forest Service, the commission is trying to install more educational signs along the Davidson River corridor.

“We need you guys and gals who are out there fishing to help us,” said Rash. “We’re all working towards the same goal, but we can’t be everywhere at once.”

Another audience member said that the roads above the hatchery were causing serious sedimentation into both the river and the hatchery itself. He asked if there was any data about sedimentation in the river. Bushon said there was no data about sedimentation on the Davidson.

To learn more about the app in development and stay up to date on all things trout locally, visit or


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