Larry Trout

Stocked rainbow trout are ready for the taking. 

I flipped a tiny spinner along the edge of an ice-rimmed bank, allowed it to flutter down a few feet in the gin-clear water, and began a slow retrieve.

Something bumped it – just a tap – and I set the hook.

A dazzling rainbow trout rocketed from the water.

The 12-inch trout tail-danced across the surface, pink and silver sides glistening in the winter sun, then bored back into the icy depths. A minute later it was wriggling in the net.

It was mid-February and I was fishing on Marrowbone Lake for trout released by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency during its annual winter stocking program. Marrowbone is one 43 waters across the state that receive some 75,000 hatchery-raised rainbow trout. They are put in to be taken out – not many survive once the water begins to warm in the spring.

Some criticize the trout-stocking program, claiming the TWRA funds should go to species that survive year-round.

Most, however, consider the money well-spent. The hatchery program is financed primarily by the sale of trout licenses, and the stocked trout give Tennessee anglers a chance to catch a special type of fish.

No fancy, expensive tackle is needed to catch stocked hatchery trout. A simple spinning rod or fly rod, a few small spinners or baits, and you’re in business.

Hatchery trout bite as soon as they are released into the water. An old joke is that you know where the trout are being stocked by the long line of fishermen following the hatchery truck.

There’s nothing wrong that. The fish are fun to catch, fight hard, and are delicious to eat. Some claim hatchery trout are too mushy; I’ve eaten both wild trout and hatchery trout, and I can’t tell any difference once they’re pan-fried and crispy.

The only criticism – or suggestion – I have is that the trout should be bigger before being released. They average only 10-12 inches. Giving them another year of growth in the hatchery would produce bigger trout and a better use of the resource.

I fish with tiny spinners, but most any small lure fished on light line is effective, along with flies and streamers and special Trout Magnets – little lead-heads with plastic bodies. Best baits are yellow corn, salmon eggs, worms and commercial trout nibblets.

The daily limit is seven, no size limit. You can keep fishing after catching a limit, but the fish must be released. Culling – replacing a smaller trout on a stringer with a bigger one – is discouraged because the released fish probably won’t survive.

A trout license is required, except for holders of a Sportsman’s License or Lifetime License, even if no trout are kept.

They’re ready and waiting.