In east Tennessee the Appalachian Mountain range has approximately 625 miles of streams where trout naturally reproduce. Most of these streams are found on public lands in the Cherokee National Forest. An additional 220 miles of wild trout water can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These wild populations include brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Trout are so abundant in these waters that stocking is not needed.
Although these trout make it seem easy, surviving in cold headwaters streams is
challenging. Food is limited and natural fluctuations in water flows
(floods and droughts) periodically hinder these populations. Yet they still
thrive, providing a very unique fishing opportunity for those that want to head
for the mountains. Because food is limited wild trout will readily take most types
of bait or small lures. Several wild trout streams are managed by
special regulations to promote better fishing.
Brook trout are native to Tennessee's cold headwater streams at elevations over 3,000 feet. Brook trout prefer water temperatures less than 68o F. They spawn in the fall and juveniles emerge from the gravel in the spring. In wild trout streams brook trout rarely live longer than 5 years of age.
At one time all trout water in Tennessee was inhabited by brook trout. In the late 1800s many populations were lost due to primitive logging techniques and several of their populations were replaced with stocked rainbow trout. TWRA biologists, in cooperation with the US Forest Service and Great Smoky Mountain National Park biologists have recently expanded the range of brook trout by stocking native strains of brook trout back into their native waters. Today, we have about 150 brook trout streams in Tennessee.
An angler's typical catch ranges from 4 to 8 inches in length and brook trout rarely exceed 12 inches in mountain streams. The statewide minimum length limit is 6 inches.
Rainbow trout were originally introduced into Tennessee in the late 1880s and are now the predominant trout species in the state. Wild populations are found in about 300 streams. Rainbow trout spawn in late winter and their juvenile hatch out in early spring. They can tolerate temperature slightly warmer than brook trout, preferring water temperatures below 70o F. In wild trout streams rainbow trout rarely live longer than 5 years of age.
Brown trout are only common in about 25 streams, but offer
the best opportunity to catch a trophy wild trout. A recent research study found
that wild brown trout in Tennessee streams can live up to 12 years of age. And brown
trout over 20 inches in length are occasionally observed, even in smaller streams.
Brown trout prefer temperatures below 75o F and spawn in the fall.