Rainbow Trout Stocking in Knoxville, Tennessee Streams and Rivers

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Examining Rainbow Trout Stocking in Knoxville, Tennessee Area Streams and Rivers

Rainbow trout are one of the most well-known freshwater game fish species in North America. Identifiable by the slender head common with other trout species, rainbows range in shades of brown, tan and blue with dark spots and an easily recognizable reddish streak along each side. Typically, the shades differ with habitat, sex and diet.

Known by the scientific name Oncorhynchus mykiss, these beautiful fish can be found on the western side of the United States, as well as along the Appalachian Trail and parts of Canada. They have a preferred habitat of cold, fast moving streams between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit but can tolerate temperatures slightly colder or warmer (to an extent). Rocky stream bottoms with trees and large rocks make good hiding spots as well as ideal locations for a break from the fast-moving currents in pools.

Trout like to face upstream and wait for different insects or other small prey to be carried to them. Trout are opportunistic feeders, but their diet can include midges, mayflies, caddisflies, various insect larvae as well as small baitfish, crustaceans and anything in between. Artificial imitations of this prey are known colloquially as ‘flies’ in the fly fishing community.

Rainbow Trout Stock in Knoxville Tennessee Streams and Rivers
A juvenile rainbow trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, TN. This individual was caught on a black midge dry fly with a 3-weight fly rod. (Photo via Mitchell Bunch)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) stocks trout regularly in the Knoxville area in both streams and rivers, as well as city and community ponds. The concern with this, however, is specifically with small pond stocking.

The Ethics of Rainbow Trout Stocking in Small Community Ponds

The community ponds often do not stay cold enough in the summers for the rainbow trout to survive. Dead rainbow trout can be seen at these community ponds as the spring turns into summer and water temperatures reach deadly levels for this fragile fish.

As a result, the trout have to be restocked every winter when the population dies out. There are no adult individuals surviving to reproduce each year and therefore no long-term population being reintroduced in the waters. This begs the question of whether or not this is right to allocate resources to this venture each year with no long term sustained population.

The TWRA receives a large majority of its funding from revenue generated by hunting and fishing licenses required by hunters and anglers to partake in both hunting and fishing of the various species within Tennessee state lines. The efficiency of how these funds are being used is worth consideration, however.

When contacted about this topic, University of Tennessee Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries doctoral student Kyler Hecke was able to offer some clarification:

Community ponds, like the fountain city pond pictured above, are stocked in the winter with the expectation that the populations will eventually die off completely. These community ponds are stocked for members of the community to enjoy and take the fish to eat with their families. These are known as seasonal fisheries and the population can also feed larger inhabitants of the ponds.

However, not all individuals of the population are preyed upon or caught before rising water temperatures lead to inevitable death. The main aim of these fisheries is to make trout more accessible to the amateur angler, not to actually establish a population.

Taking this all into consideration, it still leaves an ethical question unanswered: is it right to stock ponds for people’s enjoyment while accepting the unnecessary loss of life and waste of some resources that can be used for other projects?

It is hard to say, but maybe this is a question that is not meant to have a definitive answer.

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