North Carolina's Delayed Harvest waters create a fine opportunity for catch-and-release trout fishing throughout the cool months. Photo by Nathaniel Samsel.
With the beginning of October at the beginning of this week came one more new beginning -- and one that is noteworthy for Southern trout fishermen. October 1 marked the beginning of another Delayed Harvest trout season on several streams in western North Carolina. From Oct. 1 through the first Saturday in June, only single-hook artificial lures may be used or possessed on these waters, and all trout caught must be immediately released. Throughout the "delay" season, the DH waters stay heavily stocked with rainbows, browns and brook trout.
North Carolina's DH program, which began on four streams in the early 1990s, makes great use of streams that offer fine trout habitat during the cool months but suffer from summer stress. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission loads these waters with trout during the time when the habitat is best, and then allows a harvest to begin about the time the habitat quality would begin to diminish in early June. Because of its extreme popularity, the DH program has expanded dramatically and now includes 29 waterways in 16 North Carolina counties and is also used in several surrounding states, including my home state of Georgia. North Carlina 's list of DH waters includes four new stream sections this season.
Delayed Harvest waters range from creeks you could hop across to fairly large mountain rivers and vary from from tumbling and rugged to nearly pancake flat. Some have good roadside access; others require more walking. All get stocked with roughly the same density of trout based on their normal total volume, with a mix of 40 percent rainbows, 40 percent brook trout and 20 percent brown trout. And while fish average a little less than a foot in length, the NCWRC always includes some "quality fish" as a bonus to keep things extra interesting for fishermen.
I typically make at least a few trips to North Carolina's Delayed Harvest waters during the catch-and-release season, and while no plans have been set in stone, I certainly hope that this season will be no different.