Large Photo of Commissioners

Three Commissioners

Above Left to right, Commissioners Danya Welch, Mike Chase, (Chairman of the Fisheries Committee) and Johnny Coleman.

Chief of Fisheries

Chief of Fisheries at TWRA Bill Reeves addresses the Commission and those who attended.

Caney Fork Brown Trout Distribution

The chart above indicates the size structure of the brown trout population in the Caney Fork.

Dr. Bettoli

Dr. Bettoli from Tennessee Tech University comments on the fisheries population data. Dr. Bettoli has done extensive research on several Tennessee tailwaters and is considered an expert.

Comments by an angler

Singer/Songwriter and Fly Fishing Guide Jay Clemente from Nashville speaks to the Commission about the potential of the fishery and about his experiences on the Caney Fork River.


New Regulations on the Caney Fork by Byron Begley

I started fishing on the Caney Fork River in the 1970’s and continued through the 1980’s when I lived in Nashville.  I loved that river and learned how to fish it and how to get to the secluded spots with my friends.  I’ve pretty much floated the whole river from Center Hill Dam to Carthage, Tennessee, a 27 mile stretch, much of it excellent trout water.  Since moving to Townsend about 19 years ago I have not fished there once.  I would like to and may do it some day.  It is about a 2 ½ hour drive from here. 

They say the Caney Fork is crowded now.  The browns are larger than they were when I fished there or maybe people just learned how to catch them. The Agency did create a slot limit for brown trout and that is working well.  And recently Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency began stocking brook trout.  For years I have been part of a group that tried to get regulation changes to grow larger trophy trout in all of our tailwaters.  Our first attempt began in the early 1980’s on the Caney Fork.  We failed back then.  But we would get there over time working with TWRA, 27 years of time. 

Slot limits work and TWRA has moved to that method of trout management on our tailwaters in Tennessee.  One recent example of that is the slot limit for brown trout on the Clinch River.   The Commission decided to do it three years ago and it appears to be working too. They use that management strategy on many tailwaters in East Tennessee.

TWRA decided to take the trophy fishing regulations to a higher level on the Caney Fork.  Bill Reeves, Chief of Fisheries said,  "It will be very unique. In fact, it will be one of the few places in the United States that will produce that size fish and a lot of them”. 

The Agency proposal included placing a protected slot limit on rainbow and brook trout.  The protected size range planned is 14” to 20”.  Anglers could keep fish under the 14” size and only 1 brook or rainbow over 20”. 

Additionally, the Agency proposed protecting the brown trout at any size up to 22” and only one could be harvested over that size per day.  Sounds good doesn’t it?

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission has been looking at even tighter restrictions.  They have been listening to avid Caney Fork anglers in Middle Tennessee.   The Commission has been considering raising the brown trout protected size to 24” and lowering the daily creel rate to 5 trout, down from 7.  That sounds better. 

I attended the Fisheries Committee meeting in Knoxville on October 29th, 2009.  (These photos are awful, I know it.  I took a flash unit but decided it would not be appropriate to use it.  So I shot these pictures at ISO 3200.  They are grainy and yellow.)  The room was packed, mostly by anglers from Middle Tennessee.  This is something the folks who fish and guide on the river want in the worst way. 

The Chairman of the Fisheries Committee is Mike Chase who is the Commissioner from our region.  He lives in Knoxville.  Commissioner Chase and I have exchanged some e-mails and talked about this and other matters.  I like him and he is serious about the fisheries in our State. 

The Fisheries Committee and the entire Commission was leaning toward the highest protected regulations Thursday, including raising the brown trout slot to 24 inches.  Their stumbling block was reducing the creel limit to 5 trout. 

We all saw a graphic that showed the creel limit on trout from other states.  Missouri has a 4 trout limit.  I can’t remember for sure but Arkansas has a 4 or 5 trout limit.  A few of us spoke to the Commission about the subject.  I know there has been discussion about lowering the limit to 5 trout statewide.  That could cut the stocking costs and maybe increase the growth rate. 

I reminded the Commission that this would be the time and place to give the 5 trout limit a try and see what would happen.  A few other supporters from Middle Tennessee spoke to the Commission. They all made excellent points. These people fish and work on the river often. They know the river. They see the potential first hand. They were all very passionate and sincere about wanting to make a change and improving the quality of fishing in that river.

The Fisheries Committee after a motion made by Commissioner Chase, voted to embrace the tightest regulations, a slot for rainbows and brook trout of 14" to 20", raising the protected length for brown trout to 24" and lowering the creel limit to 5 trout per day.  Under the Commitites motion only one brook or rainbow over 20" or one brown trout over 24" could be harvested. The Fisheries Committee decision was evidently approved by the Commission the next day or so I've heard. These new regulations will begin in March 2010.

Is this the beginning for more changes in trout regulations on our tailwaters?  Is TWRA taking a closer look and taking action for a higher quality trout fishery? I think they are. Tennessee’s tailwaters have the potential to make our State one of the best trout fishing destinations in the East.  I believe Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wants to see that happen.    

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