Anglers cast for rainbows and brownies, but the trout in western North Carolina waters are all green: Fishing for them has an economic impact of $174 million a year, including motel rentals, guide fees and tackle sales, a state Wildlife Resources Commission study estimates. “Probably the vast majority of people don’t appreciate the revenue it provides year after year,” says Kent Nelson, inland fisheries program manager.
The commission asked for an economic-impact study to help it concoct better trout-management plans. In the process, it dug up data that shows about 93,000 people a year — more than three-quarters of them North Carolina residents — fish for trout in western counties, supporting nearly 2,000 jobs. Many are in small businesses such as Asheville Drifters LLC, which has five guides running trips on trout streams and rivers such as the Watauga, Tuckasegee and French Broad.
The survey, conducted by Virginia-based Responsive Management Inc. and Florida-based Southwick Associates Inc., found that Transylvania, Watauga, Haywood, Cherokee, Henderson, Jackson and Ashe counties attract the most anglers and that they spend freely — $65 a day for in-state fishermen and $158 a day for those from out of state. The typical angler spends $503 a year on equipment. “Fall is popular, when the leaves are turning, but you can trout fish year-round,” says Andrew Tashie, owner of Asheville Drifters. One exception: Streams stocked from state hatcheries are closed in March.
The study did not include the private trout-fishing business, in which owners of stocked streams sometimes charge fishermen upward of $1,000 a year. Anglers say increasing private ownership and posting of streams threaten public fishing, along with development. “Areas open to development are vulnerable because runoff sediment interferes with trout reproduction and loss of vegetation allows streams to warm up,” Nelson says.
Doug Besler, the commission’s mountain fisheries supervisor, says trout fishing has a broad role in the region’s welfare and deserves protecting. “It’s a significant contributor to the expanding tourism and green-based economies of western North Carolina.”