Ararat River to become key fishing location

Ararat River fishingby Tom Joyce
Staff Reporter
07.11.11 - 10:00 pm

The splashing of thousands of trout being released into the Ararat River in Mount Airy later this year is expected to be music to the ears of local businesses.

Thanks to a recent multimillion-dollar restoration project, the river has been re-classified as a delayed-harvest stream. This will mean major stocking by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in less than three months, and the Ararat becoming a major trout-fishing destination, one official says.

“It will be the closest delayed-harvest water to Winston-Salem, Greensboro” and other area population centers, according to Michael “Squeak” Smith of Morganton, who chairs the board of the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina. Smith also is associated with The Resource Institute, a Winston-Salem-based organization that helped fund the Ararat River restoration.
North Carolina now has only 18 delayed-harvest streams.

The key part of the Ararat River project involved restoring eroded riverbanks along about a three-mile area, which also made the waterway better-suited for activities including tubing and kayaking. Meanwhile, a greenway and environmental park constructed along its path has provided additional exercise and nature-education opportunities.

And when the trout are stocked later this year, it will represent a win-win-win situation for anglers, natural resources conservation and those interested in economic-development success, Smith said, citing the results of a Wildlife Resources Commission study.

It showed that mountain trout fishing in delayed-harvest waters added an estimated $46.5 million to the state’s economy during one recent year. That produces a ripple effect for affected communities through the purchases of equipment and other expenditures during fishing trips, with non-residents said to spend an average of $158 per outing at such locations.

Fish On The Way

The stocking of the Ararat River will begin around Oct. 1 with the release of 648 brook, 648 rainbow and 324 brown trout in a section stretching from the bridge on N.C. 103 to a park at B.H. Tharrington Primary School. In November, the Wildlife Resources Commission will add identical numbers of each type of trout to the same location.

Under the delayed-harvest program, selected trout streams are heavily stocked during the cooler months, but there is a “catch” in that actual harvest of the trout is postponed until the warmer months.

This means that a catch-and-release system will be in effect from October through the first Saturday in June, when the fishing will be restricted to single-hook artificial lures. No natural bait is allowed along a stream under that designation.

That will allow the proliferation of an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 trout during the roughly eight-month period.

Catch-and-release fishing emphasizes the angling experience itself rather than taking home a catch.

From June 1 to October, the Ararat River’s status will be changed to a “hatchery-supported” waterway where users will be allowed a daily limit of seven fish, but with no restrictions on size or lures.

Theoretically, the delayed-harvest program will ensure relatively high numbers of catchable trout for extended periods, which Smith said will produce a “wonderful fishery” along the Ararat River that especially will benefit those learning the sport. And since each fish could end up being caught several times, the cost of the fishing experience is greatly reduced, he said.

“The restoration has made this possible,” the conservation official said concerning how the project has expanded the number and size of reliable locations available for fishing along the Ararat and made it better capable of supporting fish habitats.

At one time, the Ararat River was a hatchery-supported stream. For a short period, it also was a delayed-harvest waterway, “but they kind of just stopped stocking it,” Smith added of Wildlife Resources Commission personnel.
The river had lost its fishery classification for the past two or three years, which coincided with the deterioration of the stream and the restoration effort to upgrade its quality. The upcoming developments will ensure good fishing for about a 2.5-mile to 3-mile stretch initially.

“Now it’s going to be a poster child for the delayed-harvest program,” Smith said.