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How to Identify Wild vs Hatchery Supported Trout

How to Identify Wild vs Hatchery Supported Trout

Friday, 02 September 2022 21:47

Western North Carolina is a trout fishing wonderland. There are miles upon miles of pristine streams and rivers with an abundance of fish. If you’re searching for the perfect fly fishing getaway, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Smokies. 

Turning Stone’s Fly Fishing knows these waters. The areas we fish vary from dense Rhododendron forests with small tributaries meandering about that are filled with tiny wild brook trout to large rivers that are rough and tumbling that hold enormous, wild brown trout. We also frequently fish areas that are stocked with massive fish that increase your odds of catching a monster. 

Many people ask us how to identify the difference between wild and hatchery-supported trout. In this article, we are helping you answer that question. 


Defining Wild Trout Vs. Hatchery Supported Trout

What Are Wild Trout?

The only trout native to North Carolina is Brook Trout. Per the North Carolina wildlife commission:

“Brook Trout can be distinguished by the olive-green coloration of the upper sides with mottled, dark green “worm-like” markings on their backs and tails.”

However, Brook Trout are not the only wild trout in our waters. We have a number of wild trout waters with populations of rainbow, brook, and brown trout that are not supported or influenced by hatcheries. 

“Western North Carolina has hundreds upon hundreds of miles of truly wild trout water.  There’s a wide variety available, from high altitude native brook trout to streams holding wild brown and rainbow trout.” - Turning Stone’s Backcountry Trout.

What Are Hatchery Supported Trout?

Hatchery-supported trout are those that are raised by hatcheries and added to certain waters. They are often easier to catch and grow larger than wild trout. Hatchery-supported trout waters are typically regulated differently than wild trout rivers and creeks. 

In North Carolina, hatchery supported trout waters are identified by green-and-white signage placed conspicuously along the river. 

Identifying the Key Differences Between Hatchery-Supported and Wild Trout

If you want to know whether or not the trout on the end of your line is wild or hatchery-supported, here are some clues:

Color: One of the key differences between wild and hatchery-supported trout is their colors. Wild trout are typically more colorful than those that have spent a portion of their lives in captivity. While stocked fish lack specific minerals and proteins that are frequently present in bug larvae and freshwater shrimp and alter the fish's color, wild fish have the capacity to ingest a wide variety of food, which shows in their coloring. 

Stocked fish are grown in sheltered surroundings, which is another explanation for this. Natural selection did not influence their evolution since their existence is not dependent on a certain color gradient.

Damage: Fish raised in captivity are in a much larger crowd of trout than those in the wild. Therefore, damage to fins, gills, and scales is common among hatchery-supported trout. If the trout on your line has been scarred or injured, it is likely from a hatchery. 

Size, Weight, and Eating Habits: Stocked trout often have an extremely disproportionate distribution of fat due to their nutrition and environment. Unlike wild trout, stocked trout do not need to spend energy swimming against the river or looking for food since they are kept in holding ponds and fed by people. Likewise, these fish are given high-fat pellets rather than a balanced diet of insects and other fish. 

The goal, of course, is for them to grow to be as big as possible. That means hatchery-supported fish are typically larger than wild trout. 

Behavior: Hatchery-supported fish have to learn to feed themselves once they are released. While wild trout are often selective about what they eat, fish raised in hatcheries might not be so picky. To catch wild trout, you need to know exactly what bait to use; whereas with hatchery supported fish, they are going to be a little easier to attract and catch. 

Do I Need to Know the Difference?

Trout are trout. Whether you’re fishing hatchery-supported or wild trout waters, any day in the river is a great day! It really doesn’t matter what’s on the end of your line as long as you’re enjoying nature and having a good time. What anglers do need to know are the regulations governing when and where they’re allowed to fish for what kinds of trout. 

The NC Wildlife Commission is a great resource for learning what you need to know about fly fishing in our area. 

The guides at Turning Stone’s Fly Fishing are experts in helping anglers find and catch the most beautiful hatchery-supported and wild trout in western North Carolina. If you want the best chance of just getting out in the water and catching a few trophy-sized trout, we’ll take you to some of our favorite spots on rivers, like the Tuckaseegee. The chance of catching a monster there is high!

However, we love the thrill of the chase as well. Wild trout can be a lot more challenging to catch; however, our guides all have a soft spot for this type of fishing and know plenty of great spots to get away from the crowds. We have several wild and backcountry fishing spots where we know you’ll have a great time!

If you’re ready to book your wild or hatchery-supported trout fishing experience in western North Carolina, give Turning Stone’s Fly Fishing a call today! Our guides book fast, so don’t delay. Get your trip on the calendar as soon as possible.

Written by:

Gordon began fly fishing as a teenager in southwestern Pennsylvania, where he was raised. He has snagged great catches from as far away as Nevada, California, and Belize. However, he and his wife decided to settle in western North Carolina, where they started Turning Stones. Gordon is a Certified Casting Instructor for the Federation of Fly Fishers and the  Southeastern Coach of the USA Youth Fly Fishing Team.