Having just watched a released brook trout swim away, my 13-year-old son cast his Rebel Crawfish to the same spot that had just produced. A few handle cranks later, he was hooked up again, this time to a colorful rainbow.

Such scenes aren’t uncommon during the spring on dozens of stream sections in Southern Appalachia that are managed with Delayed Harvest regulations. Only catch-and-release fishing is permitted in these waters this time of year, and virtually all have been well stocked.

The Delayed Harvest concept, which began with four North Carolina stream sections about 25 years ago, is ideal for waters that offer plenty of trout habitat during the cool months but get too warm to support many trout during the summer. These waters get heavily stocked from fall through late spring (Oct. 1 through the first Saturday in June in North Carolina), and only catch-and-release fishing with single-hook artificial lures is permitted during that time. On the first Saturday in June, the same waters revert to general regulations for hatchery waters, meaning trout may be harvested and bait is permitted.

The result is an extended season of fabulous fishing for anglers who don’t mind the catch-and-release requirement and lure restrictions, followed by an excellent opportunity for anglers who prefer to use bait and take home some fish. The harvest period opens about the time the habitat quality would begin to diminish and actually allows for much higher stocking rates during the release season.

North Carolina’s original Delayed harvest Waters were immediately embraced by anglers, so the state began adding new stream sections and has been doing so ever since. Currently 32 stream sections and two small lakes are managed with Delayed Harvest regulations and are spread throughout the mountains of Western North Carolina. The same concept is used on several streams in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. Dates and specific regulations vary slightly by state, but the management concept is the same.

Spring Fishing

The good water levels that are the norm during the spring, optimal temperatures for feeding trout and sufficiently high fish densities for spurring competitiveness generally result in fairly aggressive trout this time of year. While these waters get a lot of fishing pressure, the trout mostly see flies and often will readily attack a wobbling Rebel Crawfish or wiggling Ghost Minnow.

The streams vary enormously in size and character and most actually vary quite a bit from one day to another based on recent rainfall and temperatures. It’s a good idea, therefore to carry a variety of lure sizes and colors and to experiment both with lures and presentations. Also, pay attention to the spots fish come from and look for similar set-ups in other pools or runs.

Because these trout do get fished for a lot and most have been caught and released before, stealth is beneficial. Little things like staying back from edges when possible, using in-stream cover for concealment and avoiding abrupt motions can pay big dividends. Also, it’s generally prudent to keep moving. Fish often will bite readily when you first start working a run and then shut down. When that happens, continue upstream.

Finally, it’s important to note that lure restrictions apply to possession when you are fishing, so you need to have a box or two stocked with nothing but single-hook artificial lures that you can carry while you fish. Rebel Micro Minnows and Micro Crawfish, which come equipped with single barbless hook are natural choices for these waters and work very well. However, if you want to fish Tracdown Minnows, Crawfish, Hellgrammites or other lures, it’s easy to remove the trebles and replace the back one with a slightly larger single hook.

Delayed Harvest Stream Listings & Regulations

Georgia (http://www.eregulations.com/georgia/fishing/trout-fishing/)

North Carolina (http://ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Regs/Documents/Mountain-Trout.pdf)

South Carolina (http://www.dnr.sc.gov/news/yr2014/nov20/nov20_trout.html)

Tennessee (https://issuu.com/thebinghamgroup/docs/twrafishingguide2017_mobile/30)

Virginia (https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/trout/delayed-harvest-waters/)