Where do north Georgia trout come from?

There are no true "natural" trout in our streams except for the few remaining original small brookies that currently hang on in some small streams in high elevations of our north Georgia mountains.

Otherwise trout are stocked into most waters that will support thriving trout populations in our state. This makes it possible for Georgia to have over 4,000 miles of trout streams, with various opportunities from heavily stocked high-use streams, wilderness streams, streams with special regulations, and small impoundments. This provides Georgia's over 100,000 trout anglers a high quality trout program with some waters open year 'round. A certain amount of natural reproduction is occurring in some waters. There is actually natural reproduction by brown trout in certain sections of the Chattahoochee River.

There are many DNR hatcheries in Georgia. The northern most location is at Lake Burton in Rabun county a short drive from Helen, GA. The first thing you'll notice as you round the curve toward the hatchery is a prominant sign by the highway.

To the right side of Burton hatchery is a parking area and launch ramp for access to Lake Burton. In the center of the property you'll see the main offices and tanks of fish in various ponds running the length of the site. The public is welcome to come by and see the facility 7 days a week, 365 days per year. Large groups need to call to make a reservation.

Perry Thompson who is the Burton hatchery manager gave me a very informative tour through the facility. First he had to weigh and distribute some feed to tanks of trout. When the chow hits the water, the surface boils with thousands of trout vying for food. These fat trout start out at US Fish and Wildlife Service in Suches, or our Georgia state fingerling hatchery in Summerville. First they are hatched out, then as four inch fingerlings they are transferred to the Burton hatchery where they are fed and maintained to reach nine to ten inches at the hatchery. This program normally takes about 14 months. Then the trout are ready for distribution into as many as 170 streams in north Georgia from the Georgia state line as far south as the Chattahoochee tailwaters. The long runs hold as many as 50,000 four inch fingerlings, which are graded as they grow and are segregated into tanks containing trout of equal size. This allows them all to reach their nine to ten inch size.

Another aspect of the Burton hatchery program is raising limited numbers of trout from eggs. Below left Perry Thompson stands at the egg incubator which is "full of brown trout eyed eggs. These eggs came from Walhalla, SC. since we don't normally have space to hold brood fish." These eggs will hatch out fry that will be raised in controlled conditions, and when they are four inches long will be transferred to bigger concrete tanks to grow to nine to ten inch length.

The "eyed eggs" at right represent the next generation of brown trout to be released in the lakes, streams, and rivers of north Georgia. Some of these trout will be stocked into the Chattahoochee and if you fish there, you'll probably cross waters with one some day. All of this takes time, a lot of work, and our money. For those who prefer to chase trout the combined effort is worth it!

In addition to Perry Thompson, thanks to Lee Keefer, fisheries research biologist assigned to the Lake Burton hatchery. You will notice that insightful information from Lee has already made its way into several of my articles.

All of this work produces hundreds of thousands of trout a year to be stocked into Georgia 4,000 miles of lakes, streams, and rivers. It all boils down to what you see RIGHT, thousands of nine to ten inch trout, ready to be trucked to streams for us all to enjoy. To contact the Lake Burton hatchery, call 706-947-3112.