By John Felsher
Most Alabama anglers have probably never seen a wild rainbow trout, much less caught one unless they fished in a tank at a sporting show.
Native to western states including Alaska, the colorful fish now occur in most northern states and extend as far south as the Ozark and Appalachian mountains. Rainbows like cold water and can’t handle hot Alabama summers.
The state does regularly stock trout in the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River northwest of Birmingham. Cold water coming through the dam off the bottom of Lake Lewis Smith keeps trout happy even during an Alabama summer. The state has seasonally stocked trout in other places, like Walker County Public Fishing Lake near Jasper. Other than those places, avid Alabama trout fishermen must go to Tennessee or northern Georgia as the closest places to catch wild rainbows.
For the past two years, the city of Gadsden has been stocking the multi-hued fish in Black Creek, which runs through Noccalula Falls Park. Black Creek eventually flows into the Coosa River. The idea of releasing trout in Black Creek came from local fly anglers, like the members of the Rainbow Fly Fishing Club, who travel frequently to pursue their favorite sport.
“We have a local fly-fishing outfitter, Rainbow Fly Shop, and a really active group of fly fishermen in Etowah County,” says Hugh A. Stump III, executive director for Greater Gadsden Area Tourism. “We have many local fly-fishing enthusiasts who travel often to fish in other states. Some people thought that Black Creek might be able to hold rainbow trout, so we tried it and it worked! In November 2019, we bought about 1,000 trout and released them at the falls so people could fish for them.”
The fish did well, and the city released more hatchery-raised rainbows in the 10- to 12-inch range into the creek in November 2020. They plan to do the same this year to give local residents and visitors additional sporting activities.
“People are really excited to hear about another opportunity to fish for trout in Alabama,” Stump says. “We are seeing tourists come to town, spend the night and fish. People are coming from all over the Southeast, not just Alabama, to fish for trout. We’re selling more permits each year.”
To fish Black Creek, anglers need to buy the regular Alabama state fishing license, plus a trout permit from the city of Gadsden. Money raised by the sale of trout permits allows the city to buy and release more fish. Anglers fishing Black Creek must use only fly tackle with barbless hooks on artificial baits and must release all the trout they catch until the spring. After the water warms sufficiently in the spring, the city will allow people to keep up to five trout per day.
“Local fishery biologists tend to think that the trout do not hold over the summer here because the water gets too warm, but I’ve seen pictures of people with trout in the summer,” Stump says. “I think a few of them might survive all year. The system has some pools down in the gorge that are shady all day long. They might get in that water and stay there, but we haven’t done a biological survey of it.”
To reach the creek, anglers must hike down a trail to the gorge. People can bring waders to fish in the creek if they like. If not, they can find many places to fish from the bank or boulders. The best fishing typically occurs closest to the falls.
“The gorge is pretty deep,” Stump warns. “It’s a bit of a hike down there, but that’s part of the adventure. It’s a very scenic place. In the future, we might add a set of steps going down into the gorge to make it a little easier. That way, people won’t have to struggle carrying a rod and tackle box while hiking into the gorge. It’s not an easy walk. We’re just really excited about giving people something else to do in Gadsden. That’s a good thing.”
Anglers can buy city trout permits at the Noccalula Falls Campground office or online at flyfishgadsdenal.com. Permits cost $9 a day, or $11 for three consecutive days. Anglers can also buy a season permit for $30.
For more information, contact Greater Gadsden Area Tourism at 256-549-0351 or 888-565-0411. Visit greatergadsden.com or look up their page on Facebook.
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.