GATLINBURG, Tenn. — In a wetter wildfire relief effort on Friday, the waters of Gatlinburg were restocked with trout after the area's fish population was decimated during wildfires last year that swept through the Tennessee town.
When the Nov. 28 fires hit, the city's fish hatchery and its trout raceways — where fingerlings are raised — burned, killing about 30,000 fish.
"So many people love fishing," Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said. "We lost our pumps, the infrastructure that makes this possible."
On Friday, a city worker unloaded live fish from a truck into the waters of Cliff Branch. Meanwhile, Ryan Hintz, Gatlinburg's trout facility manager, ran loads in his net from a truck that hauled the 10- to 12-inch fish from a state hatchery four hours away.
Two trucks made the trip from middle Tennessee, packing more than 1,000 fish each in a dark tank to dump into waters around Gatlinburg. One could think of the trip for the fish like being on a long airplane ride for humans, Hintz said.
The travel means cramped quarters for a while, so the fish took a moment in the water shallows to adjust to their new home. Each one oriented itself upstream immediately upon flopping out of the net and hitting the water, iridescent markings flashing under the clear mountain water.
"They're obviously stunned," Hintz said. "They're getting their bearings for a while, then some of them will go upstream, some will go downstream. Some will stay right here."
Fishing, officials said, is part of the mountain experience that some tourists love and seek out when they visit Tennessee. And though they're a mountain fish, trout don't spawn well in waters so close to human contact like the water that flows through Gatlinburg, according to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Matt Cameron. That's why the city stocks its waters, and why officials from TWRA reached out to help after Gatlinburg's facility burned.
"If we didn't supplementary stock them, folks wouldn't have recreational fishing opportunities," Cameron said.
But the stocking is necessary in any year, not just after the wildfire.
Marty Nicely, Gatlinburg's recreation director, said the city plans to stock waters with locally raised fish again soon.
"We have had our winter trout stocking program since 1982, and we have had a longstanding relationship from TWRA. We buy fish and raise them, and every fall TWRA gives us about 35,000 fingerlings to grow and raise," Nicely said.
But, as with many things around Gatlinburg, Nicely, Werner and others said they'll rebuild.
The city's fish facility is expected to reopen this summer. Until then, there should still be decent fishing in the city — thanks to TWRA.