Trout fishing is usually defined as the process of getting trout out of the water. 

But every fall, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources gives you (yes, you) an opportunity to turn that definition on its head by volunteering to tote a 5-gallon bucket filled with cold water and splashy fish. Your assignment: put some trout into the water. It can be wet work. But it is, as one enthusiastic volunteer put it last winter, “very much fun!”

Volunteer trout stocking is an important part of Georgia’s great “delayed harvest” winter trout management program. But what exactly is delayed harvest? 

Delayed harvest (DH) is an approach to fisheries management that manages streams differently, depending on the time of year. Say you have a section of a creek or river where water temperatures are too high for trout during the summertime. You might manage that stream for warm-water fish, such as bass, during spring and summer. But come fall, water temperatures will drop, and those same streams become cool enough to support trout. Those streams are then stocked with trout, and the result can be some incredible fall and winter trout fishing. 

Georgia has five designated delayed harvest waters. The closest to us are a stretch of the Chattahoochee River (from Sope Creek down to U.S. 41) and a portion of Smith Creek (in Unicoi State Park, downstream from the dam that forms the park’s lake). Others include part of Amicalola Creek, a stretch of the Toccoa River and a section of the Chattooga River. These DH waters are managed under special regulations that call for catch-and-release fishing during the DH season, which runs from Nov. 1 through May 14. Other special regulations, including the use of single-hook artificial lures or flies only, also apply.

In some areas, DNR stocks DH waters directly from the hatchery truck. On the remote waters of the Chattooga River DH, they even call in helicopters to help stock the fish.

But on other waters, you and I get to volunteer to help. Our assignment is simple: be a part of a Bucket Brigade Day that transports trout from the hatchery truck to the water.

Who participates in these volunteer-assisted stockings? You may see members of area fishing organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, North Georgia Trout Online and Georgia Women Flyfishers. You’ll see Scout groups and school classes. You’ll see plenty of families, too, with moms and dads and kids enjoying the adventure together.

DNR’s John Lee Thomson said this season’s first volunteer-assisted stockings will take place Nov. 1 on three of Georgia’s DH streams. On that day, volunteers will gather at Smith Creek in Unicoi State Park, at Amicalola Creek near the Highway 53 bridge and at the Toccoa River at the Sandy Bottom canoe launch area to carry the trout to their new winter homes.

“Stocking typically happens in the morning, around 10 a.m.,” Thomson said, adding that volunteers will stock about 2,000 trout in each of those streams on that day.

“We will also have volunteer stocking days on the Chattahoochee in Atlanta, too,” he said, where events are “typically scheduled around school holidays so kids and families can participate.” The Chattahoochee stockings, he added, take place at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Whitewater parking area. The first of those stockings usually occurs (conditions permitting) during the week of Thanksgiving.

What can you expect at one of these Bucket Brigade Days? Typically, the stocking truck arrives shortly after 10 a.m., so you’ll want to arrive before that to sign a waiver form, get your boots or waders on and put some water in your bucket. Sometimes, there’s hot coffee and doughnuts, and there’s always lots of excited talk about the trout and the prospects for that year’s DH fishing.

When the truck arrives, it pulls into position near the water. Everybody lines up, and their buckets are loaded with trout. The volunteers carry them to the river – and with great pomp and circumstance, the buckets are tipped to release the trout into the river. It really is a brigade of buckets, and when all is said and done, several thousand trout will have new homes.

There are lots of reasons for being part of a bucket brigade. For one thing, it’s a great way to give back to the resource. Giving back is important, especially these days.

For another, it’s just plain fun — especially if you have a kid or two in tow. Believe it: kids totally enjoy this kind of thing. Cold water and splashy trout are a sure recipe for fun that’s not soon forgotten. What’s not to love?

“It’s become something we look forward to every year,” said one mother of two young girls. I’ve had the opportunity to visit with her and her kids at several volunteer stocking events over the last couple of years. 

“The kids love it, and I do too,” she told me one day last winter. “Will we keep coming back? You bet we will!”

“And when we’re done, we’re going to go fishing too,” squealed the youngest of the daughters, barely able to contain her excitement.

Yes, after the stocking work is done, it’s fine to stay and fish. In fact, that’s where I last saw them: standing knee-deep in a Georgia stream, two young anglers in pink rubber boots enjoying the outdoors – and having a blast with their mom.

Learn about the hiking trails of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Steve Hudson’s book Hiking the Hooch. It’s available from local outfitters, from the park headquarters at Island Ford, and on Amazon. Signed copies are available direct from the author at www.chattahoocheemedia.com.

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