In July 2006, the N.C. General Assembly repealed legislation that provided license exemptions to state residents who fished with hook and line in their county of residence using natural bait, which was defined as “bait which may be beneficially digested by fish.” As a result, there was no longer a legal definition of natural bait and by extension, artificial lures, which are specified for
mountain trout fishing. Artificial lures with one single hook are required on DPMTW classified as Wild, Catch and Release/Artificial Lure Only or Delayed Harvest trout waters. Natural bait is allowed in DPMTW classified as Hatchery Supported Trout Waters or Wild Trout/Natural Bait Trout Waters. Without clear definition, anglers could not easily determine what category attractant baits, which attempt to mimic natural baits, fit into. This rule change allows people to clearly distinguish between natural and artificial lures.
Originally, artificial lure requirements were implemented on certain trout streams to minimize catch-and-release angling mortality. This is particularly important for the delayed harvest management classification, which requires each stocked trout to be captured and released multiple times during the 8-month catch-and-release period for the program to be successful. The use of these natural bait-mimicking substances had become increasingly popular on delayed harvest and other waters requiring that only artificial lures be used. Research suggests that these attractant baits can lead to increased catch-and-release hooking mortality. It has been found that deep hooking wounds are primarily responsible for catch-and-release mortality of stocked trout.
Deep hooking wounds usually result when trout ingest bait deep into the esophagus or stomach prior to being captured. Angler dissatisfaction with the catch-and-release trout management program would probably increase should catch rates decline significantly as a result of this mortality.
The new rule defining natural bait and artificial lures received widespread public support during the Commission’s public hearings in January 2008. In addition, a 2007 survey of resident trout anglers indicated that more anglers opposed (44 percent) the use of artificial bait substances in Delayed Harvest waters than supported (33 percent) it.
Based on public support, the regulation was approved at the March 2008 meeting of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.