MARION, N.C. — Many trout fishermen in the North Carolina mountains have experienced the thrill of having a rod bent almost double by something tugging furiously.
“I’ve just hooked a state-record brown trout or rainbow!” they’d think. But when the would-be catch was fought to the surface, it wasn’t a trout of brilliant colors, but a grayish-black creature, fierce-looking and ugly.
Imagine the disappointment of anglers in realizing that instead of a trophy trout, they had hooked a “water dog.” The critters are perhaps better known as hellbenders, and raising them in captivity isn’t for the faint of heart.
However, this is just what the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is attempting to do with the threatened species.
Working cooperatively with the N.C. Zoo, the Wildlife Commission is trying to raise to sexual maturity 10 juvenile hellbenders it received from a Texas zoo in June, with the ultimate goal of breeding them in captivity.
Biologists are not interested in propagating hellbenders to augment wild populations, but rather to meet the increasing demand for these large, aquatic salamanders as educational and display animals for qualified state agencies, universities and other facilities.
“The Wildlife Commission has no plans or intentions to breed hellbenders for release into the wild,” said Lori Williams, a mountain wildlife diversity biologist with the Commission’s Division of Wildlife Management. “We are simply trying to eliminate the need for any facility to yank a hellbender from the wild for display purposes.
Currently, the 10 juvenile hellbenders are sharing two aquariums set up at the Commission’s Conservation Aquaculture Center at the State Fish Hatchery in McDowell County.
Because hellbenders grow more quickly in captivity than they do in their native mountain waters, Williams expects the young animals will reach sexual maturity by 2015.
Catches of the week
• A 120-pound tarpon caught and released near Georgetown, S.C., by Jeff Rauser while fishing with guide Robert Mayer.
• A blue marlin caught and released off Georgetown by Peter Irussi while trolling from the Big Sky.
• A 31-pound cobia in Georgetown waters by Vickie Blankenship while fishing from the Trigger Happy.
• A 28.7-pound king mackerel at Bogue Inlet Pier by Mike Smith of Durham.
• An 11-pound tilefish off Hatteras Village by Shirley Jones of Hampstead.
• A 46.5-pound wahoo and four others in the 30-pound range off Ocean Isle by a party led by Jim Almond.
Limits of smallmouth bass at Fontana Lake by Graham County angler Kenneth Birchfield while trolling small crankbaits just off the shoreline.
• A 483/4-inch red drum by Brecka Coleman of Carolina Beach.
• Fourteen white marlin off Oregon Inlet by a party trolling aboard the Pelican with skipper Arch Bracher, based at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.
Fourteen white marlin off Oregon Inlet by a party fishing with skipper Bull Tolson aboard the Sea Toy, based at Pirates Cove Marina in Manteo.