Trout Biologist, Chattanooga Native Don Pfitzer Dies at 91

Don Pfitzer (1923 - 2015) Not many trout fishermen know his name nowadays. But Don Pfitzer was largely responsible for Southern trout fishing as we know it today. (Photo: Polly Watkins Dean)

We learned this week that Chattanooga native and well-known southern biologist, Don Pfitzer, has passed away. He was 91 years. Along with the late Price Wilkerson, Pfitzer did more for the development of tailwater trout fishing in the Appalachians than anyone. Chris Scalley, owner of a 'River Through Atlanta' guide service and friend of the family told us that Pfitzer was along the banks of the Jackson River with his son on November 26 when he passed with his boots on.

As a fisheries biologist with the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission in the early 1950s, Pfitzer conducted an ecological survey of the tailwaters below seven large TVA impoundments that has led to increasing popularity of trout fishing in the South. Asked his opinion of what to do with a tailwater on the Little Tennessee River, where warm-weather fish were fading away because of the cold water, he said, "Why don't we stock trout and see what happens." The stocked rainbows thrived with the abundance of insects and grew more than an inch a month in the Little Tennessee. By the end of a year, anglers were catching 18-inch rainbow trout.

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Pfitzer served as a bomber pilot/instructor with the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. Returning to civilian life he landed a job as a ranger naturalist with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1950s. He next worked as a fisheries biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. In 1955 Pfitzer relocated to Atlanta to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, remaining with the agency until retiring in 1988 as the Assistant Regional Director for the southeastern states.

During his career Pfitzer produced 13 outdoor films, dozens of major slide presentations and was recognized as one of the preeminent authorities on tailwater trout fisheries in the South, as well as insect life in southeastern waters.

After retirement, Pfitzer wrote outdoor articles for a number of publications, authored guidebooks on Georgia hiking trails and Peach State scenic drives, while continuing to present nature programs and serving on the board of directors of the Chattahoochee River Cold Water Fisheries Foundation. He is a member and has served as president of the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association, the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and the Outdoor Writers Association of America. In 1984 he received that latter groups prestigious Jade of Chiefs Award.

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