Townsend, Tennessee - Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina

Welcome to the Fishing Report from the Great Smoky Mountains.  It is dark, windy and 40 degrees at 6:15 am this Monday morning.  What a night.  Rain fell, strong wind blew, and I find it hard to believe there are roads open in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  They are reporting only one temporary road closure this morning, Newfound Gap Road.  That is due to snow and ice.  We may find other roads blocked by downed trees this morning after daybreak. 

Little River is flowing strong at 772 cubic feet per second (cfs) or 3.08 feet on the gauge.  Median flow for this date is 330 cfs.  The water temperature right now is 44.6 degrees.

Fishing in the Smokies is not advised.  More rain is expected today and possibly snow in the mountains.  The temperature will drop.  The low tonight is predicted to be 20 degrees.  The water is high and still rising.  Wading in Little River is not advised.

I would not go fishing in the Smoky Mountains today.  Tomorrow could be out of the question too.

We have not had much of a winter.  But, it’s not over yet.

I checked the flow gauge again.  Flow is now 966 cfs.  That river is rising. 

I’ve got a feeling, this is one of those days, when writing a fishing report is going to be tough.  All I know to do now is tie flies, get your gear ready and think about Spring.  Football is hereby proclaimed over until Fall.  Fly fishing season will be soon begin for most anglers, until next Winter.  Some fishermen in our area have found generation schedules in the tailwaters somewhat favorable and fishing has been pretty good.

Every bit of information, I can find, relating to tourism and travel this year, is positive.  Motels, lodges, cabin rental companies, campgrounds, guides, and fly shops are expecting a good year if the weather cooperates.  Early booking is good.  People are planning.  People are traveling.  The boat dealer I talked to yesterday was busy, already.  People will be using their boats.  People will be using their travel trailers and motor homes. That should trickle down to us.

The cost to travel by automobile has dropped substantially thanks to lower fuel prices.  Of course, with more people traveling, fuel costs should rise.  Who knows.  People are driving less and that is blamed on the aging of Americans.  Maybe more people will take shorter drives on their vacations and fishing trips.

We are one of those destinations, that benefit from people taking vacations closer to home.  That is because, we are located close to large population centers.  They say, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located within a one-day drive of 1/3 of Americans. 

The most recent data I can find indicates more people are fishing and people are fishing more.  That is a trend reversal.  Fishing has been in decline for a while.  That same research also indicates, young people and women are getting into fly fishing.  Fly fishing as a sport has not grown much for a long time.  The sport is small compared to fishing as a whole, and fly fishing is a tiny portion of the participation compared to conventional methods.  So, we’ll take the kids and women as new potential customers.

That should influence fly fishing stores and manufacturers plans, unless the trend has changed since the last data was collected.

I read all the fishing retail research I can find.  One interesting report was a “mystery shopper” survey conducted in Southern cities that was prepared for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.  Mystery shoppers were sent into stores with fishing departments.  They rated the stores by groups, based on typical consumer reactions to positive or negative experiences.

One very important and notable component I like to look for when I enter a retail store is “the greeting”.

In this report, most stores did not do well at all.  In 65% of the cases, a sales associate was identified by their attire or name tag.  That’s good.  The stores had sales associates where the customers were shopping 2/3 of the time.

The problem is, the mystery shopper was greeted the sales associate within 3 minutes, only 36% of the time.  They were friendly in 88% of the cases.  They were not friendly fast enough, in my opinion. 

It’s true and we know it.  We have become accustomed to a self service shopping environment.  I do most of my shopping at home improvement stores.  I usually have to look for someone to help me.  But, when I find them, they are friendly and helpful. There are exceptions. I'm greeted immediately when I visit the paint store in Maryville and the hardware store in Townsend.

Self service doesn’t work in fly fishing stores.  We know, most customers need help.  Fly fishing is not a simple as the non-fishing advertisements on television make it look.  And we know, those human models don’t know the first thing about fly fishing anyway.  Most viewers probably don’t know that.

Another interesting category in this research was “needs assessment”.  Our job is to evaluate a visitor in our store by asking questions or making a visual assessment or both.  Needs assessments include:

Is the customer new to the sport?
Where does the customer plan to fish?
Is the customer familiar with the equipment?
Is the customer new to fishing in our area?
Does the customer need help determining what flies to use in our streams at this particular time?
If the customer has been fishing, are they catching fish?  Do they need coaching?
In our case, does the customer know the fly tying materials are upstairs?

In this study, only 45% of the mystery shoppers were asked if they were new to fishing.

And, only 45% of the mystery shoppers got suggestions from the sales associate about a place to go fishing.

And listen to this, only 4% were offered the opportunity to attend an upcoming fishing-related event or clinic taking place at the store.

Of those stores who offered information on where to fish, 62% were family owned, 64% were sporting goods stores and there were numbers as low as 37% in one group of stores.  I thought that was interesting.

I think we retailers have some work to do.  It’s our job and our manufacturer’s job to help participants enjoy the sport more.

Have a great day and thank you for being here with us.

Byron Begley
February 2, 2015

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