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HuskerFlyFisher
01-15-2013, 05:51 PM
Is it just me, or does it seem like all of the fish in the Smokies have been reduced to fingerlings?

I'm not expecting whoppers, but my goodness, most of these things there's about 1 bite of meat on.

I believe I read in Don Kirk's book that the brook trout used to be a lot bigger. If that's so, what made them smaller? Is there not enough food in the Smokies for these "minnows" to eat or what?

NDuncan
01-15-2013, 06:33 PM
I noticed several of them being skinnier than usual for their length. That being said, there were some who were still pretty chunky. I imagine come spring, they will be fattening up again. As far as average length, I haven't noticed the average size going down.

tnflyfisher
01-15-2013, 06:35 PM
I'm guessing that you didn't get to fish the park much last season?? If you did, then you may need to possibly re-evaluate your techniques, or just tag along with the right guys to see what some nice fish look like... ;)

If anything, I would say that the size of the fish in the park here lately has been very good. Not only did I land my largest rainbow this past spring but I also had an even larger 14-15" bow break me off and for a wild GSMNP bow, I don't think it gets much better than that...

Tight Lines,

buzzmcmanus
01-15-2013, 07:01 PM
IMO, the fish have actually gotten larger over the past 3 years. I think the drought had quite a bit to do with this. They also used to stock the Park until the early 70's.

If that's so, what made them smaller?
Catch and release is what keeps them from getting larger. Again, this is just my opinion.

BlueRaiderFan
01-15-2013, 07:27 PM
My experience has also been that they have gotten smaller but I don't disregard others opinions...maybe it is me.

David Knapp
01-16-2013, 12:04 AM
Fish size in the Park is definitely cyclical to some extent but I would say we are still in a big fish cycle. The rainbows were averaging a good size for me as well and there are plenty of big browns. Now, stream to stream the size can vary quite a bit depending on various factors so your mileage may vary..

BlueRaiderFan
01-16-2013, 12:41 AM
Fish size in the Park is definitely cyclical to some extent but I would say we are still in a big fish cycle. The rainbows were averaging a good size for me as well and there are plenty of big browns. Now, stream to stream the size can vary quite a bit depending on various factors so your mileage may vary..


Go on... :biggrin:

Don Kirk
01-16-2013, 07:45 AM
Several years ago when the FFF had it’s first conclave in Gatlinburg, I was the opening speaker. I made the comment that when Little River had a 14”size limit (prior to 1975), that most of the trout I caught there were around 12”. When it changed to a 12” size limit, most of the trout I caught were 10”. When it changed to 9” size limit, most of the trout I caught were 7”. My comments were in response to a fellow in the audience of who asked my “opinion.” That was an honest appraisal on my part—the opinion of a simple fisherman.

Right in the middle of the presentation I was accosted by an NPS biologist who demanded over and over to see “my data.” I kept telling the fellow it was the opinion of a fisherman, that I was not a government paid biologist (and that he had a program later that afternoon to refute me). I will not name the fellow, but he harangued me while I was at the podium, then came up to me afterwards and threatened to arrest me for possession of slide of illegally caught brook trout.

Here’s the deal from a biological prospective on the trout in the GSMNP. All bodies of water, be they lakes or streams, generally speaking have the ability to carry “x” number of pounds of fish per surface acre. This number varies greatly from water to water, and is based on factors such as available nutrients, fertility and over all water quality. These factors can be enhanced or degraded, however, when left constant, a stream or lake will more or less consistently support “x” pounds of fish per surface acre. For example, because it is more fertile, Abrams Creek has almost twice as many pounds of fish per surface acre as other streams in the GSMNP.

Many time modern fishery management techniques can manipulate the structure of fish populations in specific bodies of water both in terms of species, percentages of species and the size of fish found there. Actually, its pretty simple stuff. For example, salt water striped bass are stocked in Tennessee lakes to convert “x” number of pounds of otherwise useless, opening water dwelling gizzard shad into highly valued “x” pounds of striped bass. Look at the success of the delayed harvest program as another example of manipulating fisheries.

The same is true of the generally infertile streams of the GSMNP, but here political considerations gum up the works. Little River can support “x” number of pounds of fish. Let’s say that number is 100 pounds of fish per surface acre, of which 50 pounds is trout. That 50 pounds of trout can be made up of mostly 4-oz fish, or can be manipulated by minimum creel size restrictions to be biased to fish of one pounds or greater. While it is true that only a small percentage of the trout will reach one pounds or greater due to mortality, what you have a choice between is a pool full of little trout or a pool with a couple of big trout.

In the GSMNP the choice is to not provide a quality fishery, but rather, begrudgingly offer fishing as the park’s charter requires. There is a lot of truth in the saying that figures don’t lie, but liars figure. You can spent millions of dollars covering up a questionable management policy, but lipstick on a pig still leaves you with a pig. Now you know the rest of the story.

HuskerFlyFisher
01-16-2013, 09:16 AM
Wow, interesting stuff!

I asked Ian Rutter a similar question years ago, and he said something to the effect that the creel policy - 5 fishes 7" or larger - tends to mean that there are more fingerlings in the stream. Were the policy the opposite - keep up to 7 fish 5 inches or less (I am paraphrasing - Ian feel free to correct me), then there would be more room in the streams for bigger (albeit fewer) fishes.

Corbo
01-16-2013, 09:42 AM
Well guys; Greenbriar is howling high right now, where it flows behind my house (backyard on a very high bank) it is about to jump the bank into a road on the opposite side.... so perhaps there will be NO fish left in the river after this flood.

David Knapp
01-16-2013, 10:25 AM
In the GSMNP the choice is to not provide a quality fishery, but rather, begrudgingly offer fishing as the park’s charter requires. There is a lot of truth in the saying that figures don’t lie, but liars figure. You can spent millions of dollars covering up a questionable management policy, but lipstick on a pig still leaves you with a pig. Now you know the rest of the story.

I would respectfully disagree that the problem lies with policy but rather in the catch and release ethic that has been so long instilled within fly anglers. Very few anglers are keeping fish out there and with the amount of pressure on streams like Little River, if all the fishermen were keeping even a couple of fish it would increase fish size noticeably. Some of the pools on Little River with the largest browns also happen to be the pools that get poached regularly....go figure.

Rog 1
01-16-2013, 10:36 AM
Simple supply side economics...there is a limited supply of food...the more fish there are the tighter the competition becomes and with less food for each fish the growth rate is stunted. I fished the park about four times last year and caught bigger fish than in the last four years...and the reason everyone gives is the drought of three years ago...so you have fewer fish with the same food supply. More food per fish makes for bigger fish..In the past years there were a lot of locals that fished the park for food...never knew of the term catch and release...just by looking at the general fisherman in the park these days you can tell that they are not locals...this fishery will sustain keeping fish to eat and the result will be larger fish...if you don't practice population management then there is no grounds for you to complain about the small size of the fish...

HuskerFlyFisher
01-16-2013, 11:06 AM
Simple supply side economics...there is a limited supply of food...the more fish there are the tighter the competition becomes and with less food for each fish the growth rate is stunted. I fished the park about four times last year and caught bigger fish than in the last four years...and the reason everyone gives is the drought of three years ago...so you have fewer fish with the same food supply. More food per fish makes for bigger fish..In the past years there were a lot of locals that fished the park for food...never knew of the term catch and release...just by looking at the general fisherman in the park these days you can tell that they are not locals...this fishery will sustain keeping fish to eat and the result will be larger fish...if you don't practice population management then there is no grounds for you to complain about the small size of the fish...

Interesting. So you (and perhaps David) would be a proponent of keeping a fish or two each time out?

I was reading up on Yellowstone NP's policy last night, and Yellowstone is catch and release for any native fish. Is the fear that the waters (in the GSMNP or other NPs) will get fished out unfounded?

Related to this, and borrowing from my conversations from Ian Rutter again, Ian's thoughts were that (again, paraphrasing), fishermen are the least likely to affect the fish population. There are a number of other threats to the fish (drought, flood, otters, raccoons, kingfishers, snakes, etc.) that rank far, far higher on the predator list than a fly fisherman taking a fish or two home to munch on.

That said, when Ian is your guide it is strictly catch and release.

buzzmcmanus
01-16-2013, 11:13 AM
Interesting. So you (and perhaps David) would be a proponent of keeping a fish or two each time out?
Definitely, I have similar results as David. I catch some of my biggest brook trout out of streams that are heavily poached. I'll catch fewer fish, but the average size is noticeably larger with an occasional 10" fish thrown in for good measure.

David Knapp
01-16-2013, 12:08 PM
I would add that while I recommend keeping a few fish, I also believe that the largest fish (for all species) should be put back to pass on those genes that result in larger (and dominant) fish. Keeping a few 7-10" fish will be good for the fishery in the long run...

NDuncan
01-16-2013, 12:34 PM
Same length, same stream, same day

http://i967.photobucket.com/albums/ae158/Nathan_Duncan/01-12-13%20Sams%20Creek/P1010553.jpg

http://i967.photobucket.com/albums/ae158/Nathan_Duncan/01-12-13%20Sams%20Creek/P1010559.jpg

Both of the Sams brookies measured around 8.5" on Saturday. The one thing that really struck me when I caught the first one, was how disproportionate the jaw was with respect to the body length/girth. Very slender and skinny for the length, and head seemed way too big for the body. The second one looks much more proportionate. The pictures really don't tell the story as well as seeing them in person did, but anyway, that's what i noticed.

bmadd
01-16-2013, 12:37 PM
While I don't have any expertise with trout, or anything really, I have read plenty of information supporting slot limits on warmwater fisheries to help grow bigger fish and I have seen the results first hand. There are several small TWRA lakes here in West TN with very good quality of Largemouth Bass due to slot limits. Most have an immediate release rule on fish in the 14-20" range and allowing you to keep only one fish above that limit. By taking out a lot of the smaller fish, you are allowing the bigger fish to keep getting bigger.

HuskerFlyFisher
01-16-2013, 12:59 PM
[
Both of the Sams brookies measured around 8.5" on Saturday. The one thing that really struck me when I caught the first one, was how disproportionate the jaw was with respect to the body length/girth. Very slender and skinny for the length, and head seemed way too big for the body. The second one looks much more proportionate. The pictures really don't tell the story as well as seeing them in person did, but anyway, that's what i noticed.[/QUOTE]

I believe the first one may have an over-inflated ego, resulting in a big head.

tnflyfisher
01-16-2013, 01:13 PM
Both of the Sams brookies measured around 8.5" on Saturday. The one thing that really struck me when I caught the first one, was how disproportionate the jaw was with respect to the body length/girth. Very slender and skinny for the length, and head seemed way too big for the body.

The large head, small body is in fact a sign of not enough food in the system to go around... Sams now has an abundant population of brookies and with all the pressure it receives, they are getting educated. This may lead to less fish being caught and kept or caught and then die off after being released, although just a theory. It's not that big of a stream to begin with so there is a limited amount food available to all those fish. However, from everything that I have seen, I think the size of brookies on that stream is very good considering...

Tight Lines,

fishhead
01-16-2013, 05:48 PM
I think your right on about the pictures. Oversized heads and small bodies too many fish not enough food. see same thing with bream and bass in over-populated ponds.

on the flip side. I fished **$#@ creek a few years ago maybe 3 now.. when doing research i was told would only find small fish there. I did find some smalls but was pleasantly surprized at the keeper sized specs and bows I caught. sometimes I think the generic approach is mis-used in the Smokies. just using stimulator flies and not really paying attention to what is correct food source for that time of year. Big fish didn't get that way being stupid. But I hear alot how dumb wild fish can be.. or oppurtunistic. not always true...
my .02
Fishhead

HuskerFlyFisher
01-16-2013, 06:32 PM
I think your right on about the pictures. Oversized heads and small bodies too many fish not enough food. see same thing with bream and bass in over-populated ponds.

on the flip side. I fished **$#@ creek a few years ago maybe 3 now.. when doing research i was told would only find small fish there. I did find some smalls but was pleasantly surprized at the keeper sized specs and bows I caught. sometimes I think the generic approach is mis-used in the Smokies. just using stimulator flies and not really paying attention to what is correct food source for that time of year. Big fish didn't get that way being stupid. But I hear alot how dumb wild fish can be.. or oppurtunistic. not always true...
my .02
Fishhead

Interesting! So one of the reasons I'm stuck with the fingerlings is that I'm too lazy to throw anything out there except a #14 tan elk hair caddis? :biggrin:

Rog 1
01-17-2013, 10:00 AM
These fish eat to live...they also expend the same amount of energy chasing any and all food...sometimes, especially in summer and early fall, throw an oversized madamx or hopper and see what happens...must look like a steak vs. a piece of broccoli

fishhead
01-17-2013, 12:52 PM
just saying I catch better fish when I find out what the true food source at the time is.. there maybe nothing that is dominating at the time, but most times there is. a friend I was with last year caught a rainbow maybe
6.5 inces he had a beetle in his stomach that was close to 1.75" long and maybe 1.00" wide.. we knew by his gut he had swallowed something big.
they will eat anything.. but as noted the big ones didn't get that way being dumb.
Fishhead

bmadd
01-17-2013, 03:25 PM
Maybe you East TN guys are just getting bigger?? :biggrin:

whitefeather
01-18-2013, 12:42 AM
If you fish the Oconoluftee River basin, including the Bradley Fork, and tributaries, and you catch fish this size, I recommend you keep them. These are migrants from the trophy waters at Cherokee and they have been reported all the way up to the very beginnings of the Luftee, presumably searching for colder waters. I saw one "brood" fish, a brookie, that I think was on her redd, that could have eaten either of these guys. I am guessing her size to be 8-10 lbs or perhaps larger. When I dropped the biggest, heaviest, lure I could find in my tackle in front of her nose, she just picked it up, took it out in the main current, dropped it and came back to her redd. She hadn't responded to any smaller flies, nymphs, etc. The second time she moved off into deeper water behind a huge bolder and I never saw her again. I was about 12 feet higher than the water on a huge bolder, looking straight down on her. She was in about eight feet of water, tailing near the bottom, at the current seam, over a gravel redd.
http://littleriveroutfitters.com/forum/picture.php?albumid=89&pictureid=582

David Knapp
01-18-2013, 12:52 AM
If you fish the Oconoluftee River basin, including the Bradley Fork, and tributaries, and you catch fish this size, I recommend you keep them. These are migrants from the trophy waters at Cherokee and they have been reported all the way up to the very beginnings of the Luftee, presumably searching for colder waters. I saw one "brood" fish, a brookie, that I think was on her redd, that could have eaten either of these guys. I am guessing her size to be 8-10 lbs or perhaps larger. When I dropped the biggest, heaviest, lure I could find in my tackle in front of her nose, she just picked it up, took it out in the main current, dropped it and came back to her redd. She hadn't responded to any smaller flies, nymphs, etc. The second time she moved off into deeper water behind a huge bolder and I never saw her again. I was about 12 feet higher than the water on a huge bolder, looking straight down on her. She was in about eight feet of water, tailing near the bottom, at the current seam, over a gravel redd.
http://littleriveroutfitters.com/forum/picture.php?albumid=89&pictureid=582

I've been amazed at how far up some of those big stockers make it...to the point that I've wondered if there is someone catching them down in Cherokee and transporting them further up into the Park. While I don't like seeing all those stockers in a wild stream, it does provide for a surprise while fishing every once in awhile... :eek:

whitefeather
01-18-2013, 01:42 PM
David,

I wonder how they survive for very long. While fish this size have a diet of "larger bites" they certainly still keep eating bugs when available, which would tend to exaggerate the deprivation of the food supply the smaller fish need to survive. With all the fish that are supposedly stocked in the catch and release trophy section of the res, its hard to imagine they don't have a problem also, or soon will have. Perhaps that is one reason the stockers are dispersing. I'm sure the migration isn't limited to brookies; some very large brown's have been caught in the last couple of years upstream of the res. also. The Luftee has always had large browns according to park information, but sooner or later something has to give.

HuskerFlyFisher
01-19-2013, 12:31 PM
David,

I wonder how they survive for very long. While fish this size have a diet of "larger bites" they certainly still keep eating bugs when available, which would tend to exaggerate the deprivation of the food supply the smaller fish need to survive. With all the fish that are supposedly stocked in the catch and release trophy section of the res, its hard to imagine they don't have a problem also, or soon will have. Perhaps that is one reason the stockers are dispersing. I'm sure the migration isn't limited to brookies; some very large brown's have been caught in the last couple of years upstream of the res. also. The Luftee has always had large browns according to park information, but sooner or later something has to give.

I'm guessing these big fishies feast mostly on other fishies and rodents, lizzerds, and snakes, if they do in fact survive.

whitefeather
01-19-2013, 01:15 PM
I'm guessing these big fishies feast mostly on other fishies and rodents, lizzerds, and snakes, if they do in fact survive.

HuskerFlyFisher,

That's what I was referring to when I mentioned "bigger bites". But I don't think the larger "meat" eater trout would turn down a good hatch if they happened on to one. The brookies in my photo were full of bugs, large and small, and along with sculpins.

Th GSMNP web site used to have some good data on trout size, growth and mortality rates, size at which they transition to becoming "meat eaters". The mortality rates for rainbow were somewhat alarming for fish over 7 inches. Don't know how well that data translates to reality today, but the food source conditions are generally the same.

duckypaddler
01-19-2013, 07:16 PM
I pulled a 6 inch salamander out of a 7 inch trout on Roaring Fork last Summer. It was a day I forgot my camera, Freddie can verify:smile:.

I remember saying I either saved that fishes life, or I deprived him of a months food. I'm not sure which

NDuncan
01-19-2013, 07:47 PM
Ditto to that except I found the salamander in the stomach of a Brookie. And one that about 7.25" at that. So they will go after big bites at a young age.

muskrat
01-20-2013, 09:49 AM
Something I always wondered about when I see photos of brookies caught in the park at this time of year with big heads and skinny bodies is, are these a result of being post spawn fish who are in process of rebuilding body mass with a limited food supply in the winter?

MBB
01-26-2013, 12:57 PM
Personally, I think the acid rain has had an negative effect on fertility of the Smokies streams and therefore the size of the trout. Warmer stream temperatures has also had a negative effect in my opinion.

Last year I read a report of the Kg/Ha per certain Park streams and was a bit surprised at the numbers. I believe Deep Creek only averaged 25 or so and that is very ordinary and average in the Southeast. It is nothing like the "gem" status it used to acclaim in the 1980s and prior.

NDuncan
01-26-2013, 01:32 PM
Personally, I think the acid rain has had an negative effect on fertility of the Smokies streams and therefore the size of the trout. Warmer stream temperatures has also had a negative effect in my opinion.

Last year I read a report of the Kg/Ha per certain Park streams and was a bit surprised at the numbers. I believe Deep Creek only averaged 25 or so and that is very ordinary and average in the Southeast. It is nothing like the "gem" status it used to acclaim in the 1980s and prior.


I would be really interested in this report. As chemistry professor, I am trying to get some things lined up to do some extensive water quality research on the streams in the park and so I am still gathering info about what has already been done. Any resources that anyone already has would be a huge help in getting this started.

whitefeather
01-26-2013, 06:59 PM
Personally, I think the acid rain has had an negative effect on fertility of the Smokies streams and therefore the size of the trout. Warmer stream temperatures has also had a negative effect in my opinion.

Last year I read a report of the Kg/Ha per certain Park streams and was a bit surprised at the numbers. I believe Deep Creek only averaged 25 or so and that is very ordinary and average in the Southeast. It is nothing like the "gem" status it used to acclaim in the 1980s and prior.

I would think that is true based on data I've seen on the GSMNP website concerning the freestone streams but I'm only a layman on the subject. More acid, less bugs, smaller fish or at least more smaller fish vs fewer larger fish.

Anywho, is there any way this acid rain influence can be balanced out and perhaps even made to swing a little the other way, like a limestone stream? Probably a dumb question but I was just wondering. I know every time "man" tries to overcome something in nature, he usually misjudges and nature usually suffers something else, but ...just asking.

TNBigBore
02-15-2013, 11:35 AM
The streams of the Smokies are naturally more acidic than most Western, Northeastern and Upper Midwestern streams. This does not have as much to do with acid rain as does the parent rock formations the streams flow over. This really becomes evident when a road cut is made through an acid bearing shale formation like the one at Newfound Gap and the Cherohala Skyway. Water trickling over these fresh road cuts significantly drops the pH of nearby streams for years. This is evident in upper Walker Camp prong and McNabb and Hemlock Branches in the CNF. The one outlier stream in the Smokies is Abrams and it flows over and through more of a limestone base.

It is a combination of low pH, low mineral content and low buffering capacity that keep the streams of the Smokies relatively infertile. They are aesthetically pleasing and do hold some gorgeous wild fish, but will never be in the same league as the famous Western and Northern streams unless the fish receive supplemental feedings. There will always be a relatively few really large brown trout in just about any water they inhabit, but they are the exception.

BlueRaiderFan
02-15-2013, 01:21 PM
It's amazing that the nutrient content is considered low, given the variety and number of hatches I see in the warmer months.

jross
02-15-2013, 02:54 PM
when I first started fishing the park not too long ago, say 8 years, I was happy to catch a keeper. Now I expect to catch a keeper everytime. I have gotten more experience therefore better, but I do think the fish have gotten bigger (maybe just in certain places I fish). Not scientific mind you, just from observation. I remember reading books that would say any rainbow over 8" is a good one. I've seen a few pushing 10" or so.

on a seperate note concerning acidic waters.

Pike County IN has been a mining region for years. A small river was dead for 70/80 years from acid mine drainage. It flowed orange. In the 90's serious reclamation was undertaken and river is coming back to life; plant life, dragonflies, spotted bass. However it is still pretty invertabrate deficient compared to other local waters. Big fish (piscovores) come in and hang out but the base invertabrates are harder to establish therefore the small sunfish aren't too prevelant. Sounds like the smokies just with warmwater.

David Knapp
02-15-2013, 03:16 PM
It's amazing that the nutrient content is considered low, given the variety and number of hatches I see in the warmer months.

Good variety but you need to come out west and experience a blizzard hatch. Or try the SoHo during sulphur times... The Smokies have very few hatches that get the fish going like a big hatch can, but the ones that do happen are definitely something to experience!!!

MBB
02-15-2013, 03:53 PM
I would be really interested in this report. As chemistry professor, I am trying to get some things lined up to do some extensive water quality research on the streams in the park and so I am still gathering info about what has already been done. Any resources that anyone already has would be a huge help in getting this started.

Take a look at the Fish and Biology forum under this site. There is a topic dated on or about 11/4/2011 titled Deep Creek Survey or Commuinity and there is a link to the survey done by Steve Moore and Matt Kulp. Hope that helps.

MBB
02-15-2013, 05:03 PM
I would think that is true based on data I've seen on the GSMNP website concerning the freestone streams but I'm only a layman on the subject. More acid, less bugs, smaller fish or at least more smaller fish vs fewer larger fish.

Anywho, is there any way this acid rain influence can be balanced out and perhaps even made to swing a little the other way, like a limestone stream? Probably a dumb question but I was just wondering. I know every time "man" tries to overcome something in nature, he usually misjudges and nature usually suffers something else, but ...just asking.

Yes, West Virginia has been adding limestone to certain streams for years with good results and good fishing. I understand that North Carolina currently has a plan to add limestone to one or more trout streams as part of a test project.

BlueRaiderFan
02-16-2013, 06:30 PM
Good variety but you need to come out west and experience a blizzard hatch. Or try the SoHo during sulphur times... The Smokies have very few hatches that get the fish going like a big hatch can, but the ones that do happen are definitely something to experience!!!

That would be a nice experience for me. I may try to make it this year. I've seen few heavy hatches so far: I saw a hatch of blue quills on the Elk in WV, a large hatch of BWO's on the Caney, and that's about it for large single fly hatches. I did see some really good hatches in the Smokies but they contained multiple species of flies. I think the neatest hatches were definitely in the Smokies. I've never seen so many different kinds of flies at once.