Does Increasing Angler Participation = Better Fishing?
There have been a few threads in the last few months that have discussed the issue of being "secretive about stream information to protect our streams" v. "increasing angler success leads to increased participation which leads to more folks seeing that our streams are protected".
There was discussion that the number of anglers has actually gone down over the years and that fewer people fish in the Park today than in years past. But there didn't seem to be any hard facts behind our discussion. I had a little bit of free time this evening and started doing some research.
In general nationally, over the last 15 years or so the number of people that fish and the number of times that each person fishes has gone down. From the period 1996 to 2006 the number of licensed anglers went down 14.8%. At the same time the number of days spent fishing went down 17.4%. The East South Central Region has seen a less dramatic drop across that same period (approximately 5% down from 1996).
The State of TN has seen drops in license sales as well since 2001. The graphs that include in the TWRA Strategic Plan indicated that there has been a slight increase in total fishing days across the state from 1996 to now, but that it has dropped off dramatically in the last 6 years. Specifically I was reviewing the statistics for stream based trout fishing, which includes the Park and most of the East TN counties.
So what does that mean? There are less people fishing now than in the past, but really there is no definitive evidence that fishing pressure has gone up or down over the past 10-15 years (with the popularity of the internet as a medium to spread good fishing stories...). And its really hard to tell if there has been a migration of anglers from tailwaters to park streams, etc.
I did find something else interesting in the TWRA Strategic Plan. TWRA is looking hard at trying to expand the number of anglers. Here is a set of specific action items that they intended to take to increase participation:
IX. Problem: Many anglers and potential anglers are not aware of existing stream fishing opportunities in Tennessee. Less avid anglers need additional motivation.Here are some sites/reports that you can explore and draw your own conclusions:
I'm not sure which side of the argument is right. Perhaps it isn't black and white, at all. Maybe some streams need to be protected while more participation would ensure that other get protected. What's your opinion?
Do you think fishing in the park is better now than in the 90's (or 80s, or 40s?). And why?
Good research. The number of licenses seems pretty clear cut. But, how do they know the number of fishing days? I used to fish heavily and I can recall only being asked once about my days angling and my general angling habits. That was in the Smokys. I was reading a management plan about a month ago, and somewhere in that plan was a mention of the problem of stream access under current state law.
That is hilarious...license sales have been dropping the last few years, ironically coinciding with the ridiculous price increases which make our non-resident license (with trout stamp) one of the most expensive in the entire country. If our fishing and stream access was on par with some of the great destination states (such as Montana) and had the level of fishery enhancing regs that they have, I wouldn't have an issue with the high cost of a license. If TWRA truly wanted to increase the number of anglers, they would lower the cost of the license or do a better job with our fisheries. The delayed harvest streams over in NC bring a lot of out of state fisherman in. Our delayed harvest streams (like the Tellico) are nothing like those in North Carolina. Out of state fisherman aren't going to spend $81 to come fish them for a few days a year when they could go to NC and buy a license for half the price. If it wasn't for streams like the South Holston, the number of non-resident licenses would be much fewer... When I travel out west, I specifically avoid fishing in Wyoming. The license is expensive and stream access laws are awful. I'm sure people feel the same about Tennessee. There is good fishing available, but the license is just overpriced.
As far as the number of people fishing different types of waters, it seems to me that a lot more people are fishing tailwaters instead of venturing onto the smaller freestone streams in the mountains. For many people, once they figure out how to catch trout on the tailwaters it is hard to go back to the mountains where the average fish is much smaller. As far as overall fishing quality, the guys that have been fishing the park for a long time will tell you that the fishing was actually better back in the day when more people kept a few fish. The park biologists wish that more people would keep a few fish. The fish this year seem much healthier because nature (using the drought) thinned the fish population so that the remaining fish are all eating well. I haven't caught a skinny fish at all this year. The old timers will also tell how you could pretty much always catch a limit of 10-11 inch fish. So, in the park, I think that there might not be fewer anglers but most all of them are not keeping any fish.
On the other hand, our tailwaters have a much richer food base and catch and release fishing will definitely increase the quality of fishing (assuming that most people would consider catching good numbers of larger fish as "quality"). Personally I find it easy to think of catching big trout all day as quality fishing. In the tailwaters, there's enough food to go around and the fish will grow just so long as they are given the opportunity. Unfortunately (to my selfish mind), TWRA needs to cater to all fishermen meaning that the catch and keep crowd will be keeping those fish before they grow large.
I really like where you said that maybe some streams should be mentioned while others are kept quiet. Streams like Little River, the Clinch, South Holson, Watauga, and Caney are not some well-kept secret. On the other hand, small streams in the park are easy to poach and mentioning them on the internet just gives dishonest anglers the idea to go catch a bunch of specs. I've talked to people that have all kinds of stories about poaching brookies out park streams.
Over the years I've seen lots of people let something slip online about a small stream. They can't handle the same amount of pressure as the tailwaters and within a few months, several people are complaining about the deteriorating quality of fishing on the particular stream. Overall I try to keep specific locations somewhat vague when giving a report on fishing in the park (or other east TN small streams). For a few streams, I won't even mention what county they are in or what larger stream they are a tributary of. They simply can't handle the pressure. If I'm fishing a Little River trib somewhere upstream of Elkmont, I'll simply say I was fishing above Elkmont. This is plenty of information and if someone really wants to explore for themselves they can. Many fisherman have a misguided mentality that leads them to believe that if one person has great success, then it must be the spot and not the fisherman. Come fish the Caney with me sometime and you will see what I mean. When you're catching fish, you'll start collecting a bunch of other fisherman all inching as close as possible. They think it must be the spot. Same thing in mountain streams. If they think I hiked exactly 3 miles above Elkmont before starting to fish and then reported catching 45 fish, then it must be that the fishing is excellent 3 miles from the trailhead. No matter that I could have started fishing at the trailhead or walked 7 miles and caught 45 fish as well...they think it is that exact spot... Sad but it is the way people think...
Well, I'll quit rambling...this is all just my opinion which is constantly changing so take it with a grain of salt.:rolleyes: Great topic by the way...I'll be interested to hear other people's take on the subject...
You know what is odd...
People from out of state can bring their boats to TN every weekend and pay the same launch fee as TN Boaters. However; their impact is much greater on the environment than that it would be on fishing. Tourism money talks I guess...Several even register their boats in TN...It is such a farce that I rarely go out and enjoy the area lakes anymore...:mad:
However, out of state fishermen get robbed for a 3 or 10 day fishing pass...
I have not seen a TWRA Officer on the Clinch in 20 years....
Also, every other fisherman I see is out of slow and carrying too many fish... I give them a hard time and let them know the rules. Not to be a jerk; but, these fellas are knowledgeable fishermen and know what they are doing.
I think the biggest problem is that people will not keep fish. Whether it be an elitist mentality or just the die hard opposition to keeping fish, hardly anyone keeps fish anymore. Obviously, when the park did their research and opened all closed Speck waters, they found that fishing pressure had little to do with population decline. Far less than natural selection. Personally, I could care less if the average size of fish ever went up. I can catch 5 inch rainbows until my am hurts and 4 and 5 inch Specks until it falls off. there are plenty of big fish left in the park, and everywhere else for that matter. I just caught a 19 1/2 inch brown out of probably the most heavily pressured area in Western NC a week or two ago. The same stream where there " are no fish left" since the delayed harvest opened up. I have heard it all. If and when the average size does increase how long before the rumors of that spread and everyone comes and keeps one for their wall? if you spend anytime fishing around this area you know that if you walk 2 miles or better you probably aren't going to see anyone and when you do odds are they don't have a clue in Hades what they are doing anyways. Just because you can read a fishing report doesn't mean you are going to catch fish. You still have to get your tail out of the car and walk it in somewhere even when you do read a report about a remote location. Not to mention know what you are doing when you get in there. I don't know how many people I have seen up Deep Creek in Chartreuse Swimming trunks a Neon Shirt, flip flops and a spinning rod. Stream disclosure is a personal issue and if you don't like it, then I understand. But for the majority of what I have seen on this board, People love to read a detailed report because it is going to be a while before they get back up or down to this area. This park is just as much theirs as it is mine or anyone elses, and by the many thanks that usually accompany a report you can see the appreciation of someone who can't run out the next day and go fishing. If it helps them plan a trip for one weekend next May, then who cares?
David, you are exactly right about small streams not handling the pressure. Your reports along with Pete and Craigs are ually detailed enough that there isn't a whole lot left to decipher anyway. If people can't get enough information out of one of these then they probably need to find a better way to spend their time than fishing.:biggrin::biggrin:
Best of luck out there, and look for a report Monday. Finally getting a new camera to replace the one that was ruined a few months ago. Hence no pictures posted in a while, haha. Just my 2 cents on the subject.
Also if you ever get a chance to make it this way shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
As item 2 relates to the Park, at least, I wouldn't be offended in the least if TWRA referenced www.smokystreams.com/maps in a publication. Current and would-be anglers can view the maps for free. The agency might prefer to commission some outside mapping company to develop maps on our dime, but I think that would be difficult to sell to the legislature on any special funding during these tough economic times.
One feature of the maps is the highlighting of streams said to hold brook trout by the Fishery Biologists, et al. This gem of the species can stir far more interest than the 'bows and their pursuit would help disperse the "masses" of anglers to the farther reaches.
The maps are clearly not the best in regards to topos, etc., but are far less expensive than a stack of USGS maps. Along those same lines, a goal I have is to make the maps available on CDs, etc. through the Park Stores with proceeds going to the Great Smoky Mountains Association for helping the park.
I kind of think it isn't just fishing but being outdoors in general that is on the decline. I was looking at some of the park statistics here:
Backcountry camping is back down to 1960's levels but the thing that surprised me the most were some of the frontcountry stats. Front country tent camping has dropped off:
2008 - 142,849 camper nights
1979 - 213,565 camper nights
What really surprised me is the huge level of drop off in RV camping inside the park:
2008 - 118,981
1979 - 215,495
Now if anyone would have asked me I would have thought tent camping would be down less than RV camping. Any year you pick and anyway you look at it there just aren't as many people doing outdoor type activities in the smokies despite a rise in the population in general although the drive through in the car crowd is still going strong most just don't leave the car.
The good news is that whenever you are in the backcountry or the frontcountry in some places you will be experiencing the same number of people that were there in the 60s so overcrowding doesn't seem to be that bad. I have spent a lot of Saturday nights this year at formerly popular backcountry sites and was the only one there. I couldn't believe that there was no one at Rich Mtn cs #5 on a nice October Saturday night. Didn't see hardly anyone on the trails either. The more I see that it just amazes me...
Front country camping is probably down because of the increasing cost of a night at a campsite. I used to camp a lot but have a hard time justifying the $20/night...just doesn't fit into my budget very well...
What if front country campsites were scaled back in size and part of the funding to maintain them diverted to building (dare I say it) deeper penetration roads (gravel of course), so that us older types could get more out of a day fishing the upper elevations?
Great comments by all and very good reading. Great general information PeteCz. I think that much of the decline in utilization of our outdoor resources are do to increasing costs, access issues, and the vilification of hunting/fishing in the media.
On the main topic I agree. I really believe that one of the reasons for the size of the trout in the smokies being small is that not enough people keep fish. When I think about warmwater ponds that I have fished I realize that I knew if I went to this pond I would catch 20-30 small bass and a fish over 1 lb was a really nice fish for the pond. If I wanted to catch bigger fish I went to a different pond. I might only get 4 or 5 fish fishing for the same amount of time, but had a real chance at a 5lb plus bass. Do not take this the wrong way, I think it needs to be managed close, I don't want to see it overfished either, but I think that the lack of people keeping fish has changed the fishing in the smokies.
I myself have just changed my habits this fall. I used to never keep any wild fish. Now the fish that I do keep are wild. This is not to say that I am pulling lots of fish out, but the last two day trip I took with a buddy we ended up keeping 4 or 5 fish in two days.
I too have seen some really great/healthy looking fish in the park recently. This more than anything is what has really convinced me that it is really an overpopulation issue, as far as the size of the fish are concerned.
On the issue of sharing/not sharing fishing spots, I tend to lean towards the fact that the vast majority of the people out there are not going to go to the effort to get to most of the out of reach areas. Even I, who have no problem hiking to get to a fishing spot, have probably 15-20 spots that I want to fish from posts that I have read. So far this year I have gotten to a sum total of just one of them. I hope to eventually get to more of them, but know that I will have limitted opportunity to go. Part of the reason for this is distance I know, and I envy all that are so close to the park.
Just a few scattered thoughts from a Marine.
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