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Slipstream 08-03-2010 11:40 AM

bait fishermen on a park stream
I'm not trout fishing much this time of year, but we had a big rain Saturday afternoon, so on Sunday morning I decided to pay a quick visit to Forney Creek and see if any trout noses were pointing up.

I traveled over by boat, and met a young couple with fly rods that had the same thing on their mind. We walked upstream together and finally split up. I tried a few good riffle runs in the first mile. The water level was good, with just a bit of color, and the trout were cooperative. I had over a dozen takes in just a few hours on a small yellow stimulator, with several nice rainbows to hand. At about 11 am, I bumped into the couple, gave them a few flies that were working, and calling it a good morning headed back down to my boat.

Just at lake's edge, I was surprised by a large gathering of people, perhaps six, who had just jumped off a large boat and were making their way up the path. They were mostly men and one young lady, all holding spinning rods, with the men wearing canvas creels hung over their shoulders. More interestingly, each of them held either a cricket basket full of chirping crickets or a blue plastic tub of worms out in the open. They were gathered around the "fishing regulations" sign posted at the entrance to the creek, and laughing, probably at the marking on the sign saying "artificial lures only."

As I came up to them, they started walking quickly upstream past me. They were obviously intent on the makings of a good family fish fry. I had a few seconds to confront them and say something, but they were so numerous and brazen carrying their bait by me that I hesitated and then the moment was lost.

Once on my boat, I got angry about the situation and tried calling a few park numbers to at least notify a ranger of the situation. I called several park numbers that didn't answer and finally got a person at the Elkmont Visitor's Center. When I told him what I'd seen, he sighed and said, "Sir, we're very busy today and it's unlikely that anyone will be able to check on that, but I'll call it into dispatch."

Thinking about it later, I recognize that on any given summer Sunday in the park there are probably multiple car wrecks, children separated from parents, elk sighting traffic jams, and bear incidents, so the story of bait fishermen in some remote corner of the park doesn't even merit mention. I can easily understand why the park is unable to respond to reports like mine, especially in a back-woods location.

I've fly fished for over 20 years, and I've seen plenty of illegal and boneheaded behavior in public water during that time. Normally, it doesn't phase me. However, there was just something about the cavalier behavior of this group and the fact that it was in a cherished section of a national park that disturbed me. To me, these streams are sacred water and deserve better than our hatchery supported and delayed harvest streams that get junked up. There is no happy ending to my story. I don't know whether a ranger came and wrote tickets, or how many trout were eaten that night by those folks.

When I got home, I looked for a better number to call in situations like this on park waters. If you search the park website, they give this number for fishing violations 865 436-1294. I called this number 3 times Monday with no answer. When someone answered on the fourth try, he gave me another number that he claimed was staffed 24/7. It is the park's law enforcement number at 865 436-1230.

In a final stroke of karma, my outboard engine conked out after placing my calls in the Forney Creek channel and it took me several hours to get home. So much for poetic justice.

pmike 08-03-2010 12:13 PM

Thanks for trying
I have had the misfortune of running into similar situations and it is anything but fun. Once after a 500 plus mile trip from Florida to fish and only get sknuked, it was especially annoying to see all the corn cans and worm tubs strewn streamside along Treemont.

Once at Elkmont I pulled off as a man and his wife were pulling in a huge Bow and went over for a look only to have the guy say, we caught a big one earlier. He opened his creel to reveal a 20 plus inch Brown. I then noticed they had a tub of worms they were using for bait. I mentioned to them, or asked them, if they realized it was illegal to use live bait in the park and they responded by saying no one had told them and they had in fact mentioned their intention to fish in the park to the gas station where they bought their bait...and no one said anything. The acted and look at me as if I and what I had said was suspect, but the wife walked over to their car for a few minutes only to return with a copy of rules and regulations. I overheard her tell her husband, "he's right" and they quickly packed up and left.

Ignorance is no excuse, but it should be a given that merchants who sell bait and licenses should say something. I know that LRO warned or informed me when we bought our first license to fish the area and the park.

jeffnles1 08-03-2010 12:26 PM

So frequently on the fishing message boards, I read of people getting upset when a tuber floats by or some family full of children start playing in the stream as if that is some type of crime.

The thing that really makes me angyr isn't some kid skipping stones or a bunch of teens jumping in the creek. They are enjoying the public water just as I am. What really angers me is poaching of any type.

The fishing regulations are all over the place and it's the responsibility of every fisherman to know and understand the regulations on any body of water he/she is fishing (or hunting regulations for that matter).

Taking game in any way that is against the regulations is poaching regardless of the intent. Failure to read and understand the regulations is no more of an excuse than the person who does it intentionally.

OK rant over.


Grannyknot 08-03-2010 12:51 PM

Thanks for trying slipstream.

Some sportsmen just think that using prohibited bait/lures, taking more than the limit, disobeying slots, no bigger of a deal than speeding on the interstate.

From my perspective, the park does a decent job enforcing the fishing rules & regulations. I have been asked for my license far more times in the park than anywhere else in the U.S. I wish it were possible for better enforcement to take place in the backcountry, but its rarely feasible with the amount of personnel on hand at any given time.

Jim Casada 08-03-2010 01:16 PM

Slipstream--Thanks for your post, although it absolutely frosts my grits. I'm basically a defender and supporter of the Park in a lot of ways (including with support dollars). But their cavalier attitude on backcountry law enforcement is and long has been indefensible. The fact that you kept failing to get an answer and were, when you finally did get through to a real person, pretty much "blown off" says far more than it should. I'd love to know what Steve Moore and Matt Kulp think about the woeful lack of backcountry enforcement. I see folks with spinning rigs and treble-hook lures pretty regularly, and periodically I see worm containers on stream banks. But what you encountered simply goes beyond the pale.

Or look at it another way. Many of the people here fish the Park waters a lot. When was the last time you were checked? I've been checked twice in the last three decades and one of them was strictly serendipity. A lady ranger had stopped a speeder on 441 along Luftee, and he pulled off where I was just getting out of my truck to rig up. She wrote him a ticket and then, as she saw me putting up my rod, walked up to me. "I might as well check your license while I'm here," she said. I showed it to her and said it had been far too long since someone had checked me. She had no reply.

I know they are busy, but if speck resotration is a high priority, surely protection of Park fisheries should have some sort of priority as well. But then there is the issue of horse use, the damage horses are doing to trails, the Roaring Fork road delay, the exclusion of ordinary folks from 75th anniversary celebrations, the flat-out reluctance bordering on fear on the part of Park officials to patrol (especially at night) the national forest lands bordering the Park in the Cataloochee area, and more.

I'd love for someone to tell me I'm all wet on the above and back it up with facts, but I don't think it's going to happen.

Jim Casada

Jim Casada 08-03-2010 01:20 PM

Grannyknot--Your experience in being checked sure runs contrary to mine. Two times in 20 years and three times in 30 years is the total I've been checked (fishing-wise, although there have been a couple of requests for my backcountry permit)--and I spend my share of time in the Park.
Talk about strange--I fished a few days ago right behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Not one or two but three night crawler tubs greeted me along the way.
Jim Casada

Crockett 08-03-2010 03:44 PM

I have never been checked either although I see a lot of rangers drive by when I am fishing tremont, laurel creek, or the likes. One evening a ranger stopped right above where I was fishing the middle prong near tremont and he looked down at me in the water. I was pretty certain he was going to wave for me to come over and I had started to dig out my wallet then he drove on. Maybe that was all it took was to act like I was fetching my license ha (of course I really was).

Hey Jim why are they afraid to patrol the National Forest lands bordering Cataloochee at night? Is there some kind of illegal activity going on there?

Grannyknot 08-03-2010 03:52 PM


Originally Posted by Jim Casada (Post 84001)
Grannyknot--Your experience in being checked sure runs contrary to mine.

I should have clarified that I have never been checked in the backcountry, and only once was I checked while actually on a stream. All the other times have been while I was walking on a road or trail holding my fishing rod. I was checked 3 times in 2009.

Slipstream 08-03-2010 04:54 PM

My experience in being checked is very similar to Jim's, once in 20 years, and that on a delayed harvest stream outside the park. I've never seen a ranger in the backcountry, except for the staff that makes the daily run to Hazel Creek. The Hazel Creek crew seems to be involved in maintenance and field work, and I've had them drive by me numerous times without stopping to monitor my fishing.

I believe we'd all like to see better caretaking and protection of our park. I'm concerned not only about the fishing but the camping abuse that is rampant along the Fontana shoreline. A ranger could make a good living writing tickets for weekend campers who have set up adjacent to many of the stream outlets into the lake. Many times, their motto seems to be "take it in and leave it there." I've hauled off countless camping messes, but to do it properly would take a garbage scow. This weekend, there was a group camped in the middle of the road at the Forney entrance, complete with fire ring in the road-bed.

One way for the park to stretch thin resources would be to make better use of volunteer call-in's. I have cell service in many areas of the park now, and if the rangers were responsive to calls and tip-off's, and would make an example of the perpetrators, then perhaps we could gain some traction. Just finding the call-in number on the park's own web-site is nearly impossible. I believe it shows that they don't want us to call.

Chuckwalla 08-03-2010 05:52 PM

I've had some of the same experiences as a few of you with poachers. But over the last few years I've seen an exponential rise in illegal camping. It's seems almost everywhere I go; I see a group camped out in places other than BC sites or campgrounds.

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