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Jim Casada 02-07-2012 01:34 PM

The changing face of park fishing
I thought it might be interesting to reflect a bit on my personal experiences regarding changes in Park fishing I have seen in the course of my lifetime, and I hope others, whether virtual tyros or seasoned veterans, will share similar thoughts. Here, in no particular order of importance or significance, are some of the things I have noticed.

1. The disappearance of smallmouth bass from most Park streams. In the 1960s the lower end of many Park streams had goodly numbers of smallmouth bass. Today, with the notable exception of Abrams Creek, that is no longer the case. There may be the occasional bronzeback below The Sinks, and that's about it other than Abrams Creek. Matt Kulp, Steve Moore, and I have talked about this at some length and we all agree that the most likely explanation is that there is far more canopy today than was once the case, which in turn translates to colder water. Incidentally, this past summer's sampling of Deep Creek, with one of the two days of work being done right in the campground just above the Park line, precisely one smallmouth was captured. There were lots of them here when I was a boy and young man.The same was true of redeyes.

2. The spread of specks. They are found over a far more extensive range than was the case a half century ago, and I suspect that part of the explanation is the same as Point 1--more canopy and colder water.

3. The continuing spread and population increase of browns in many streams. This has been dramatic in all of the big streams emptying into Fontana.

4. The changing nature of fishing. I see far more two-fly rigs, far greater use of nymphs, and less reliance on dry flies. A fair number of oldtimers of my acquaintance thought that nymphs were but one step removed (and a short one at that) from bait fishing.

5. The singular lack of a backcountry ranger presence. Too many Crown Vic cowboys today--when was the last time you were checked in the backcountry?

6. Disappearance of many readily obvious signs of human habitation. Where there were once fields overgrown with broom sedge and fruit trees which still bore every year, today you find poplars a half century old. For example, the Jenkins Fields on Deep Creek have long since ceased to fit the definition of "field."

7. Vast changes in equipment. I often saw folks fishing with a cane pole (and legally--they used nymphs) when I was a boy, and bamboo and/or fiberglass were the standards. Today we are in the grip of the graphite monster (and yes, most of my rods are graphite).

8. Seldom does one see a spin fisherman; once they were commonplace.

9. The use of waders and specially made wading boots. I never waded any way other than wet until I was at least in my late 30s, and the only footwear I knew for the first four decades I fished was Army combat boots fitted out with felt soles.

10. Catch-and-release. Almost no one turned fish loose 40 years ago. It was a hook-to-cook, release-to-grease situation.

That's a start--who'll add more (and there are many other changes)?

Jim Casada

MBB 02-07-2012 01:50 PM

Great observations. While I have only fished the Park the last thirty or so years, there seems to be far, far more fisherman. Also, the rainbow trout seem to be smaller. I rarely hear of a rainbow over 12 inches. And when I do, I suspect it is a Fontana Lake run trout.

BlueRaiderFan 02-07-2012 01:57 PM

I always see bait casters but I fish the big water near the roads a lot.

Crockett 02-07-2012 02:32 PM

Great observations Jim. I would say a large increase in frontcountry fisherman and a marked decrease in backcountry anglers. If you read posts on forums like this you may get the idea the backcountry is crowded with anglers and there are waiting lines to fish three forks etc. but most of the time its the same 6 or 8 guys posting these reports. The fact is the backcountry it is pretty much void of fishermen in 95% of the park. Even on nice weekends in summer most campsites are empty and hundreds of miles of stream sit untouched. Backcountry camping is currently back down to the same level as 1960s which is pretty incredible. Nowadays it seems everyone sticks close to their cars. On a hot summer day you will find great packs of folks swimming and enjoying the waters on lower Deep Creek, the Townsend Wye and up Tremont Road, but they tend to congregate together (for safety I theorize) so if you go to a smaller stream or branch it is very easy to find complete solitude. Item #10 on Jim's list may be one of many reasons for smaller bows ie overpopulation.

Here is another couple of obvious ones:
The opening of brook trout streams to fishing although open for a while now many of the signs prohibiting speck fishing still linger around the backcountry.

The ease of learning about fishing the park on internet forums such as these. Ability to learn anything and everything including stream names from time to time :).

JoeFred 02-07-2012 02:40 PM


Originally Posted by BlueRaiderFan (Post 98481)
I always see bait casters but I fish the big water near the roads a lot.

A good friend of mine, who sadly died in his prime, once had a novel idea for how we could keep the starlings off the pipe bridges and their droppings off the folks... without harming the environment. It was in a team meeting that my friend offered, in a geniune Southwest Virginian accent, "You fellers need to get a bunch of loudspeakers, lots of wire and a tape recorder. Record on the thing, "KEEP THE **** OFF! KEEP THE **** OFF!"

Would such a thing be permitted on the top of a vehicle moving slowly along Little River Road?

Good thread, Jim!


Mac 02-07-2012 03:19 PM


Excellent forum topic. I often think about how things have changed in the park and surrounding area. I started visiting the park in the early 80's when i was a college student at UK.

Now day's when i visit the park with my wife and family the one thing i am always telling them is you needed to plan all your trips way in advance and have all the fly fishing gear you needed with you because there was not any or at least very few fly fishing shops and fly fishing gear available.

There was only one store i was aware of and it still exists today. I cant remember the name but it is on the way to Sevierville, and it was as much a hardware store as anything else but it did have some hunting and fishing equipment.

Today you have Bass Pro, Ovris dealer store and many many others.

The only other major difference is in those days i would fish all weekend in hopes of catching a fish. Today more than a few decades later i think i have half way figured out how to catch a trout and can actually catch a couple. :redface:

Knik 02-07-2012 03:28 PM

Hey Jim, how was the roadside trash back then? I've truly fell in love with the park in the last two years, but all the beer cans and dirty diapers just makes me mad as heck! Picked up a dip net full of beer cans alone in just 150-200 yards up on WCP sat., a lot of drinking between Gburg and Cherokee.... Need to throw the bums under the jail.

But, you can't fix stupid, so I guess it will always be around. :'(

BlueRaiderFan 02-07-2012 05:33 PM

Joe Fred ... I don't mind em...they don't catch much. :biggrin:

Rob Johnson 02-08-2012 01:01 AM

Jim, as for point number 1 in your post, having fished the lower portions of every major drainage in the park over the last many years, I have never caught a Smallie or Redeye although the guidebooks said I should. Even on the Cataloochee, where it looks so much like the smallmouth bass streams here in central kY. Only trout and maybe minnows. Maybe the hairwing dry flies I use or are the smallmouth just not there? Not complaining because I go for the trout but I have always wondered about that. I caught a big {looked like} redhorse sucker once on a hairwing coachman so if the smallies wre there why wouldn't they hit that too? Just curious.

BlueRaiderFan 02-08-2012 11:09 AM

My sister and brother in law were bait casting in the park last year and she called me and said they had gotten into a few bass...maybe it was in town?

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