I'd love to talk about it
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.