I appreciate this discussion as much as any I have seen on the board because it gets to some of our basic feelings about fishing. First of all, as discussed earlier, I recognize in my own mind there is a hierarchy among trout in the Smokies with brookies on top, brown next and rainbow on the bottom. For most of the Summer, I have fished the upper rivers of the park partly because the temps and water have been so much better but also because of the chance to catch brookies. While I actively hunt them hardest, I also am most careful about returning them to the water as though they are somehow more worthy of caring for after the catch. Go figure.
I have fished in the Smokies for over 30 years, most of that with spinning rigs, and have practiced C&R the whole time with only two exceptions. On my birthday back in the late 90's, I caught an 18" brown on a Rooster Tail and had the strange feeling that it was somehow a birthday present to me. Haven't caught another brown since. That one was grilled out and made a delicious meal. On one other trip with my kids, my son and I caught several very nice rainbows (12"+) out of Little River and took those home for dinner. Other than that, I have always felt that I would rather return them to their stream to give someone else (or possibly me again) the pleasure of another catch.
I have a little, no actually a lot of trouble with the concept of an extended fight with fish that are, on average, between 6 and 12 inches in size. It's the catch and not the fight that I enjoy and so I land them immediately. When one of those guys explodes from the bottom of a pool to the water, whether it takes my fly or not, my heart feels like it's going to pound out of my chest. I have laid awake at night, knowing that I was going fishing the next day, with that same adrenaline pump just imagining that experience. That and the fact that I'm steadily increasing my skills to make a successful catch is the real pleasure for me.
Fighting one of these little guys just for the fun of it seems a little pointless, i.e., over 200 lbs. against a few ounces. Hardly seems like a fair fight. Now, I imagine the experience would be different if I was on a deep sea excursion with much larger prey. But SM trout?
Guess the bottom line is, my policy is catch and release with as little impact or dammage as possible on the fish vs. catch, fight and release which seems cruel and pointless for something so relatively small. It's the hunt and the success of a hook that provide me with the most satisfaction. It's much more fun to say, "Grow up, I'll be back."