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.
Great topic by the way...I'll be interested to hear other people's take on the subject...