Grampus (and a whole bunch of others)--Thanks for some interesting and for me at least enlightening comments on changes. I'll address a few of them specifically:
*I had a lengthy conversation with Steve Moore this morning and his perception of the smallmouth situation pretty much meshes with mine--they are basically gone except for lower Little River and Abrams Creek. Although they don't have detailed data on smallmouth, what they have found in surveys in the lower reaches of streams such as Deep Creek and Cataloochee is a near total absence of smallmouths. It's a habitat issue in his view--water too cold, food base, etc.
*I was really intrigued by the fact that old-timers on the Tennessee side apparently used nymphs far more than on the N. C. side. I can assure you it wasn't an issue of elitism or anything like that. None of the anglers I knew as a boy and young man were anything other than sons of the Smokies. The only fly rod nymph fisherman I knew was a park ranger, Buford Messer, and he was very good. Several oldtimers used three-fly "casts" with a cane pole and either wet flies or nymphs (or both). The four or five finest fishermen I knew--Frank Young, Claude Gossett, Alvin "Little Man" Miller, Levi Haines, and Raymond Mitchell--all used dry flies exclusively. My longtime fishing buddy over in Graham County, Marty Maxwell, says the same was true there, and it was also the case in Haywood County. Maybe one factor was the considerable influence of Mark Cathey, maybe the most legendary of Smokies fishermen. He used nothing but a dry fly and only one pattern--a Grey Hackle Yellow.
*On a personal note, I never used nymphs (or streamers) until I was in my late 30s. Somewhere around 1980 I began using a dry fly and dropper combo after seeing it in use out West. It was a revelation.
*I don't think that there is much question, at least in my mind, about the comparative overall skills of fishermen of today vs. yesterday. Almost everyone I knew as a boy and young man was competent or more than that thanks to a "pass it down" mentality which was strong indeed. I see a fair number of folks today who, if they catch a trout should keep it because it clearly needs to be taken out of the gene pool. On the other hand, I think the really top-notch anglers in the Smokies today are the best ever.
*Several have mentioned big rainbows and some have suggested they were stocked. It was pretty darn easy to differentiate between a stocked fish and one born in the Park back when they were stocking. Wild rainbows got bigger then, at least in the waters I fished most (Deep Creek, Hazel Creek, Forney Creek, Luftee, and Noland Creek). Of course they had little competition from browns as compared to today.
*There were lots of really good spin fishermen. Ed Chambers, a fellow from Bryson City who oversaw trail crews, was masterful. He almost always carried a spinning rod and a couple of Colorado blade spinners trialed by a Yellarhammer tied on a long shank hook with him. He would fish at lunch break.
*Owl mentioned single-hook Rapalas, and I know a fellow who is pure death on big browns using precisely that approach. Let him find a stream a bit murky and he wears them out.
That's a bit off the top of my head and thanks to everyone for their insights. I particularly enjoyed getting the perspective from the Tennessee side and the reference to a "Waynesville" approach.