I'm not trout fishing much this time of year, but we had a big rain Saturday afternoon, so on Sunday morning I decided to pay a quick visit to Forney Creek and see if any trout noses were pointing up.
I traveled over by boat, and met a young couple with fly rods that had the same thing on their mind. We walked upstream together and finally split up. I tried a few good riffle runs in the first mile. The water level was good, with just a bit of color, and the trout were cooperative. I had over a dozen takes in just a few hours on a small yellow stimulator, with several nice rainbows to hand. At about 11 am, I bumped into the couple, gave them a few flies that were working, and calling it a good morning headed back down to my boat.
Just at lake's edge, I was surprised by a large gathering of people, perhaps six, who had just jumped off a large boat and were making their way up the path. They were mostly men and one young lady, all holding spinning rods, with the men wearing canvas creels hung over their shoulders. More interestingly, each of them held either a cricket basket full of chirping crickets or a blue plastic tub of worms out in the open. They were gathered around the "fishing regulations" sign posted at the entrance to the creek, and laughing, probably at the marking on the sign saying "artificial lures only."
As I came up to them, they started walking quickly upstream past me. They were obviously intent on the makings of a good family fish fry. I had a few seconds to confront them and say something, but they were so numerous and brazen carrying their bait by me that I hesitated and then the moment was lost.
Once on my boat, I got angry about the situation and tried calling a few park numbers to at least notify a ranger of the situation. I called several park numbers that didn't answer and finally got a person at the Elkmont Visitor's Center. When I told him what I'd seen, he sighed and said, "Sir, we're very busy today and it's unlikely that anyone will be able to check on that, but I'll call it into dispatch."
Thinking about it later, I recognize that on any given summer Sunday in the park there are probably multiple car wrecks, children separated from parents, elk sighting traffic jams, and bear incidents, so the story of bait fishermen in some remote corner of the park doesn't even merit mention. I can easily understand why the park is unable to respond to reports like mine, especially in a back-woods location.
I've fly fished for over 20 years, and I've seen plenty of illegal and boneheaded behavior in public water during that time. Normally, it doesn't phase me. However, there was just something about the cavalier behavior of this group and the fact that it was in a cherished section of a national park that disturbed me. To me, these streams are sacred water and deserve better than our hatchery supported and delayed harvest streams that get junked up. There is no happy ending to my story. I don't know whether a ranger came and wrote tickets, or how many trout were eaten that night by those folks.
When I got home, I looked for a better number to call in situations like this on park waters. If you search the park website, they give this number for fishing violations 865 436-1294. I called this number 3 times Monday with no answer. When someone answered on the fourth try, he gave me another number that he claimed was staffed 24/7. It is the park's law enforcement number at 865 436-1230.
In a final stroke of karma, my outboard engine conked out after placing my calls in the Forney Creek channel and it took me several hours to get home. So much for poetic justice.