Townsend, Tennessee - Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina

Welcome to the Fishing Report from the Great Smoky Mountains.  It is foggy and 61 degrees in Townsend, Tennessee this morning.  Traffic is light.

Little River is flowing at 117 cubic feet per second (cfs) or 1.69 feet on the flow gauge.  Median flow for this date is 72 cfs.  The water temperature at 8:05 am is 63 degrees.

Fishing is probably good in the Smokies.  We don’t know for sure because nobody is fishing there.  It would not be a good idea to try sneaking in the Park to fish or hike. 

The Park Service is maintaining their Twitter feed.  One tweet states: “Won’t be much fun hiking while being locked up.  Trespassing = Up to 6 months and fines not to exceed 5k.”

In another tweet the writer says, “Heavy hearts for those inside the park and out.  No one here wants this.  Please continue to support GSMNP!”

Remember, the staff working in the Park are low in numbers, trying to do their job and not getting paid.  They will get paid at some point for the work they are doing.  Please give these folks a break.  It’s not their fault.  They are doing what they are told.

If you are looking for a similar fly fishing experience, go to the Cherokee National Forest and enter near Tellico Plains.  The roads and streams are open there.  There is a bear and boar hunt this weekend so expect to see lots of hounds and hunters wearing blaze orange and carrying super high powered rifles in some areas.  When I’ve been on these hunts, we usually worked the hounds near Citico Creek.  If you are fishing, a blaze orange cap might be a good safety item to wear.

Most people who live in our area are fly fishing for trout in the tailwaters.  Or, they are fishing for warmwater species in the lowland rivers.  Some anglers are fly fishing in the lakes.  We have lots of options in this area. 

In 1992 I started working with the management at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  My job was to organize a Trout Unlimited Chapter to support the Park’s fisheries department.  The Superintendent at the time was Randy Pope.  Randy is a very nice guy.  I really like him.  Randy was very open to outside organizations partnering with the Park Service.  That was rare back then.

So I would understand how the Park operates, Randy made sure I was invited to attend high-level management meetings. One meeting in particular, that I will never forget was a budget meeting.  I learned how much money it takes to run a National Park and how it is spent.  For instance, one line item that seemed huge to me was “search and rescue”.  Storm damage was another high cost.  Think about all the trees that fall and block roads.  It is a constant maintenance issue. 

I do remember at that time the budget for Great Smoky Mountains was about $10 million annually. That number did not include special funding for capital projects from what I remember. That did not include soft money for research and other scientific work. At that time the soft money was scarce.  That was the opportunity for Trout Unlimited to step in and help fund the fisheries department.  A little later, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains was formed and has been hugely successful at raising money to fund other projects and departments, including the fisheries department.

Townsend’s mayor asked me last week if I knew how much money it took to run the park.  He and our County Mayor are trying to fund opening a portion of the Park to keep our tourism business alive this month, one of the best business months of the year.  I told him it was about $10 million 20 years ago, so I guessed that number today would be between $20 million and $30 million.  The Park Service says it takes $18 million today.  So, the budget has less than doubled in 20 years.

The Park Service also states that the Park brings in more than $800 million per year to the gateway cities.  Townsend is one of those gateway cities.

An article in the Daily Times, CLICK HERE TO READ, reiterates the pain we are feeling.  Our tourism department and all tourism departments in the gateway cities are trying to persuade visitors to come anyway, despite the fact that the Park is closed.  Heck, I’m doing it too.  Michael Talley who owns the Talley Ho and is also our Mayor is quoted in the article and describes exactly what he has told me.  Business and traffic is way down.

“Check out the tree house playground at the KOA campground in the Daily Times article.  It is cool.  That very expensive tree house was built off-site and brought to Townsend on a 18 wheeler.  I knew about it but have not seen it.  I’m going to the KOA the next chance I get and look at it close-up.”   

I just checked our numbers.  For the first 5 days of the month, we are down 20.9% from the same period last year.  I thought it would be worse.  Fishing license sales are down 68.4% in our store for that period.  Some business owners have said they are down 50%.

Hopefully this government shut-down will end soon and we’ll be fishing in the Smokies again.  The fishing conditions right now are better than normal.  We also have some very nice Fall-like weather in our future.  We are going to have low temperatures in the 40’s for several days.  I’m looking forward to that.

Have a great day and thank you for being here with us.

Byron Begley
October 6, 2013

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