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Thread: The changing face of park fishing

  1. #31
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Loudon, TN


    Quote Originally Posted by Crockett View Post
    ...Even on nice weekends in summer most campsites are empty and hundreds of miles of stream sit untouched. Backcountry camping is currently back down to the same level as 1960s which is pretty incredible. Nowadays it seems everyone sticks close to their cars...
    That is very interesting. Now that reasonably good cell phone reception is possible on some of the Park roads, suppose that is becoming a factor now days? Just a relatively few years back we were out of immediate contact with the family or office when we pulled out on the street. Now you can get some distance up LR Middle Prong Rd, Greenbrier Rd, etc. before the bars are gone. I did get quite a ways up Porters Creek Trail once and could call out, but at that point I was past the decent 'bow waters, so nothing was gained really.
    Last edited by JoeFred; 02-12-2012 at 12:15 AM.

  2. #32
    Join Date
    Sep 2010


    My recollections of fishing the park from the late 50s to late 60s as I was growing up in Knoxville are almost exclusively from the Tenn side of the park with very little time fishing the backcountry:

    1. Fewer fishermen and an overwhelming majority of those I saw fishing used spinning gear. I don't remember Knoxville even having a shop that carried a lot of fly fishing gear or supplies although I'm sure stores like Tennessee Sporting Goods must have stocked some.
    2. Fish caught were primarily rainbows with far fewer browns than today. Specs were caught only in the headwaters blue lines. My friends and I didn't target the brook trout as so many do today.
    3. Catch and release was a concept I never saw practiced.
    4. Wet wading or hip boots were used by most everybody. I don't remember seeing anyone in a pair of chest high waders.
    5. The trout generally were quite a bit larger on average than those I catch now.
    6. In general park rangers seemed more involved and knowledgeable in activities other than traffic and crowd control that seems to take so much of their time today.

    Most all of these have been mentioned in previous posts. I think the experiences of those growing up on the Tenn side were probably much different than those on the NC side. I know most of my trout fishing was on the Little T and Clinch as opposed to Park waters or all the quality small streams that held trout in W. NC. With all the TVA reservoirs surrounding the Knoxville area, I don't remember trout fishing as being that popular during that time among my acquaintances. It seemed to become a "yuppy" thing to do in the early to mid 90's.

    Just my personal recollections and I'm sure they have been clouded with the passage of time. That said, far fewer people I grew up with viewed the park as a prime fishing water back then. We used it to hike and camp with little of the camping being back country.

    I really enjoy reading the experiences of those that fished the Park heavily back in the 50s and 60s. I now wish I had done much more when I had the chance.

  3. #33
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Loudon, TN


    Quote Originally Posted by fishngolf View Post
    Most all of these have been mentioned in previous posts. I think the experiences of those growing up on the Tenn side were probably much different than those on the NC side. I know most of my trout fishing was on the Little T and Clinch as opposed to Park waters or all the quality small streams that held trout in W. NC...
    Very good stuff, fishngolf. Thanks for sharing.

    I think the fact that there are so many quality small streams in W. NC fishing the Park on that side is much less emphasized by fly shops and outfitters there as well as the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. You have to look hard to find books in the store on the topic of fishing, and unless I overlooked them, which is unlikely, they do not have the USGS topo quad maps there as they do at Sugarlands. For good reason the 'Luftee Center seems to focus more on the historical aspects of the Park. In at least that regard they are nicely equipped & when I've been there, capably staffed.
    Last edited by JoeFred; 02-11-2012 at 10:53 PM.

  4. #34
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Kodak, TN

    Default Rememories

    A lot of interesting comments on this topic.

    As BlueRaiderFan said, there are catchable numbers of smallmouth around Indian Head Rock and below on Little River. Been there done that

    As Rog1 said, the rangers were a lot more creative years ago in their patrolling. We referred to them as "Possum Cops" after witnessing one in a tree with binoculars. I also had the pleasure of witnessing one "Possum Cop" fall out of a tree on Tremont I could tell some interesting stories about interactions I've had with rangers over the years...

    As GrannyKnot stated, there seemed to be a difference between techniques used by anglers from WNC and ETN. As an East Tenn native, I easily fished over 10 years without ever tying on a dry fly, though I did tie and sell a lot of them to anglers in NC. If we saw a dry fly fisherman, we referred to him as a "Waynesville Boy". I always believed many "purists" were not competent at nymphing and thus tried to shun the practice. Back then, I didn't give a crap as I walked out with my limit in large trout for the skillet. I was there for the catchin and not the fishin

    Prominent changes I've noticed are

    • the explosion of fly-tying materials. Years ago, we tied from materials we found on the side of the road, or we stole from our cat/dog, or from our cat/dog, and from the business end of our shotguns. IMHO there's WAY too many patterns for the Park, making things way too complicated. Having kept detailed fishing records for over 25 years in the Park, I can tell you the old flies still work in the same streams at roughly the same time of year.
    • The average skill of fishermen is now a lot lower than way back when. If you saw someone wading around in drab clothing and old boots, they could pretty much catch their limits. This is mostly because more newbies do and are getting into the sport. I saw this change around the time "A River Runs Through It" gave every male a mid-life crisis and felt the answer to life's problems was to grab a fly rod. Fortunately, many headed to the tailwaters and found the Smokies too much of a challenge.
    • Another sad change is the absence of browns in Abrams. There were some HUGE ones years ago

  5. #35
    Join Date
    Feb 2008


    Good stuff, Grampus. I know I struggle with a nymph and it took me two years to get decent at catching fish in the mountains on anything (and that's with people spelling it out and telling me exactly how to do it). Now about once a year I run into tailwater timmy and listen to his tales of woe about not catching any fish in two days. I do my best to give em a quick class but you can see about half of em are just waiting on you to stop talkin' so they can complain some more...oh well, maybe it will keep 'em off the river...more for us. The best thing about fly fiishing is getting to hear all the stories from guys that have been fishing the park since I was a kid (or before that sometimes). Thanks for sharing.

  6. #36
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    North Georgia


    Wet fly. Dry fly. Indicator. Tenkara. Rapala. who cares? I've never understood why some folks think their preferred method is the only one that's legit. If they're fishing legally, who cares? A single hook Rapala or other lure would probably be down-right deadly on larger park fish. I've never tried it, but I sure wouldn't tell someone they weren't fishing properly if they tried it. Life's too short to worry about whether or not someone is fishing a nymph. Good grief.

    Great post Mr. Casada. POTY so far for sure. - - The Internet's Only "Fishertainment" Website

  7. #37
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Rock Hill, SC


    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.

    Jim Casada

  8. #38
    Join Date
    Jan 2018
    NC side of the Smokies


    I was digging around in the archives and found this old thread, and thought it was interesting enough to resurrect.

    I grew up as one of the "Waynesville Boys," and started fishing the NC side of the park in the late 70s-early 80s. A few differences I have noted in that time:

    The fish are definitely smaller on average, especially rainbows. At the time I started, the limit in the park was 4 fish, 9" minimum length. It wasn't that hard to catch a limit. And almost every one of those >9" fish wound up in a frying pan. At that time, it wasn't unusual at all to catch 12" or larger rainbows. It has been several years since I caught one now, and I am a much better fisherman now than I was then, and spend more time fishing the park, to boot. They just seem to top out at 10"-11" now in most of the streams I fish.

    Otters. I don't know how much they affect fish populations, but almost every big mossy rock beside the creek has a pile of fish bones and crawfish hulls on it. I think they also target the bigger fish.

    Less poachers and bait fishermen, by a big margin.

    More fishermen. My experience has been encountering more fishermen in the backcountry than I used to, probably because the frontcountry is so full of folks now.

    More people in general. Since the elk reintroduction, places like Cataloochee that used to be deserted or only frequented by locals are now absolutely covered in tourists. You can't hardly get a site at the campground, and there are traffic jams on gravel roads.

    Specks are now common miles downstream from where they used to be. In many creeks that were strictly rainbow with a few browns sprinkled in, specks are now the most common species.

    As for the smallmouth, I haven't caught one in the park in many years. The only stream in the park I used to catch one now and then was the lower end of Cataloochee, but it's been a long time since I've caught one there.

    Dry-dropper rigs, euro-nymphing, smaller flies and such. The "Waynesville Boys" did nymph fish a good bit, but usually always tightlining with split shot. I used to never see anybody hardly fishing with a fly, dry or nymph, smaller than a #12 or #14 at the smallest. #10 dry flies used to be common.

    I hardly ever see anyone besides myself and a few older locals keeping a fish to eat now. I think some of the creeks need more fish taken out, to be honest. I turn the vast majority of mine loose, but I'll keep a few limits a year, and greatly enjoy eating them.

    Agreed on less spin fishermen, and more trash.

    Less rattlesnakes and copperheads.

    The hemlock woolly adelgid. Besides the obvious aesthetic and biological concerns, fishing many small creeks now involves constant climbing over big deadfall hemlocks. Not to mention the danger of being mashed flat by falling trees and limbs. On the flipside, they often provide good habitat and dam up small pools behind them.

    Less local fishermen. I don't know why, but there aren't nearly as many locals fly fishing these days.
    Specks: the other pink meat.

  9. #39
    Join Date
    Apr 2012


    Slightly off topic but perhaps related...a park ranger told me a couple of years ago that while it is true that over 11 million folks visit the GSMNP per year, the vast majority of them drive into the park, stop at the sugarlands visitors center, go to the potty, maybe have a picnic on the grounds there, load back up in the car, and head back to the tourist attractions. That was their visit to the Park.

    If you sit at an outdoor restaurant in Gatlinburg and watch passersby for an hour, you can quickly spot a trend: Folks nowadays are twice as big as they should be. Last time I was there I tried to identify the percentage of folks who were what I would consider a healthy weight. Maybe 10% at best?

    The idea is, folks today are FAT and LAZY. They eat recreationally, and wouldn’t be caught dead hiking a couple hundred yards to look at a waterfall. They’d rather eat a stack of 5 pancakes at the Pancake Pantry, waddle back to their hotel room, then back out for a full lunch, followed by a triple scoop of chocolate ice cream and a sack full of caramels from Aunt Mahalia’s for good measure.

    The prospects for peaceful and solitary fishing in the GSMNP grow with each passing day...

  10. #40
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    irvine ky


    seems like the park is better kept and less trashy than it was in the early 70s--waders are much better now===there are great rods out there--the new fiberglass rods and the new rods in general and really excellent-----the fishing seems better now---in the early 70's johnny morris was cutting haie in his barber shop,now he's worth about 6 billion---in the 80's middleton wrote "on the spine of time",which served to make the park a legitamite literary and artistic desdtination based on the sheerc narturalistic beauty within==the streams are as they were--to me it is good place..

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