Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth
Showing posts with label fishing reports. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fishing reports. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To Be Detailed and Descriptive or Not?

Brookie from Stream X. Yeah, I'm not talking.

A recent local trend has been disconcerting to say the least: publicly outing small streams, particularly brook trout streams, on the Internet for the masses to read about. Sometimes referred to as HOTSPOTTING, the results can be horrendous.

Now before someone calls me out (aw, shoot, go ahead and call me out because it should make for some good entertainment), I recognize that I have often given trip reports that are detailed enough as to leave little to the imagination, sometimes even naming small streams myself. In fact, anyone who has followed my blog for more than a few months has probably noticed that the details associated with my fishing reports have dwindled to the point that some people probably don't even bother to read them anymore, and that is fine with me. In all honesty, I started writing this blog for myself and if others enjoy it so be it. Most of my trip reports are from fairly obvious Park waters, but I'm still not interested in having company next time I fish there.

Having seen what exposure can do to streams has definitely shifted my views over the years. When I first started exploring some of the high elevation brook trout waters in the Smokies, it was not unusual to be able to fish roadside for days and not see another angler. Back then, my favorite sections were probably fished no more than once every couple of weeks and the fishing was accordingly amazing to the point of being stupid easy.

Now, with fishing reports filling the Internet (including from yours truly) and anglers seeking out the water in ever increasing droves (or so it seems), it can be rare to find a piece of water to yourself anywhere close to a road. Add to that an increased acceptance of catch and keep and it becomes obvious why certain sections that used to produce 50+ fish days with several pushing the 10-12" range are now good for maybe 10-20 fish with none over 8 inches.

Sure, people have been keeping fish for a long time, but when did it become acceptable to proudly herald the fact, an act that just encourages more and more people to do the same? The fisheries biologists say that anglers have little to no impact on the trout populations in the Great Smoky Mountains, but that is assuming the status quo from the past few years. If just the anglers I have guided had all kept a limit on each guide trip, I would personally be responsible for the removal of triple digit numbers of trout in the last couple of months. Spread over the whole Park that is a really small number, but concentrated into a few sections I like to return to over and over again that suddenly becomes very significant.

Even more importantly, when anglers remove the largest trout from a section of stream, they are removing the dominant genetics from the gene pool and leaving the little guys that just weren't quite good enough to to make it to "head honcho" status. Spread that trend out over several generations of fish and the result is disturbingly obvious. Catch and keep has its place in our streams, but seriously, please release the largest alpha fish. Those are the genes I want to see being passed down on these wild streams.

So what is the main problem? I could be wrong, but it would appear to be a lack of education. A lot of newer anglers, like myself many years ago, are stoked about the sport and finding such good places to fish. Without quality mentors to teach them the near sacredness of the pursuit of trout and other fish on the fly, it can be a tough trial by fire. Unfortunately, at least a few of these people will have to learn by arriving at their favorite stream to find a plethora of anglers fishing their hidden gem.

Some hints I've seen online recently are obvious to anyone with a map and brains, but still probably shouldn't be announced to the masses. For example, the fact that Stream X has a decent flow and cold water is obvious to anyone with a map and vague concept of geography, but that doesn't mean that 500 anglers from the region should immediately descend on it just because they read about it online. Believe me, there are those anglers out there. "I read about it on the Internet so it must be true/awesome/epic/you name it, and I'm going to fish it this weekend."

A recently outed, previously hidden gem.

As a guide, I have been extremely selective about where I will take anglers. For some of the lesser known remote waters, I will not take clients there unless they specifically request a trip there. That means they have done their homework and already have some info on fishing there. Good for them.

While many of us view the exploration of new waters as part of the charm of fly fishing, there are some less than scrupulous or even just purely lazy anglers who read trip reports simply to glean knowledge about a hot spot that is not often fished. Some of those are fairly harmless and probably won't catch many trout anyway. Others are looking for an easy place to poach. I've talked to those people and have heard the stories such as anglers who used to take "brookies by the bushel" out of some remote headwater streams. Having heard the stories from credible first hand sources, I don't want to be the one responsible for making it easy on others to do the same.

Finally, most of all I'm admittedly selfish. Having worked very hard for 20+ years to discover most of the Park secrets for myself, it is tough seeing them outed by a careless word to the whole world. As someone who actively searches the Internet and keeps a detailed log of possible "secret" waters across the country to someday fish, I know that I'm not alone in my quest for that secret fishing hole. In an age of more and more transparency and fewer secrets, I just hope that at least one of my secret brookie streams will still be untouched next time I fish it.

Is there some contradiction with my complaints and the fact that I guide? Am I part of the problem?Quite possibly (and definitely in terms of creating new anglers or introducing people to fishing in the Smokies), but at least I am in a position to help educate others on protecting the resource. For example, I am always amazed at how many people (including long time fly fishermen with plenty of experience) seem to have no clue that you should NEVER dry hand a fish. Yes folks, please get your hands WET before touching a trout (assuming you even need to touch it). I have no problem with a quick picture of your catch, but dip those hands in the stream first.

The crazy part of this whole thing is that it is not even limited to small waters in the Smokies. Even tailwaters are susceptible to this. I've seen a fair amount of increased traffic on my local tailwater just from a few generically good reports on how it is fishing this year. With large numbers of quality fish leaving the river on stringers, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the pressure is bad. Our tailwaters could be full of fish averaging a legitimate 15-18" if we could just get people to release the majority of their catch and follow the regulations. Unfortunately, a lack of education and a stocking truck chasing mentality permeates the local fishing culture. People are living in a time of instant gratification and are not willing to see how letting a few go now could lead to unbelievable fishing down the road. This weak-minded approach is leaving our tailwaters in a sad state compared to the national treasures they could be.

The best pictures do not show any landmarks.

If that is not enough tangents for one post, then I don't know what is. I'll wrap this up as I don't have much else to say. I guess the recent hot water and low water leaves me without much else to do than dream up complaints. Maybe I should move back out west. I hear they have more water there than they know what to do with.

Oh, if I don't share much information with you, that is probably because I'm watching to see if you are a good steward with what you do know. Want to learn some secrets? Find a map and start hiking to search them out for yourself. Once you pour out your sweat in search of a great fishing location, you probably won't want to share either.