This week marks a milestone in Smoky Mountain trout fisheries. Steve Moore, the head fisheries biologist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, will be retiring from his post. His impact on the fishery, relations with anglers, and regulations shouldn’t be underestimated.
Steve’s biggest impact was to bring hard science to the fisheries management. Previous management was largely a product of creel surveys and personal opinion. When Steve started his job in the park in 1985 he was only the second person to ever hold the position. One of his first projects was to assess the effectiveness of special regulations on Abrams Creek intended to produce larger trout. After exhaustive analysis of data and trout population sampling he concluded the regulations weren’t biologically sound and had no impact on the size of the trout. Water chemistry and other environmental factors had far larger impacts on trout populations than fishermen.
This early conclusion led to a wholesale change in the way fisheries were managed with science rather than angler catch rates or size limits. Fast forward to just a few years ago when brook trout streams throughout the Smokies were all opened to fishing after several years of experimental regulations showed that angling pressure had no effect on the populations. Floods and droughts had far great effects on the populations yet angler catch rates rarely waivered from one season to the next.
Many years ago a small group of concerned anglers came to Steve when they decided to start a Trout Unlimited chapter in the early 1990’s in Blount County just outside the park. In those days Steve had heard some nightmarish stories about special interest groups who tried to dictate their positions to resource managers across the country. You have to know Steve to really appreciate this story, but he’s never been one to keep his thoughts to himself.
He told the fledgling Trout Unlimited members in his office that if they had come to see him with a list of demands concerning regulations or creel limits they should turn around right then because he really didn’t care to hear it. He had a formal education in fisheries and biology and didn’t need a group of weekend fishermen and fly tyers to tell him how to do his job. On the other hand, however, there were plenty of opportunities for folks to get their hands dirty and do some real work to improve trout fisheries in the Smokies. They were always welcome to help him with work that needed to get done. There were plenty of projects that required much more manpower than the park budget could pay for.
The first project involved controlling siltation in Abrams Creek where cattle in Cades Cove had eroded the stream banks. This was back when one of the last residents of the park still had a cattle operation. True to their word the new Trout Unlimited members provided volunteer labor to rectify the issue and positive results have been seen ever since. The new partnership with Trout Unlimited was so successful that fisheries managers from other areas including Yellowstone called Steve to learn how they could also create positive partnerships.
Perhaps Steve Moore’s greatest legacy will be the tremendous and ambitious native brook trout restorations in the Smokies. Furthermore, Steve made it a point to ensure that anglers could fish for these trout after restorations were deemed complete. Many outside of the fishing world have questioned why park biologists would work so hard to bring back these fish from the brink of regional extinction only to allow fishermen to pursue them and even keep some.
Steve made it clear to those people that that national parks aren’t only for the preservation of native species and ecosystems, but also our American heritage. We’ve heard Steve say that the preservation of fishing for native brook trout is as important to him as the preservation of historic homesteads in Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley. We couldn’t agree more!
Another lesser known impact, but no less important, is that many younger fisheries biologists have worked with Steve Moore as seasonal park employees over the years and gone on to take that expertise to other agencies such as the US Forest Service, TWRA, and NCWRC among others. He is something of a pioneer in trout reintroductions that have minimal impact on other species and has been called upon to consult on projects in other national parks. His practice of relying upon measurable results to make informed decisions has been so successful that others are eager to learn his methods.
We’ve known Steve for about 20 years and know that he’s been a positive influence on our region and its unique natural resources. We wish him the best and look forward to seeing him on the water with a fly rod in hand.