I have been fortunate over the years to fish in a variety of locations throughout the country. You may remember me discussing my passion in “Fly Fishing at St. Timothy’s.” The last few years though I have primarily been concentrating on the streams in the picturesque mountains of western North Carolina or as it is better known down south as the “Florida Riviera.” While northern tourists come to Florida during the winter, Floridians tend to gravitate to the Carolinas and Tennessee for their getaways.
Unlike Florida which is an extremely flat state, North Carolinians build their homes in mountainous terrain that only a billy goat can navigate. Instead of placing their houses on level terra firma, the locals have a propensity for building them in the most awkward places possible. Driveways have steep inclines with twists and turns that would probably stump Harry Houdini. Despite this, during the summer months the foliage is in full bloom, a variety of butterflies start their mating ritual, soft breezes blow through wooden front porches, and the melodic sound of nearby mountain streams can be heard just about everywhere.
The streams themselves are shaded with cool, clear mountain water providing refuge for our adversary, the rainbow trout. In a way, they remind me of the streams in Connecticut where I grew up and would swim, fish, and make rock dams in the streams. The water was crystal clear and the cool waters felt delicious on a hot day. The rocks in the stream can be treacherous, so you are always mindful of wearing appropriate boots or water shoes to avoid slipping. In my case, I have some old mountain boots I like to wear with wool socks to keep me warm. They have served me well over the past twenty years, but this time I found they tended to weigh me down as I trudged in and out of streams. Frankly, I felt like I was wearing ten pound wingtips. I think it’s finally time to trade up to something lighter and more comfortable.
Some fly fishermen consider the sport an art form. As for me, I am there to fish, not to paint. True, I love to be out in the wild with my rod and reel, a good cigar, and no phones, but I tend to be more pragmatic about it. Fly fishing requires you to become a traveling salesman. If the customer doesn’t like your product, you have to either keep moving along and knock on another door or change the product on display. In less than sixty seconds I can determine if the fishing spot holds any potential. If it doesn’t, I move along or change my fly. Others can take what seems like an eternity to make up their mind; they may be persistent but rarely are they rewarded.
Although I have had success in the mountains in the past, on a recent visit I came up empty. So much so, I started to believe the North Carolina fish hatcheries had somehow trained the fish to ignore flies and, in a way, I was right. My friends and I heard the state hatcheries department had released some trout upstream from us and we eventually stumbled upon a half dozen of them in the clear waters. We then set about catching them as quietly as possible. One by one, we gently floated our flies just a few inches above their heads. They evidently were not impressed and ignored our advances. We then tried a variety of different flies, but to no avail. Becoming desperate, we started to try other methods to catch them, including spinners, plugs, a hook and worm, even a piece of beef jerky. Time and again, the result was the same: Nada. I would have even tried a small piece of Spam had it been available but I am certain it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, they just let it pass indifferently under their noses.
Later that evening, we came upon a native whom we explained our dilemma to. He was not surprised by our failure and even seemed to relish in our frustration. He then went on to explain how the state feeds the hatchlings which consisted of small pellets containing a tiny white grub or worm that emerges upon hitting the water. Frankly, we didn’t stand a chance. It was like stalking our prey with filet mignon when they had been weaned on Captain Crunch. Fortunately, we changed tactics and moved elsewhere, but it took us awhile to improve our disposition.
For three days, I clomped around the streams of western North Carolina, wearing clunky footwear and a fishing vest loaded with enough gear to equip a small RV. I am my own worst enemy in this regard. Between the slippery rocks in the stream, heavy equipment, and a growing case of arthritis, I discovered I was no longer as spry as I once was. Now and then, I would just stop and enjoy the calming and therapeutic effect of the cool waters which refreshed me. It was only on the last day of my trip did I shed myself of the gear, the ancient boots, and began to enjoy fishing again. “Simplify” was my mantra for the day which produced beneficial results. Instead of worrying about hatchery-fed fish, I concentrated on the basics. Like Willy Loman, I just knocked on a lot of doors and kept moving along enjoying the great outdoors.
North Carolina is a wonderful place to fish, you just have to be a little smarter than your adversary.
Keep the Faith!