Anything Fly Fishing

Native Newbie

6 Mins read

Drifting flies, reading water, and mending line wasn’t on my radar as a young man growing up in the central piedmont of South Carolina. My father taught me the ways of corks, crankbaits, and crappie jigs in pursuit of the area’s coveted panfish. So, when I left home for Clemson seeking a BS in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, I carried the skills and passions my father passed down to me.

Shortly after I arrived, a classmate suggested we check out some of the trout streams in the vicinity. I received a Shakespeare fly rod for Christmas some years back and with it I began poking around the Chattooga and Chauga Rivers. We both rode dual sport bikes and identified ourselves as fishermen. I loved hopping on my KLR 650 with my pack and rod tube strapped to the rear cargo rack. Then we’d bike up to the mountains to spend an afternoon untangling wind knots and prying our flies from the overhanging branches. We had no clue what we were doing, but we loved it.

My senior year course schedule came, and with it, the decisions for which electives to take to fulfill the requirements for graduation. Fly fishing was high on the list as an elective course. On my first day of class, I was given the great fortune of meeting my course instructor, Michael Watts. Michael did and still does have a great influence on my outdoor endeavors. Michael shared his knowledge and passion for fly fishing with my class in a way that still inspires me today. I often wonder if Michael sees my name pop up on his phone and then says to himself, “I wonder where he’s going fishing this time,” as I usually call for advice on flies and presentations.

I have tried to share my passion for fishing with others, just as my father, and later Michael, did with me. Unfortunately, there aren’t many folks in my area who want to learn to fly fish. Many love to talk about how “neat” it would be to learn, but few ever find the time for a day in the mountains casting flies.

This was true until I met my buddy CC. He’s a forester and shares my passions of being outdoors and finding adventure. He is also a meticulous planner for any endeavor he wishes to pursue. I turned him on to a few fly fishing films and he was hooked. He decided he wanted to go last year, so, we planned our 2022 trip and decided to go whether it was rain or shine. The trip forecast was all shine. Unfortunately, the rain preceded the trip in near Biblical proportions. Eleven inches of rain fell during the week before we fished. Conditions were not exactly inviting for two fishermen.

After striking out last year, I wondered if CC had given up on the fly rod after the disastrous high and dingy water trip. Apparently, he had been living in the “rabbit hole” of fly fishing films and became interested in catching native fish. He called me a few weeks ago and asked about doing a Western NC trip for brookies. I was in. That was all I needed to hear. CC had planned the whole thing and sent me the maps the same night we spoke about the trip. Camp would be four miles in the backcountry and we would fish the upstream section above the falls where a paradise of native brook trout fishing reportedly existed.

I told my wife goodbye, kissed my Boykin Spaniel, Daisy, goodbye, and CC and I headed out on a Friday after work. We arrived at the trailhead about a half hour before dark. If you’ve hiked at all, you know a half hour is not enough time to put four miles under your boots with slightly overloaded packs. We hiked in the dark until we made it to a camp site near an old car. If you have been to this spot, you know about the old car. It was around the three-mile mark and we were tired from working all day and kicking rocks and roots as we hiked in with heavy packs full of camping gear, food, and our fishing necessities. We woke up the next morning and finished out the trail to our final camp for the remainder of the weekend.

We settled in our new home and hit the water around noon. It was on! CC cast his yellow parachute adams into the first good looking run just up from camp and ‘wham,’ there was his first ever fish on the fly. It was about six inches and had all the goods that come with brook trout. The fins, spots, and back markings are truly beautiful creations to admire. The grin on CC’s face was priceless. I just thought he was hooked before; it was then that I knew he had the potential to quit work and become a trout bum. Photo time came and went quickly and the fish was gone with a swift flick of the tail.

We took turns hopping upstream from spot to spot. They were biting as if they had never eaten before. One fish after the other rose on the dries we presented. As we walked up the trail to find the next spot to hop in, I saw a really nice fish hanging out in the margins of a deep pool right under a small waterfall’s plunge pool. There wasn’t much room to cast so I reached back in my quiver and let an archer cast go from my 7’6” 3 weight rod that Michael helped me pick out before my 30th birthday solo trip. A smaller fish rose and took the fly. The bigger fish I spotted from the trail spooked from the commotion and was gone. I poked around that pool and picked up two more fish. We moved on up the stream and continued fishing. We fished upstream another quarter of a mile and decided to head back to camp to start preparing dinner.

As we headed back down the trail I peered into the pool where I attempted to catch the big fish I spooked earlier. It was back! The brook trout was sitting lazily in the margins just beyond the mossy rock I would use to make my move. I crept down the hill as if I were a bobcat setting up a stalk on an unsuspecting quail in the grass. I reached in the quiver once again to send an archer cast his way. My fly landed about ten feet upstream and slowly made its way to the fish. The trout rose slowly toward the surface, totally focused on my fly. ‘Smack,’ he took it without hesitation. A minute or so of play and he was in hand. I believe that CC was just as excited as I was that I had conquered the task I failed earlier. This fish would have measured around nine inches or so according to our tape measure comparison of my hands in the picture.

Dinner came and went with plenty of daylight left to fish. We hopped back in and fished below camp for a while and picked up several more fish. The campfire recap of the day was all positive. We were excited for what the next day had to bring.

We were up with granola bars, cold soaked oats, and coffee. There is something about a cup of coffee in the backcountry beside a stream awaiting the first fish of the day. The anticipation and excitement with a warm cup in hand provide a refreshing feeling that few experiences can provide. We caught about the same number of fish as we hiked above where we left off the day before. Fish after fish rose on the flies we drifted. The pools and runs were arranged as if they were a never-ending flight of stairs that led from one fish to the next. I believe CC began to learn the physical fitness required in one’s shoulders and back to fish two days in a row. We were both thinking that the number of birthdays we have behind us were beginning to catch up to us. At last, another awesome day on the water came and went.

We decided to pack up camp that evening and make the four-mile trek back down the mountain to try out the delayed harvest section. That stretch began below the large set of falls that divided the stocked portion of the river from the native portion. We loaded up our heavy packs with sore shoulders and backs from our intense fishing sessions the last two days and started walking. We made it back to the trailhead in time to relax and enjoy dinner at our new roadside campsite in the fading daylight.

The next morning, we began just like the day before. We caught fifteen stockers that ranged from six to twelve inches. Several monster brookies, a few rainbows, and one brown trout for the day. We hesitantly packed up camp, loaded the truck and headed home. On the ride, CC began to research the five states where you can catch Southern Appalachian brook trout. I think he is ready for another adventure. I know I am.

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