I need to be careful, pretty soon I’m going to run out of superlatives to describe these unbelievable fly fishing trips I’ve been able to enjoy this year. So forgive me, here’s another one that turned out to be simply fantastic.
My wife Linda and I left last Friday AM on our annual trek south to Florida. Only this time, we decided to stop over in Waynesville, N.C. on the way down for three days or so to visit some friends, who have a place there, and to play some golf and do some fly fishing.
Waynesville is located in the extreme western section of NC, just west of Asheville in the middle of the Great Smokey Mountains and the Pisgah National Forest. This area is bounded by Tennessee on the west and by Georgia on the south, and is a true gem. It’s very mountainous and chock-a-block full of lakes and rivers. It’s a bit of a stretch to say it’s ‘hillbilly’ country, but everybody seems to live in a valley, or a ‘gap’, or a ’hollow’, or a ‘cove’. It’s all ‘applewood’ this and ‘smoky’ that, and if you’re a golfer there’s not a flat lie to be had anywhere. Because it’s so beautiful there and because of the elevation (5000-6000 feet or so) it’s become a fashionable summer destination for southerners wanting to escape the heat. The 3 days we were there, it was up to 70F each day, and nice and sunny. The leaves had just peaked too, as you’ll see in the pics.
Now, I’m no dummy, so I did a lot of research to check out the fly fishing in the area before going. The signs were encouraging indeed, because the area boasted up to 15 rivers and 1000 miles of fishable trout water within 50-60 minutes drive from Waynesville. Think about that a minute. We’re talking about an area stretching say, from Toronto to Fergus, Lake Ontario to Orangeville! All these streams and rivers wander and meander hither and yon and all have extensive headwaters, and that’s what adds up to so many miles of fishing. Not only that, there seemed to be a very active trout management program in place and a river, the Davidson, which is rated as one of Trout Unlimited’s top 100 wild trout rivers in the USA!
Ok, so I booked a guide through Davidson River Outfitters, a local fly shop, for Monday AM. Not knowing the area, I was willing to spend the $ to avoid getting lost and/or frustrated, and figuring that on the next day I could go out on my own.
We started out on the French Broad River, which is regularly stocked with brookies. Linda is an occasional fly fisher, so I mostly let her have the guide, a great kid (to me) named Phil who is 21 years old and has been fly fishing since he was 3.
Now, I’m fresh off a great summer catching trout in Ontario, so I just know these brookie stockers are going to jump all over themselves trying to get at my selection of soft hackles and nymphs. I’m fishing my St. Croix Ultra Legend 3 wt, 9’ 4X leader, 24” of 5X and 12” of 6X tippet.
Phil warns me that they have been fished hard, and the only thing hatching this time of year is midges and tiny BWO’s. Not a prob, says I, wait ‘til they see my ammo. Soooo, Linda basically stands in one spot for 2 hours or so with a rig Phil sets her up with (small PT nymph as a dropper below a pink egg fly beneath an indicator) while I ply my wares up and down the river. She gets 4 fine 9” brookies, and I’m humbled to admit I get only one, plus a few chub. Luck, of course!
Here’s a pic of Linda in her lucky hole:
After lunch, we head over to the Davidson River. For those of you how want the detail, here’s link that describes it better than I ever could:
Phil says it’s a very “technical” river, which of course is ‘guidespeak’ meaning that either the fish can’t be caught by mere mortals, the only thing hatching is #24 midges, the water is low and clear, or all three.
Here’s a pic of Linda at the head of the first pool Phil takes us to:
As you can see, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s deep, and very clear. You can see maybe a dozen trout holding, some up to 18” or so. I’ve never seen anything even remotely close to this at home, and I’m ready for action. There are a few rises here and there, so this should be easy, right? I’m drooling all down my front by now. Then Phil tells me the pool is named “Humility”. Er, what’s that Phil? Yup, these trout are wild, smart, well fed, spooky and feeding only on midges at this time of the year. Great, Phil! Thanks.
So I rig up with one his #24 midges and start casting up from the tailout. Right over some very fine trout, and over and over and over. Dam! Not one hit.
Now, Phil has rigged Linda up with a big, ugly streamer I’ve never seen before, and she’s working it down from the head and lands a beauty 13” brookie:
That was it though, only the one. So now I’m totally bummed, and I decide to head upstream to the next pool on my own for a look-see. Fifty yards up I come upon a fantastic shallow gravelly pool/bar with another bunch of beauty trout holding in 4-12” of perfectly clear water. Midges, smidges. I decided to rig up a Klinkhamer, a #12 gray with a sparkle shuck. Phil would puke. Two casts up the pool, two lovely 11-12” browns. Yes! Like watching a movie in slow motion, I could see every little detail as it happened.
But, of course, as they run around the pool on my line it spooks the pool. So I wait a bit, and Phil comes up. I send him back to get Linda so she can appreciate the beauty of the pool. A couple of these browns look 18-20” long. Probably getting ready to spawn. When they come back, I tie on a #18 CDC BWO Comparadun, make a couple of casts, and get a nice 10-11” rainbow. Phil, to his credit, is complimentary.
I’m of course feeling a bit better, but Linda still has trounced me on the day. So next day, Tuesday, I do the only thing any fly fisherman worth his salt would do, I send her out to play golf with the girls so I can go out by myself and try to regain a modicum of self respect.
On my way out in the AM I stopped in a fly shop in Waynesville to get some more local info. They were most helpful, telling me that there had been a few orange caddis coming off in some places. So I bought a couple of orange-body EHC’s and a couple of a local fly called ‘orange hackle’.
I was headed for the Looking Glass River, which is a smallish mountain stream that runs and tumbles down beside the road running smack through the Pisgah National Forest. Here’s a pic of the first place I decided to stop and fish:
Is that pretty or what? And, to my delight, it held a fair number of small but feisty rainbows that were attracted to an orangish #12 Klinkhamer I tied on. Here’s one:
I fished the river all down the side of the mountain, finding fish in almost every pool I hit. The ‘orange hackle’ fly I had bought proved deadly too.
After lunch I headed back over to the Davidson near where we had been Monday.
Again, distaining midges and thinking about orange caddis, I opted for a #14 Ausable Klinkhamer (bright burnt orange body). My thinking was that these wild but over-fished trout have likely not seen anything similar before. Two drifts downstream past a rock splitting the current flow, and flash, a nice fish barely touches the hook and is gone. Wow! Ok, knowing he may not hit again I drift it down the other side of the rock anyway, close in to shore, and lo and behold he hits it. Beauty, thick 13” rainbow:
Then I move upstream maybe 30 yards, to a spot where a fast current slides by a slower area out in the middle of the river. I move above this spot, and cast across and slightly downstream so the fly can drift into the seam where a trout would most likely hold. I get the second drift exactly in the right spot and bam, a fine brown casually rises from the crease and inhales it. Thank God he decided to swim upstream, because on my 3wt with 6X I wouldn’t be able to hold him downstream with that current. I slowly worked him over to shore, and got the hook out without even lifting him out of the water. He was a good 14-15”, although it’s hard to tell in this pic:
I couldn’t resist going back to the wonderful gravel bar upstream. I did that, and managed another nice 12” brown on the orange EHC I had bought earlier. Again, pure sight fishing, what a thrill! When I was bringing him in, two browns about 18” long chased him right up to where I was standing. They came within 5’ of my boots before swimming away. Remarkable!
But of course the pool was spooked by then, and because my esteem was back intact I decided to call it a day.