Ahhhhh! Cool mountain nights, warm sunny days. Beautiful scenery. Hundreds of miles of cool mountain streams and small rivers full of brook, brown and rainbow trout, both wild and regularly stocked. Few crowds, if not few people in general. Some days you might never see another fly fisherman. Not too good to be true, that’s Western North Carolina in a nutshell….
The wife and I stopped over in Waynesville on our way back from Florida in early May, me to fish and she to play golf with some friends we know there. This is the second time we’ve visited this area, which is about 90 minutes northeast of Atlanta, and is bordered on the west by Tennessee and the south by Georgia. We like it there so much, we may make it a stopover both on the way down in the fall and back in the spring. Surprisingly, it’s only a 13 hour drive from Aurora, easily done in one day.
In my report last fall I went into a bit of detail about the river systems there, so I won’t repeat it. But if you think Ontario’s regulations are complicated, we have a bit to learn from N.C. First, their mountain waters that support trout and are open to public fishing are designated as “Public Mountain Trout Waters”, and are all managed for public trout fishing. These are classed as either “Hatchery Supported Waters” or “Wild Trout Waters”. The latter are high quality waters that sustain trout populations by natural reproduction.
There are approximately 1100 miles of Hatchery Supported Trout Waters in NC. That’s right, 1100 miles! There is no size limit on these, but there is a creel limit of seven trout per day.
These two river types are further classified as:
• ”Catch and Release/Artificial Lures Only”
• ”Catch and Release/ Artificial Flies Only”
• “Wild Trout/Natural Bait”
• “Delayed Harvest Trout Waters”
Those rivers which are “Delayed Harvest” may be fished all year, but fish may not be harvested from October1 to June 1 or so. Needless to say, that makes for some fine C&R trout action when they are closed to harvest.
All these rivers have very clear sign markings, so ignorance is no excuse in N.C.
This year we rented a mountainside log home through a golfing buddy of mine in Sarasota. He’s a developer who has a couple of big log home developments called The Smokey Mountain Retreat in Waynesville. Most of the home owners are ‘from away’, using these places for summer retreats. So they run a rental pool, and make some extra income from people like me in the off seasons to cover costs.
Here’s a link to the site:
Here’s a pic of the place we rented. It was too big for what we needed, but it had a great view, satellite TV and a big wood-burning fireplace!
I wanted to see some new rivers that I had not tried last fall, so I hired a guide for the first day from Lowes Fly Shop in Waynesville.
Roger Lowe and his wife Diane run the place, wonderful people. Her accent is so thick I had to ask here to repeat herself several times. Roger is having a book published this summer called 100 Best Smokey Mountain Flies.
Our guide’s name was Alvin, and he turned out to be a tried and true ‘mountain man’. (Yup, Alvin, as in Chipmunks. Anyone remember the two other Chipmunks’ names without having to ask their kids?) Alvin owned and ran a 76 Truck Stop out on I40 near Asheville before selling it and turning to guiding, but he was a great chap and loved to fly fish every waking hour of his day.
Because the wife was joining us for at least half a day, he took us first to the Tuckaseegee River (the "Tuck"), a true tailwater (power dam upstream) fishery that was stocked, but delayed harvest until June 1.
Here’s a pic upstream from where I was standing in the middle of the river. Very easy wading, mostly gravel bottom, about 2 feet deep.
Alvin waded us downriver a bit to a spot he favoured which he said held a lot of trout. I was lagging a bit, observing, and just had the urge to cover some water I saw that I thought should hold fish. I had tied on a #12 Yellow PT Klink (never tried before) to start, and doggone I had two nice 12” rainbows in the first 4 casts. Alvin was like, “Whaaat ?? What have you got on there Fred? You tie that yourself ?” (That always makes you reach for your wallet when a guide talks like that, you know.)
Alvin rigged my wife up with a #16 Prince dropper off a big dry of some sort, and she managed a couple of stockers.
Here’s a pic of the two of them on my downstream side:
I kept on with the Klink, and got about 6 more in the next hour. Then a few Quill Gordons started coming off, so he switched me to a #12 Quill Gordon dry fly and this nice rainbow got fooled:
After lunch the wife had shopping on the brain, so she took off and Alvin took me up into Great Smokey Mountain National Park to a small mountain stream called the Palmer Branch of the Cataloochee River. He and I had been chatting about my love of small streams, and it turned out he loves them too. (Wallet again?)
As an aside, he told me the valley we were in, which is the main one in the park, was once owned by a well-to-do local named Palmer, and he used to rent out small cabins to fly fishermen in the 1920’s to fish the “Catalooch”, as it’s affectionately known. He apparently made flies to sell, and one of his patterns was a simple hackle over dubbing fly that became so well-known it got to be called the “Palmer” fly. And hence the term, ‘palmer’for hackle.
Here’s a pic of the scene:
So we spent the afternoon dabbing for small wild mountain trout, and managed maybe a dozen assorted browns, brookies and rainbows. Alvin patiently taught me about the art of dabbing, an absolute necessity on small streams like this with plunge pools, back eddies and conflicting currents to get any kind of a decent dry fly drift. And boy those small 8-10” trout were fast. In the blink of an eye they’d be up, slash, and if you weren’t quick off the mark they’d be gone, unhooked.
As we were hiking out, I asked Alvin where he was guiding the next day. He said he had actually been planning on fishing with his friend Rufus, but that Rufus (yup, Alvin and Rufus) couldn’t go due to a doctor’s thing. So, bold as I am, I asked him if he wanted to head over to the Davidson River with me to fish together, cause that was my plan. Sure, he said!
Now the Davidson is a TU Top 100 Trout River in the US. It’s a bit busy because of that, but it’s a beautiful river with wild browns, rainbows and brookies, some of which get well into the 20” category. It’s a devilishly tough river however, because those trout have seen every fly known to man and have a terrifically abundant natural souce of bugs.
As luck would have it, Alvin had been fishing the Davidson for 15 years, and took me down river to an area less fished, although the trout were a bit smaller than the giants upstream.
Here’s a pic of a nice bow I got on a Yellow Dubbed Klinkhamer in the riffle just behind me. It was about 14” and thick as a slab. On my 3 wt it was all I needed.
In total we had a fine day and landed maybe a dozen trout, all wild of course, between 12 and 14 inches, all on dries.
Here’s the last pic, a fine 12” brown I got on a Yellow Palmer just in the slack water off the side of a fast riffle: