Truth be told, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of jumping headlong into the fly fishing scene here. I am little more than a dabbler in the beautiful art of roll casts and nymphing, more comfortable with a spinning rod or a tuna stick really. The thought of laying out the cash for a new fly rod, line, leaders, tippets and tackle was daunting, not to mention I know very little etiquette when it comes to the gentleman's sport.
When my friend Sean called to invite me on a guided fishing expedition to the famed Davidson River, I jumped. Here was my chance to fish under the tutelage of a local expert and use gear suited to the task. The trip was a birthday gift to Sean from his wife and allowed me to join in for a nominal fee.
After a 45-minute drive from Black Mountain, Sean and I met our guide. Starr Nolan. Starr guides for Brookside Guides of Asheville and immediately set to work preparing us for the numerous, but heavily pressured fish near the state hatchery stretch in Pisgah National Forest just outside Brevard.
|What 'er we fishin' for Starr?|
She wasn't kidding. The popularity of the hatchery stretch, on a beautiful Saturday morning in April no less, is a little intimidating. In some pools it looked like shoulder-to-shoulder angling. Add that to the fact we were going to be nymph fishing and I was pretty skeptical of our prospects for success. It didn't help much that a gigantic brown trout was holding in the current at the exact spot we stepped in. When I pointed to the 20-inch-plus monster excitedly, Starr simply acknowledged its presence with a shrug and went in anyway. "Oh boy," I thought, "This is going to be brutal."
With a little more experience with a buggy whip than Sean, I was instructed to head up to the next run and start fishing on my own while the other two stayed back to fish together. Starr tied a large, garish looking nymph with a red bead in the middle of a length of greenish swizzle stick and said, "Try this first. You never know what this fish will do when they see something completely different." I looked at the crazy fly with a bit more trepidation, but hey, she was the guide and you always do what the guide tells you.
It took a little while to get used to the drift and finding the fly as it tumbled across the rocky bottom, but I got the hang of it and eventually saw a trout chase it a short distance as it drifted through the run. With a little more work and who knows how many unseen strikes, I saw and missed my first bite.
|Dude, that was a biggun'!|
After several minutes without any action, Starr waded over to me and changed my rig to a tandem nymph and strike indicator. The bit of yarn that served as a bobber (don't tell Starr I called it that) put me back on a steep learning curve as I tried to figure out how to get the drift to match up with the flies tumbling along below. Then it happened. Just as I was about to pick up my cast, I felt a weigh against the line, fish on! I played the little brown against the current and eventually brought it to hand - a beautiful 9-incher hooked in the corner of the mouth. I announced my catch with a prideful "Ahem!" to Sean and Starr downstream and quickly released it, as the area we were fishing is catch-and-release only.
Buoyed by success and new confidence, I finally started fishing. My senses and body tuned in to the river and its immediate surroundings. There! Is that a caddis fly? Look! Another one. There's a small fish rising every few minutes on the other side of the pool. I bet that sluggish spot behind that boulder would be good.
I started to feel like I was hunting rather than fishing. This fly fishing thing was pretty alright.
The sluggish spot behind the boulder did hold a fish and I struck home when the indicator zigged when it should have zagged. The trout raced back out to the heavy current and I let it go downstream. I followed while Starr moved up into position with her landing net. After a short give and take, she netted the foot-long brown for me and offered sincere congratulations. It wasn't the biggest fish in the river by any stretch ofthe imagination, but I couldn't have been happier. I had come to the Davidson and caught a fish as it was meant to be caught. We snapped a few pictures and let it go.
|A trophy to me.|
With just a few minutes remaining in our session and me already given up and lounging on the bank, Starr asked Sean for his rod so that she might show him what a perfect drift looked like. She cast the rig expertly into a riffle Sean had been flogging for the last 10 minutes and, with a flick of the wrist, the rod bent over. "Oh, you're going to kill me," she said in horror as a 15-inch rainbow skyrocketed out of the water. There was some back-and-forth I couldn't hear, but eventually Sean took the rod from Starr as she unclipped her net and made toward the fish. The leader was touched, but the fish made a final surge for freedom and snapped the tippet. Ahhh well, the Davidson rarely gives up its treasures easily.
On the ride home, Sean and I talked fishing and mountain streams and the beauty of the Blue Ridge. As for fly fishing, I'm off the fence. I'm all in.