Champion angler Bill Strickland of Davidson River Outfitters shows off a rainbow trout caught in native waters.
Donned in waders and thick-soled boots, I hit the river one overcast and drizzly morning in March with fly-fishing guide Bill Strickland of Davidson River Outfitters. I had often fished as a child using live bait or corn nibblets on a standard hook and line to catch trout and brim in the lakes around western North Carolina.
I could cast well and was confident in my ability to sink the hook when my bobber took that one second dip just below the water line. However, fly-fishing represented a new challenge.
Prior to stepping out in the lower portion of the Davidson River, I went with Strickland to a grassy area behind his shop near Brevard to get a feel for casting. Rods for fly-fishing are long and lightweight, and the flies used for bait add no heft to the end of the line, which means that rather than flinging the hook out and allowing the weight of the bait to pull out the line, casting is more a matter of momentum and dexterity.
My first attempts at landing the fly in the hula hoop targets failed miserably. I flailed the rod over exuberantly. The fly dropped to the ground 10 feet in front of me. Patiently and encouragingly, Strickland instructed me to raise my arm and use a fluid motion to smoothly and slowly bring the line forward and back before releasing. The goal was to move the entire line out and then behind, allowing the fly and the action to extract more line from the reel. I made it to 15 feet and then 20. I was beginning to understand the motion.
We loaded up and drove to a private access spot on the river where we could wade in. The water was cold and clear with a good current. I tried my first cast. The fly splashed recklessly into the water in front and behind me. Momentarily confused, I wondered how I so quickly lost my grace until it occurred to me that standing in the middle of the river I had lost a good two and a half feet of ground clearance versus casting in the grassy field. I hiked my arm up higher to a 90-degree angle with my shoulder and tried it again—success! I cast again and again, watching the tiny fly drift downstream. As it passed me and began to hook around, I lifted my rod to cast again. My distance was never exceptional and my aim left some to be desired, but I was by definition fly-fishing.
It took longer than expected to land a fish, yet I was having enough fun as to not be bothered by my gradually numbing legs and the light rain falling on my head and shoulders. For all the waiting there was still the thrill of the hunt. When I finally sunk my hook, I was rewarded with the strong pull of a rainbow trout. My heart leapt as the rod bent down toward the water.
“Give him line,” Strickland piped up from just down stream as he slowly moved in with a net.
The reel spun as line fed out and the tension on the rod lessened. The fish began to swim upstream.
“Reel!” Strickland shouted. “Reel, reel, reel!”
And so I did with wet and stiff hands. The tension increased again and held. The fish made another break for it.
“Let it go, give him line,” Strickland said.
We continued the game of reel and release until we got the fish close enough in to be netted. Strickland scooped up the trout, which glistened with pink and green.
“Nice fish!” he said grinning.
The trout was about 14 inches long—perfect for dinner; however, these waters were catch and release. I gently touched the fish, running my fingers along its scales before Strickland submerged the net and allowed it to swim off down the river. I grinned. Strickland grinned back and gave me a high five.
“Good job,” he said. “Ready to do it again?”
“Absolutely,” I replied.
Wet a line
Kevin Howell, who has been guiding the streams of western North Carolina since the early ‘80s, is the owner of Davidson River Outfitters. While trout fishing has a special place in his heart, he spends the majority of the year fishing and guiding for smallmouth bass. Howell is a Federation of Fly Fishers certified casting instructor and a nationally known fly tier. He is the Fly-Tying Editor for Fly-Fishing the Mid Atlantic States and has had several of his original patterns published in various magazines and produced by some of the national tying companies.
Davidson River Outfitters offers float and wade trips, courses on fly-tying and rod-building, and more. Though based in Pisgah Forest near Brevard, the outfitter travels across the region and can tailor a trip to meet anglers’ desires for types of water—private or public—and species of fish including trophy rainbow and brown trout, as well as bass and muskie.
For more information or to book a trip, visit www.davidsonflyfishing.com or call 888.861.0111.