From the relaxing sound of a gentle tumbling, calm stream to the thrill of reeling in that once-in-a-lifetime catch, the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail® offers an experience for everyone willing to cast a line here in Jackson County, NC.
Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the NC mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva, which make up Jackson County, have a deep connection with the streams and rivers that flow through the area, as well as the sports and activities that take place in them. Famously known for our clear, clean and fully-stocked water, it is no wonder that we are known as the NC Trout Capital.®
For over 100 years, people have been traveling to these waters to try their hand at this ever-evolving and growing sport. While many have found a love for fly fishing here and made it a hobby, the sport remains a rooted tradition and way of life for the residents who live by these waters and traverse them day in and out. It’s time to take a look into our county’s fishing culture by some local guides and hear some of their favorite memories from the NC Trout Capital® from those who know it best.
Catching the Benefits
Tuckasegee Fly Shop’s Dale Collins, Alex Bell with AB’s Fly Fishing Guide Service, and Fontana Guides’ Kyle Fronrath have been navigating our rivers for decades. Experts in their field (or rather, their stream), they all recognize that there are health benefits associated with fly fishing.
“The greatest benefit to wellness through fly fishing is mental health,” said Collins. “When engaged with your surroundings, environment, and casting, there is no concept of time.” Spending just 20 minutes in nature has proven to reduce stress and cortisol levels and fly fishing is a great way to reap those benefits.
“The use of exercise and patience while on the river is beneficial,” Fronrath says. “Trading your iPad for a fly rod helps one get away from the constant worries of the world and focus on the task, literally, at hand.”
From reeling in (or almost reeling in) that classic “Fish Tale” to guiding guests from across the world, stories from our guides are endless.
“Trout on the Fly Fishing Trail® are not known to typically grow to be over 24-inches long… or so we thought,” said Fronrath. “On an epic guided trip along the Tuck, we landed two 27-inch Brown Trout! One was caught by me on a mouse pattern, and the other was caught by a client of mine. Both were truly incredible fish, as it is very rare for us to see trout over the 24-inch mark.”
“Humans aren’t the only ones fishing in the water,” Collins said. “While on a guided trip an Osprey and an Eagle were aggressively fighting over a fish. In the end, the fish made its great escape back into the water.”
Sometimes while fishing you reel in more than fish. According to Bell, “One day a student was using a drone to capture aerial footage of fishing and one of my clients was casting pretty high and wide and actually caught the drone on a cast bringing the drone into the river. After reeling in the drone, I dried it off and snapped a photo of my client with his catch of the day, the drone. To this day, that was a first.”
When guiding so many anglers on the water, guides will sometimes leave the experience with lifelong memories and unexpected new friendships. “We have guided a young man with special needs for five years now,” Collins said. “He can tell you the exact number of fish that he has caught on each trip and visits the shop even when we are not going fishing just to say “hi.” He is a blessing to know and no matter what kind of day you are having he will brighten it when he comes in the shop.” Bell also found it rewarding to lead adaptive fly fishing classes at Western Carolina University for those with special needs. “They were all able to reel in some fish which was pretty special,” he said.
Guides also shared with us their joy of working with veterans out on the water in Jackson County. “Grateful Guide is a program we have to serve our troops,” said Bell. “I will take anyone who has been in combat within the last year out for a free half-day trip as a way to say thank you for their service.” “Guiding Veterans is always a humbling experience,” said Collins. “Being able to guide a veteran with multiple tours under their belt or a combat-wounded veteran is always a special experience for us both.”
Where is the River Taking Us Next?
From the evolution of being a “gentleman’s sport” to now being an activity the entire family can enjoy, fly fishing is constantly changing. According to a study done by the New York Times, female anglers represent the fastest-growing demographic in fly fishing. “It’s exciting to see that growth and to see more women out on the waters,” said Collins. This uptick in women participating in the sport has led to female anglers along the WNC Fly Fishing Trail® being featured on the cover of the 2020 Visit North Carolina state travel guide.
Casting over 100 years of memories brings benefits and opportunities. Every angler must do their part to keep the waters pristine for generations to come. Part of that comes by following the Sportsman’s Pledge: “As a true sportsman, I pledge to never litter and to avoid trespassing on private lands. I will respect the rights of property owners, and always leave the streams in better conditions than I found them.”
“The local Trout Unlimited Chapter is at the forefront of keeping the trail pristine for everyone”, said Collins. There are also a number of ways that visitors can help to keep our waters pristine. When guests visit the FFT, we ask that they remove a little bit of trash after a day of angling. Bring a bag with you and carry out any debris you see around you. We also ask that anglers explore and visit a new area of the 15 highlighted spot FFT each time that they visit in order to sustain the fish population. After all, you never know what you might catch in that newly discovered fishing hole!
Now is the perfect time to prepare for your next (or first) fly fishing adventure. Hit the streams when the time is right and purchase a gift card or a guided fishing trip from one of our outfitters to enjoy during a future trip to Jackson County. Download our Visitor Guide and get inspiration for your next trip. Request a free waterproof Fly Fishing Trail® map online here. We look forward to angling with you again! Until then, stay safe and stay home and we will see you soon.