This was the one fishing trip that my wife and daughters planned for me. All I had to do was to drive the Tahoe, laden with my wife, the inlaws, our luggage, food, and fishing gear, to the mountains of southern North Carolina. There we were to meet my two lovely daughters, accompanied by their husbands and my sweet, sweet granddaughter, Presley. The girls had spent incalculable hours scouring the Web for a just right rental house – not too far away, not too small, not too large, and not too expensive. They had settled on a very attractive house situated on Lake Glenville, just outside Cashiers, North Carolina. Lake Glenville , as I discovered on the internet, holds the distinction of being the lake having the highest elevation east of the Mississippi River. Quite deep, its maximum depth runs some 125 feet. It is reputed to hold bass, both largemouth and smallmouth, in addition to walleye and panfish. I was a bit disappointed to learn that I would be unable to cast to rainbows or browns, but there were many troutwaters to be fished nearby.
Once we settled in, the first order of business was to build a fire. The chilly, rainy weather made a crackling fire both appealing and relaxing. Hot mugs of coffee were enjoyed by the fire as we enjoyed catching up, and planning our adventures in the mountains. We were all delighted to see Miss Presley crawling in all directions, playing and smiling at us. Life was indeed good.
The drive up had been uneventful, uninteresting, and boring until we reached the ascent into the foothills of the Smokies. The constant climbing and endless switchbacks brought the Tahoe to a crawl, but that was just as well. The magnificent colors of the fall foliage were simply spectacular. The strong winds associated with a passing cold front produced a steady swirling of multicolored leaves formed into vortices on their journey to the ground. The scene was quite intoxicating.
It is good , on occasion, to step back and consider the appropriate priorities in life. I find myself sometimes guilty of obsessing so about fishing that I need to re-examine the order of things in my life. Family is number one. As I sat in the great room of our temporary abode and watched my family interacting, preparing meals, reading, playing, or even just napping, the curtain seemed to be drawn back a bit, and I realized just then how fortunate I am. God has blessed me with two wonderful daughters who make me swell with pride at not only their accomplishments, but at what caring, responsible people they have become. It appears that my prime directive in life has been fulfilled through them. I can relax now, secure in the knowledge that the work my wife and I began at the birth of my elder daughter is now complete. Having a steadfast companion in my wife, someone I can rely on without any doubt, is extremely comforting as I enter that final phase of the incredible life God has set for me.
I anxiously checked the weather on the internet, grateful that the house was equipped with Wi-Fi. The forecast for the following day was perfect. Sixty degrees, clear skies, and little wind. Now to locate a fishable stream and secure a license. My father in law and I took the ladies into town the next morning to resupply the kitchen. While they shopped, Charles and I found the local fly shop, and made some inquiries. We bought temporary fishing licenses, complete with trout stamps, a selection of local favorite flies, and attempted to arrange a float trip. The only nearby floatable river is a tailwater, the Tuckaseegee, and would be too low to float for the next several days, as the power generation schedule showed no water releases during our time in Cashiers. The shop owner graciously provided us with a map and excitedly told us that the delayed harvest water on the French Broad River had been “super-stocked” only a week earlier. A bunch of dumb trout fit our bill to a “T.” Off to the French Broad we went.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. I hold an MD degree and a few others. Yet, I find North Carolina’s trout regulations phenomenally arcane and confusing. The regs apply to different rivers at different times, and may vary, even within the same body of water. Having my close friend and attorney Mike along would have been quite the asset on this excursion, but this time Charles and I would be left to our own devices in dealing with the law. A discussion with the owner of a guide service unmuddied the waters a bit for me. The stretch of the French Broad where we were to fish had been designated “Delayed Harvest Trout Waters”. It was explained to me that means that absolutely no natural bait of any kind could be used there, a real plus for a couple of fly rodders. Also, only hooks with a single barb were allowed, again good for the flycaster. Additionally, no fish were to be kept. All caught fish must be released. To a catch and release enthusiast such as myself, this was welcome news, as it increased the number of available fish. To Charles, an old school example of the hunter gatherer concept, it was a bit disappointing. Charles did cheer up a bit when we discovered that these delayed harvest waters are stocked in late October. It was now the first weekend in November. Oh Joy!!! A beautiful clear river filled with huge numbers of totally stupid hatchery fish. Perfect for casual trout fishermen like ourselves.
The fly shop owner had mentioned that the journey to the French Broad would consume “about thirty minutes” of our flyfishing day. In actuality, it was an hour, and that is merely to arrive in the vicinity of the river. No matter, as the drive was quite pleasant, as was the company. Actually locating the fishable portion of the river proved more challenging. Our map looked like it had been run through the copier at least seven thousand times, and making out the fine details proved difficult for my sixty year old eyes. After a few false starts ( each carrying a five minute penalty), we at last found the object of our desire. We were shocked to find a very large number of fly fishermen already present. The water itself was gorgeous. The French Broad River proved to be a stream of modest proportions, its water running cold and clear. Its fish were protected by overhanging rhododendron and mountain laurel branches, which added to both the casting difficulty, as well as the beauty of this picturesque stream.
After driving along the river for a while, seeking solace from the crowds, I spied a gravel road which cut sharply back from the paved road, paralleling the course of the river. I wheeled the Tahoe into it, and soon stopped at the most open spot along the bank I could see. Upon disembarking, we assembled our rods, and tied on our flies, and ambled to the water’s edge. I saw no fish initially, but soon my eyes focused on what I perceived to be two logs or large sticks in the water. Then I saw one of them move. It rolled ninety degrees to port, exposing its brown spotted side to my widely gaped eyes and my utter amazement. It was an extremely large brown, in fact, there were two of them. They were the largest specimens this angler has yet encountered. Without exaggeration, I would estimate 28 to 30 inches! Needless to say, I focused all my efforts in an attempt to hook one of these magnificent fish, though realistically, the odds of landing one on my flimsy little four weight homebuilt whippy stick were about the same as winning the powerball prize. But try I did. I expended perhaps 35 minutes in this losing effort. The fish never even twitched at my offerings. I am certain that they saw me as I approached down the bank, and it was game over at that point. I grudgingly suggested to Charles that we move on.
Back in the Tahoe, we drove past the other anglers, and through a farm field to a point where the road terminated in a “tee” intersection. There we turned right and followed the FBR (French Broad River) for a little distance until I found a likely spot that was devoid of anglers. I suspected that it might be devoid of trout as well, but when I walked a short ways to a bend in the stream, I saw a pod of trout holding over a light colored bottom. They reminded me of a school of bonefish in the Bahamas, except that these fish were courteous enough to sit still so I could cast to them.
Arrayed before us lay a large group of freshly released trout. Among them were two brood fish, maybe 18 inches. We were excited and hurried to offer them our flies. I cast fist a dry fly, but no avail. Next, I tried a terrestrial. Finally I went to an egg pattern, reasoning that it might resemble the trout chow to which they were accustomed. It worked! I soon landed a small rainbow of maybe ten inches. After catching and releasing a few, I turned my attention to Charles. Charles is an extremely accomplished outdoorsman, having caught more fresh and saltwater fish than I could in three lifetimes. Now some eighty three years old, and having had a stroke a few years ago, casting has become more challenging to him. I decided it was time for me to play guide for him. I tied on a bead head wooly booger, and then an egg pattern some 14 inches below that. I assisted him a bit with his casting and after a number of attempts, he landed a very nice 15 inch fish. I was completely overjoyed, much more excited and happy than he. Charles is a true inspiration to me. He gives me hope that no matter how old I may be fortunate enough to become, and no matter my infirmities, there is always a way to enjoy time outdoors.
After being frustrated somewhat as the fish became a bit more wary, I walked downstream, slipped off my socks and shoes, and did a little real wet wading, completely barefoot. I sneaked up along the opposite bank, my feet blocks of ice, and made clandestine casts from a rear position to the fish as they faced the oncoming current. They succumbed to the wolly booger as well as the egg fly. After catching a satisfying number, I retreated to shore and replaced my socks and shoes on my numb feet. Cold, but happy, we reboarded the SUV and headed back in the direction of Cashiers.
As we drove, Charles talked about how much fun he had had. I agreed, but my mind went back to those two heavy duty browns we have encountered earlier. The steering wheel willed itself to turn back onto that gravel road as we neared. Quick as a bunny, I was back in the river, shoeless again, trying a San Juan worm. The big brown did finally make a turn towards my fly as it drifted silently past, seductively undulating its body. Not be fooled, the trout demonstrated why it had gotten so large by returning to its lie, leaving my heart fluttering. My reverie was interrupted by the appearance of a man in a pickup. “May I help you?, he asked, the tone of his voice making it clear that he was not interested in assisting me in my quest to hook the monster before me. Suddenly it came to me – we must be on private property, despite having seen no sign. ” I am very sorry, sir,” I responded.”I did not see any indication that this area is private. I thought this was a public road.” He indicated that I could stay a few more minutes, but I immediately exited the river, donned my shoes and socks, and left. The dream would go unrealized. Private property rights are just that. I would never knowingly trespass. Perhaps next year I can knock on his door and ask permission, now that I know the deal. Oh, and I’ll need a bigger rod!
Back in Cashiers, I was able to spend some high quality time with my wife, daughter, and inlaws while we fished off the dock behind the house. We failed to capture a single fish, but were instead rewarded with something infinitely more valuable – family memories of time spent together.