A few days ago, I retraced my footsteps to what has become one of my favorite fishing destinations- Brevard, North Carolina. This quaint college town lying in the western part of the state now holds a certain power over me. Often, I find as I am driving my Tahoe to the local Food Lion, the panel mounted GPS unit mysteriously comes to life, showing Davidson River Outfitters as its destination. I am forced to wrestle with the steering wheel to enter the grocery store parking lot and acquire the bread, milk, or sundries which I was commissioned to retrieve for my wife. Lately, the battles have intensified. I fear that soon I may lose all control and abandon myself completely to the rainbows and browns swimming so gracefully and effortlessly in the cold waters of the Davidson and French Broad Rivers.
Upon arrival, I was met by my old friend Michael. After hearing about his 12 hour drive from the Philadelphia area, I was once more reminded of how blessed I am to have been born and raised in the South Carolina Lowcountry. From my present environs, Brevard lies a short drive of some four and a half hours. This brief driving time is easily filled by listening to a thought provoking audiobook, such as Michael Crichton’s “Micro”. That fascinating tale,however implausible, about nature and man’s well-meaning efforts to preserve it made quick work of the windshield time.
After a pleasant dinner at a Main Street Italian trattoria enjoyed alfresco, we retired to our rooms at the local inn, and prepared for a day on the water. Michael, as it turns out, is a man whose intellect is exceeded only by his all-encompassing sense of curiosity about the world around him. He has taken to the fly rod like, well, a fish to water. He has taught himself to construct beautiful fly rods, to tie fish catching flies, and to spey cast. That technique, used mainly by steelhead anglers on very large western rivers,involves the use of two handed rods measuring some fifteen feet in length. Wielded by highly skilled anglers, its use is reminiscent of a Samuria warrior at work with his sword, or a Jedi using his light saber. It is a thing of beauty and grace, and not easily mastered. Its use was pioneered on the River Spey, in Scotland. It should therefore have not surprised me when Michael came over to my room festooned with a bagpipe and played “Amazing Grace” for me. It seems obvious that interest in one Scottish art form might easily lead to interest in another, each a challenging skill set. Multi-talented indeed. That rendition also served to remind me of my mortality once more, as long I have desired that greatest of all songs ever written be played on the pipes at a memorial service at my passing.
The following morning, we met Bill, the very same guide with whom I had fished on my previous trip, at Davidson River Outfitters, a mere block from our hotel. We suited up there, with considerably less effort on my part than before, then loaded ourselves, rods, and packs into Bill’s SUV for the trip to the morning’s fishing spot. Instead of fishing the entire day on the Davidson itself, Bill put us on a private stretch of the French Broad River west of Brevard. It was a short pleasant trip, taken up mostly by hearing about Bill’ s experiences in the world of competitive fly fishing, a somewhat oxymoronic concept to me. As we made our way west and uphill, I wondered how my wife might receive the news that I was headed this day to a French Broad. It might be difficult to explain that the moniker is merely the given name of a local river. To be exact, we fished the West Fork of that river. It lay behind locked gates, in a remote and quiet valley, now verdant from the rain and abundant sunshine of early spring. The air was warm and comfortable, in direct contradistinction to my January visit. A cloudless sky was complimented by absent winds. Conditions were ideal. We assembled rods, strapped on vests and packs, and plodded towards the sound of rushing waters.
Once at the water’s edge, Bill sent me to the upstream end of our little beat, and Michael to downriver area. His quickly proved to be holding fish. He soon brought several to his net, while I merely watched my fly drift dragless, but also fishless, through riffles and pocket water. After a few minutes, Bill motioned for me to join him, and he led me further down the stream to a different area. Here I remained for the duration of the morning. He rigged a dry fly/dropper rig for me, using 7X tippet, a superfine monofilament with maybe a two pound breaking strength, but invisible to even these sharp eyed fish. He bade me cast this contraption upstream of a small bush, allowing it to drift through the shadow of a leaning tree on the opposite bank. “You should get a hit just about… NOW!” he said, as he watched the dry fly float into the shadow. As if on cue, my dry fly suddenly plunged deep into the cold water, a nice fifteen inch rainbow locked fast to the incredibly small nymph Bill had tied some 14 inches below the dry fly. After a satisfying fight, Bill netted the fish and released it unharmed into the river.
Leaving me to my own devices, Bill returned to assist Michael, and I continued to drift that rig through that shadow. I was rewarded by strike upon strike. I caught quite a few trout, both rainbow and brown, until my nymph tangled in an underwater obstacle and I lost it. “Not a problem,” I surmised, as I regarded my fly box, stuffed with tiny nymph patterns. I opened the box, now realizing that I had no idea what particular pattern Bill had affixed to my tippet, nor what size, other than “really small.” I selected a likely looking fly, and carefully replaced the 7X tippet tied to the larger dry fly. “I bet it won’t matter that much if I have the very exact pattern since these fish are striking almost every drift I have been making.” WRONG! I got not another bite.
The fish soon began to rise, taking the caddis flies which had just hatched in massive numbers and were flying low through the soft orange colored light diffusing through the rhododendrons that lined the West Fork’s banks. When one fell onto the water, trapped in its surface tension, a trout would rise and viciously devour it. It reminded me of Crichton’s novel about the ferocity of Nature, but that’s another story. I picked out a tan elk hair caddis fly that I thought might be close in size to what I saw flying and dying before me. This time I abandoned the nymph entirely and relied on my dry fly selection. I was elated to see a few of the trout savagely attacking my fly. I landed a few, but missed getting the hook properly set in many more. Quite satisfying nonetheless.
Soon, Bill reappeared, and he re-rigged my line. I soon was fast to a very large trout. Even the eqaniminous Bill showed excitement. He carefully surveyed the fish attached to my line and estimated it at well over twenty inches- a trophy trout on any stream. I fought the fish carefully, ever mindful of the slender thread of monofilament between me and my prize. I felt confident of victory, but suddenly, inexplicably, the trout was free. No snapped line, no bent hook, no slack allowed in the line. It was just fishing, part of what keeps the entire enterprise interesting. We exchanged expressions of sorrow, then headed back to the truck, where we met Michael and headed to the Davidson for the afternoon. Bill’s absence during my fishing had made crystal clear his value.
We soon stood at waters edge on the private stretch of the Davidson, not far from the flyshop itself. Micheal was assigned now the upstream beat while I took the one a bit downstream. Most of our day was now spent, but we had time to make numbers of casts, once more utilizing the combination of a dry fly and a nymph below it. There were no discernible insect hatches occurring here, so we relied on the wet flies to do our work. And work they did. Michael and I each were treated to seeing numerous trout leap into the afternoon sky, twisting their bodies into pretzel shapes in an effort to relieve themselves of the small hooks on the size twenty flies. We brought most of them to hand, snapped a few photos, and carefully released them to their underwater homes tired, but unharmed. It was as though we had merely given the fish a workout, thereby saving them a trip to the gym that day. The fish were not the only ones tired by the day’s fishing. Michael and I withdrew from the river sore and fatigued from a day of wading the swift currents and repeated casts, in addition to wrestling the many trout we fought to our nets.
We tallied fifty trout this day. I landed thirty trout myself and Michael accounted for the remainder. This “score” represents a personal best for me, though I had long since ceased counting. So numerous were these trout today, however, that I had decided early to enumerate them, just for curiosity’s sake. Included in these numbers were two nineteen inch rainbows I was fortunate enough to catch, as well as a handsome twenty inch specimen Michael expertly brought to his net. Even more impressive than these numbers was the opportunity to spend time with a friend in an activity precious to us both. Neither of us will soon forget this trip.
Words have long been a source of fascination for me. So, my curiosity about the name of this town led me to do some simple research on the internet. Brevard is derived from the Old French word “bref”, which means brief. I found this fascinating. Brevard lies only a brief drive from my house, and my time fishing its trout rich waters always seems exceedingly brief. So, the name seems quite appropriate. Another translation of “bref” is “small.” The trout here absolutely do not fit that translation, in either size or numbers. The trout are abundant and quite large, much to the fisherman’s delight. Neither is the beauty of Brevard and the surrounding area small. By contrast, the area is quite lovely and a welcome change of pace for us flatlanders.
As I watched my dry flies float invitingly along the water’s surface that day, a question arose in my mind as I reflected on the derivation of town’s name. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I wondered if trout prefer boxers or briefs? Or perhaps “brefs”?? Science has shown us that in humans there is a difference in sperm production between men who wear boxers and those who wear briefs. Those structures which produce sperm require a slightly lower temperature than body temperature for maximal efficiency. That is why the testes are located outside the body. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that men who wear boxers are more fertile than their brief wearing counterparts, as these garments cause increased warmth in the testes. Indeed, couples who face fertility issues are often advised to change the male’s clothing habits to maximize chances of fertilization. What does this all have to with trout? Nothing I suppose. But after experiencing the phenomenal numbers of trout in the French Broad and the Davidson Rivers, I would bet trout in the Brevard area choose boxers over briefs, despite the appellation of their hometown.