Zen and the art of fly-fishing for trout

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netOctober 24, 2012 

I have always been a homebody, just hiding out in my little piece of the Lowcountry. For the most part, I am happy as a clam. That speaks volumes about this place where, at a moment's notice, I can hop in my boat, fish for an hour or so and come home with dinner.

It isn't that I don't like to travel, because I do, but rather I rarely feel the need to travel. I have everything I need right here. But this past week my fishing buddies, Don McCarthy and Will "Catfish" Thompson, and I took a rather spontaneous road trip to the mountains of North Carolina to see Don's newly acquired mountain home near Hendersonville.

I wouldn't say that I am a master fly fisherman, because I am not, but for nearly 30 years I usually make at least one or two trips to the mountains of north Georgia or North Carolina to do some trout fishing. Most all of these trips occur during the hottest summer months and are intended to be a getaway from the brutal heat. There is something about wandering along a chilly mountain stream with a fly rod that is as close to meditation as anything I can think of. The sound of the rushing water, large deep pools and rocks. Yeah, I said rocks. Don't snicker because for this Lowcountry boy, rocks are as mesmerizing to me as palm trees are to those of you from up north. I even go as far as loading up my car with small boulders just before I return home from them thar hills. I use them in my gardens and as yard art --but enough about my rock fetish.

Don has never done any fly-fishing for trout fishing, so before we left he bought a nice fly rod. I could tell he was itching to give this totally new form of fishing a go while Catfish opted to use a spinning rod. Don had headed up ahead of Catfish and I so when the two of us arrived I was not expecting this palace that sat on the tippy top of a mountain, overlooking Hendersonville. Standing on the back porch, you could see a hundred miles and with the changing of the leaves in full force, it darn near took my breath away.

Up bright and early the next morning, we headed out to some of the trout streams I had fished before. One thing I have learned about fly-fishing in the mountains is that preparation is everything. Did I bring my fly vest? Hip boots? The list goes on and on, but because Don and Catfish had never done this before, they were a tad underprepared. Luckily, I had brought just about every bit of fly-fishing equipment I own and, after a few minutes of organizing the two of them, we headed through the woods down to the river.

It's hard to describe just how beautiful this river was with all the leaves at the peak of their color. Reds, oranges and yellows mixed in this vibrant array of color that was reflected in the water. I was so taken back by the splendor that I often found it hard to fish. Knowing that Don and Catfish could use a bit of coaching, I tried not to stray too far, which was tough for me because usually when I come to trout fish I hopscotch from pool to pool and rarely ever look back. Not only that, I fish from sun up till sun down, lost in my own thoughts while watching a fly drifting with the current and waiting for that single flash as a rainbow or brown trout sips the fly in.

I nailed a nice brown trout right off the bat and decided to go check on Don to see how he was doing. All it took was one look at his face and I knew that the trout streams of North Carolina had adopted another fly-fisherman -- he was hopelessly hooked. He told me about the one that got away, how it had caught him off-guard, jumped and that was that. But it didn't really matter because the main goal of his first attempt with a fly rod was to simply hook a fish, which he had done. Using spinner bait, Catfish managed to get two trout but without a landing net, he lost them both as he tried to grab them. Having been there numerous times, all I could picture was Catfish trying to hand-catch a squirming trout, which is almost exactly like the old-timey films when someone is trying to grab a bar of soap and it squirts through their hands.

If you are wondering, we did catch fish as we went from river to river. But for me at least the most memorable part of this trip was being in such a beautiful place with friends. If I had to pick one scene that will be forever ingrained in my memory, it would have to be Don standing in the middle of this one river, fly rod in hand and fall leaves fluttering down on him like snow flakes.

Did any of us slip on a rock and fall in that frigid water? I'll let Don answer that question.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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