Week after week I talk about saltwater fishing -- the fish I've caught as well as the fish I have missed. Come to think about it, about the only time I ever talk about freshwater fishing is in the dead of winter when the redfish have lockjaw and the only fish that are biting are big slab crappies.
Like every fisherman, my love of angling started in a freshwater pond, but once I caught my first saltwater fish, it was hard to turn. Saltwater fish are bigger and badder, and they just seem to outclass freshwater fish in every way, that is except one species, trout on the fly.
For just about as long as I can remember, during the hottest part of the summer I take a pilgrimage of sorts to the mountains in North Georgia or North Carolina to get my trout fix. I got my start chasing trout with a fly rod with local David Donnell. For years, he and I would head to the North Georgia mountains every summer for a week or so. Talk about hard-core fishermen, we were pretty much the definition of the term. Using topographical maps, we would look for the most isolated and hard-to-get-to locations imaginable. The way we figured it, these were the places that had the most promise for catching the mac daddy trout in that particular stream. More often than not, this approach worked but being quite a bit younger in those days, crawling back up near vertical mountainsides to reach our vehicle was doable. Nowadays with age settling in, they would probably find my skeleton halfway up so I still look for isolated sections of streams but not places that are quite so steep.
This summer's trout excursion wasn't with David but Don McCarthy and Will "Catfish" Thompson. Don purchased an incredible mountain home in North Carolina that sits high on a mountaintop overlooking the town of Hendersonville below. Neither Don nor Catfish have done much fly-fishing for trout, but Don in particular was game to learn. There's nothing wrong with using an ultra light spinning rod for rainbows, browns and brook trout, but compared with a four-weight fly rod, in my mind there is no comparison. Even a 12-inch trout is a challenge on a fly rod especially when the tippet (or leader) is one or 2-pound test. Anyway, Catfish stuck to a spinning rod while Don was about 50/50 fly rod and spinning rod.
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The first day we hit the Davidson River in the Pisgah National Forest. If you think we have had a lot of rain here, up there they have had record amounts of the wet stuff. All the rivers are much higher than normal, plus they are not as clear as usual with all the silt being washed into the water. High and dirty water wasn't going to stop us, because we there to fish, come hell or high water. Splitting up, we each looked for our own pools and deep-water runs. After enduring all the heat here, I was instantly mesmerized by the cool breeze rattling the leaves and the sound of water rushing over rocks. I lose track of time whenever I hit those streams and can easily fish from sunrise till sunset.
Reading a trout stream is an art, and to this day it still amazes me how trout camouflage themselves so perfectly. Not all that familiar with this particular river, I got a good idea of the fish it held when I met up with Catfish holding probably the largest brook trout I have ever seen come out of a North Carolina stream. Don and I had caught some small rainbows and browns but nothing like that brook trout. I will say this, that fish inspired me and off I went to find my trophy fish.
Coming around a corner in the stream, I saw a deep run that I knew had to hold a fish. Using a roll cast, due to tight confines, I made no fewer than 30 casts in that run, when I saw this trout, this giant trout, rise up from bottom and take my offering. With only 2-pound test leader, that fish went downstream, upstream, across the stream and this went on for 20 minutes. My heart was pounding and only by the grace of God did I not pop him off. My hands were shaking so much I could barely hold him. He was the granddaddy rainbow trout of the stream. He was easily 24 to 26 inches long, and I could tell he had been in that stream a long, long time because his tail was nearly worn away from brushing it on the rocks. Even if I didn't catch another fish, I was in hog heaven.
The rest of our three-day adventure was exploring rivers in the area for future trips. Along one stream, we even had an encounter with a sizable timber rattlesnake with which I took some pretty unnecessary chances getting photos just out of its striking range.
Now that I am back in the steamy Lowcountry, I am ready to go again. I guess we'll just have to see.
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.