Every year around this time when it's humid and the temperature climbs into the 90s, I get an itch like an old hound dog with fleas.
As I sit around and madly scratch away, all I can think about is hopping in my car with my trusty four-weight fly rod and heading to the mountains in search of a chilly trout stream with the sound of running water and a cool breeze at my back. So when my phone rang and my buddy Don McCarthy asked me to head to his place near Hendersonville, N.C., for three days of trout fishing, I immediately called off each and every commitment I had lined up.
Hip boots, fly rod, vest -- I was a madman as I tore through my closets looking for all my gear. It had been nearly a year since my last trout adventure and in the interim my wife, Karen, in her compulsive cleaning glory, had moved my things to make way for a portion of the 100 pairs of shoes in her inventory. I almost panicked, but through the power of St. Anthony, upon whom my Catholic wife calls frequently, I finally was able to find enough of my stuff to get by. To say I was ready to get out of town is an understatement.
Don's plan was this: We would drive up together while Will "Catfish" Thompson and Harry Morales rode separately, and we'd meet at Don's palace, which sits on top of a mountain overlooking Hendersonville.
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Arriving first, Don and I were rigged and ready before Harry and Catfish arrived so we sat down with maps and a cocktail to plan our first day of fishing. The cool mountain breezes acted like a shot of adrenaline after dragging myself around for weeks in the Lowcountry heat. I was ready to fish.
Of the four of us, Harry was the only one who was new to trout fishing. Even after years of fly fishing for these masters of camouflage, it still amazes me how these fish, especially the larger, smarter trout, can be three feet in front of you the whole time. After a dozen casts, they magically rise from the bottom to take a fly. It's all in the presentation. Like any kind of fishing, practice makes perfect. So when we arrived at the Davidson River the next morning, I gave Harry a brief primer before we all went our separate ways.
I won't say the fishing was fantastic, but that didn't matter. We all caught fish, but for me at least, just sitting there on a large boulder, closing my eyes and listening to the flowing water was just what the doctor ordered. The water level was low compared with other years, but the large pools still held a lot of fish. We fished all day, every day, hitting several rivers, each very different but with their own unique charm.
By the time we left to come home, we were plum worn out. Walking miles on slippery rocks and climbing nearly vertical banks is a whole lot different from the flatlands around here, and I hurt in places I didn't even know I had. After talking to my companions, I felt better because they too were gobbling down Advil like they were Pez candies.
Getting back, I swear I had just walked through the door when my friend Dan Cornell, whom I fish with regularly, called and asked me if I would go offshore the next day since he had a guest in town and needed an experienced hand. I was exhausted, but I didn't want to let him down -- "yes" popped out of my mouth before I could stop it. What was I thinking?
Barely able to get out of bed, I met up with Dan and his friend. Turning the corner on the south end of Hilton Head Island, I was met by 25 mph winds and large rolling waves. Having experienced quiet trout streams for the past three days, I wondered which was better, those gentle streams or this ocean that looked like a washing machine in action. Then it hit me. This was my first love -- calm or rough, the ocean is my world.
It was tough fishing that day; I got my behind handed to me. But then that rod screamed and we boated one of the largest king mackerel I have seen in quite some time. I couldn't see how any trout stream could compete with that. I will say this, though, should the thermometer hit the 100-degree mark, I just might rethink things a tiny bit.