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Our State Knows Best: Fly-Fishing

In this monthly online series, we ask the experts to go in-depth on some of our favorite topics from the magazine.


When you’re surrounded by lush woods, listening to the melodic sounds of streams and waterfalls in western North Carolina, it’s hard to imagine that the scene has much in common with the rolling surf and ever-present wind out east on our coast. Yet both regions offer some of the best fly-fishing in the country, and you’ll find devoted anglers at either end of the state.

“When you start fly-fishing, you view everything a little differently,” says Hannah Myers, a fly-fishing guide at Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman. “You are so much more in tune with everything going on, whether that’s a seasonal change or just temperature or water changes during the day. I think that’s appealing to most people because it’s also a challenge.”

We chatted with Myers and two other experts — Dale Collins, a guide at Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in Sylva, and Capt. Seth Vernon, owner of Double Haul Guide Service in Wrightsville Beach — about how they got hooked on fly-fishing, their favorite spots in the state to cast a line, and their best tips for beginners.

Our experts

 

Hannah Myers
Fly-fishing guide at Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman
Dale Collins
Fly-fishing guide at Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in Sylva
Capt. Seth Vernon
Owner of Double Haul Guide Service in Wrightsville Beach

 

How did you get interested in fly-fishing?

Seth Vernon: I went to school at Appalachian State in the mountains here in North Carolina. I got interested in fly-fishing wholeheartedly up there and soon got a job working and helping at a fly shop. After that, I started venturing into the world of guiding anglers, not just outfitting them in the store.

Dale Collins: For me, it was in college at Western Carolina University. Going to school there is like having a big outdoor playground, and fly-fishing was a niche that I found I really enjoyed. In between classes, I would go out and fish and try to figure it out.

Hannah Myers: I was born and raised in Brevard, so I grew up fishing in the area and was obsessed with it. I picked up fly-fishing in high school because it was a totally different style than I was used to. When I started working at Headwaters, I dove in full force because I was surrounded by people who did nothing but fly-fish.

So what’s the lure — what do you like most about fly-fishing compared to traditional fishing?

Hannah Myers: How connected and grounded you are while fishing. With traditional fishing, you’re throwing out a nightcrawler, versus fly-fishing, where you’re really getting on that same level with a fish and trying to figure out what specific bug it’s eating out of the hundreds it could be choosing from. You are really fine-tuning it, and then you get that reward at the end of your line.

Seth Vernon: When you’re fly-fishing, the bite happens on the fly. You’re holding that line in your hand, so you’re feeling that kinetic pulse of the fish taking your fly and biting, and it is instantaneous — it sets off all the good endorphins in your brain. When you’re fly-fishing, you forget about the world’s troubles and enjoy the time on the water and the beautiful surroundings. When you get that bite, it’s a unique connection that’s very different from conventional angling.

Dale Collins: It’s [all about] engaging with the environment: You’re paying attention to your surroundings; you’re reacting to weather. There are lots of things going on in the river, and it’s like another world in the water. The fact that you’re imitating an insect and tricking the fish is engaging. You aren’t just throwing something flashy into the water and hoping — it’s more like hunting.

That sounds amazing … but challenging. What’s the hardest part of learning how to fly-fish?

Seth Vernon: When you start fishing on the coast, the rods are bigger, so you need more arm strength. Plus, the distances you’re casting are greater. And you have to deal with the wind always being present. Because of this, I would advocate that people start with freshwater mountain trout fishing because they will have a lot of fun, be successful, and they don’t have to be great casters yet. They can start to hone and create the skill sets they need on the mountain trout streams, all while catching large numbers of fish.

Dale Collins: Fifty percent of this sport is just getting out to the river and putting in time to learn. For a time, I lived in Greensboro, and I would only fish maybe two or three times a year, and I was not that good at it. Then I took a guided trip, and that really grew my knowledge immensely and opened my eyes to different ways to rig lines and other techniques I didn’t know about.

Hannah Myers: It can seem overwhelming when you first step into fly-fishing because of all the types of rods and reels and the hundreds of thousands of flies to choose from. When I started working at Headwaters, guides here helped simplify it. I think having a mentor or joining a Facebook page to sort out all the hard stuff from the get-go is super helpful.

What other tips would you give a beginner?

Seth Vernon: Get casting instructions. If you have a mentor who is well-versed in casting, your enjoyment of fly-fishing will rise rapidly. If you spend the first few years of your fly-fishing career trying to cast alone, you’ll often teach yourself a lot of bad habits. A casting instructor can refine your casting to make it more efficient and therefore more enjoyable. This lets you get results in a shorter amount of time.

Dale Collins: Take baby steps. If you go all in and try to purchase everything and submerge yourself in every facet of the sport, I think it can be overwhelming. Pick one technique or region of the state and learn about that.

Got it. What essential gear do we need to get started?

Seth Vernon: When purchasing equipment, I recommend shopping local if possible. Find your local fly shop or reach out to Great Outdoor Provision Co. You’ll want to cast several rods and find one that suits your ability. If you intend to purchase the equipment [rather than rent], you’ll need a fly rod, a reel, and a fly line to match the fish you’re targeting. Don’t forget ammo: You’ll need flies and a handy fly box to carry your flies safely and securely.

Hannah Myers: A rod, reel, and fly line. A net is super helpful, since your rod is a lot longer [than with traditional fishing] — it helps you actually get your hand on the fish. I would recommend stopping by your local fly shop to ask what flies are working so you don’t spend a lot of money on ones you will never use.

We can’t wait to get out there! Where are some of the best spots in North Carolina to cast a line?

Seth Vernon: For freshwater fly-fishing, some of the best spots in the mountains are Brevard, Boone, and out near the Great Smoky Mountains. Further east, it’s places like Weldon, and elsewhere on the Roanoke River’s striped bass migration path. For saltwater fly-fishing, Wrightsville Beach is good for shallow-water sight-fishing for redfish, and in Beaufort or off Cape Lookout, you can look for nearshore pelagic fish. If you live in, say, Michigan, you can’t go to the mountains and the coast. That’s what makes our state so amazing — we have the best of both worlds.

Dale Collins: I’m pretty biased to Jackson and Swain counties. Jackson County created the first fly-fishing trail in the country, and between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest, there are 35,000 to 40,000 miles of public trout waters.

Hannah Myers: North Carolina does a great job of offering ease of access to fish for beginners. We have delayed-harvest streams that are stocked in the fall and spring, and during that period, there are catch-and-release laws, so the more fish they put in there, the more fish accrue. Plus, with most delayed-harvest streams, you can just park off the side of the road and hop straight into the river. They’re good confidence boosters. What’s great about fishing in North Carolina — for trout specifically — is that there’s always good weather. We are so lucky and fortunate to have different waters, altitude-wise, to fish year-round. Generally speaking, spring and fall are the two times that are the best for us. But even in the summer, when lower-elevation streams get too warm to be productive, we are fortunate enough to be able to go to the Blue Ridge Parkway to catch some fish in waters with higher altitudes and cooler temperatures.

What’s the most amazing experience you’ve ever had while fly-fishing?

Seth Vernon: I was fishing with an angler that I’ve known for a long time, and we’d dedicated ourselves to catching the first Atlantic tarpon on fly in North Carolina — which we did, last July 1. It was a 70-pound fish, and he caught it on a 16-pound tippet. Our tackle system and everything was done to a recognizable standard in accordance with specific fishing practices so that if we caught a record fish, we could submit those results. It was a matter of pride for us, so that nobody could question that we had accomplished this feat.

Dale Collins: I enjoy chasing the Southern Appalachian brook trout, and they’re native to North Carolina. It’s pretty awesome to find a creek where it’s going to be cold all summer long, and you can climb waterfalls and boulders and find fish below. It isn’t the safest thing, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you do catch a Southern Appalachian brookie. You wouldn’t think there are fish in this little pool, but here comes this seven-inch fish that’s orange and blue and purple and yellow — and it took a dry fly that you tied. That’s a pretty awesome experience.

Hannah Myers: My most rewarding experiences have been through guiding: getting people who are complete beginners to fishing — who have never cast a line before — ready for the day, and seeing the instant confidence they get when they get a fish on their line. It’s so rewarding. When people struggle and then all of a sudden it connects, you can see their faces brighten as they realize that they’ve done something right to get that fish in the net.

This story was published on Jul 13, 2021

Anna Mudd

Anna Mudd is a summer 2021 editorial intern at Our State.