My wife has something in her wallet that she has never before possessed. It’s a North Carolina fishing license.
For some time, Shari had been wanting to learn how to fish for trout, and our trip to Cherokee last weekend seemed the perfect time. Thus, the license.
After checking into our hotel room Friday afternoon, we immediately headed up U.S. 441 into the nearby Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which is paralleled by the beautiful Oconaluftee River. We drove a couple of miles west to a spot above Smokemont Campground.
The river is smaller in this area, with reasonably easy wading and enough room for casting.
The trout in the Oconaluftee in this section are almost entirely rainbows. Given the right conditions—and Friday was a good day for fishing—these rainbow trout are eager to hit a lure.
Particularly in the national park’s streams, though generally in every stream, the trick is stealth.
If the fish see movement or unnatural color from above, they will quickly flee to a safe hiding place. This is the conversation we had before we began fishing.
The other major thing to consider is where the fish might be lying in the stream, waiting for a morsel of food to wash down in the current. They will almost always be out of the fast water, where they can hold, have some cover and expend less energy.
Beyond that, it’s important to realize that fishing upstream is the best method for success, allowing you to sneak up on the trout as they station themselves in the direction the food is coming, the “feeding lane” as it is commonly known.
Shari and I tied some single-hook lures—Roostertail spinners – and climbed down an embankment to the river’s edge. She is athletic and has very good hand/eye coordination, so casting was clearly not going to be a problem for her.
I walked upstream just a tad to get out of her way and had only made a couple of casts before I heard her say, “I’ve got one.”
I walked back and, sure enough, she had a seven-inch rainbow trout dancing on the end of her line. She reeled the fish in and it was released harmlessly back into the river.
Shari’s first trout was a wild rainbow. I was thrilled for her, but the look of joy on my wife’s face was priceless. If you could bottle that kind of joy and sell it, you’d be an overnight millionaire.
The next morning, we got up and went to buy ourselves permits to fish for the day on streams within the Cherokee reservation.
Shari wanted to catch some fish with a bit of size and the reservation’s streams are arguably the most heavily stocked in the nation.
Beyond the intense stocking, the rainbow, brown and brook and golden trout in the reservation’s 30 miles of streams are far larger on average than any that would be found in the N.C. Wildlife Commission’s hatchery-supported water.
A guy working at a fly fishing show on Big Cove Road suggested that we give Bunches Creek a try.
Bunches is a very small stream that flows into Raven Fork about 8 or so miles up Big Cove.
I had never fished Bunches Creek before, but immediately saw that it was going to be somewhat of a challenge.
The creek, in most places, has a tight canopy of trees and undergrowth around it and the water runs fast down steep slopes.
In other words, pools and pocket water where trout might hold appeared to be somewhat few and far between.
On the upside, we essentially had the creek to ourselves, fulfilling another rule I like to practice: Fish where people are not.
In any case, we had hardly been fishing 15 minutes before Shari had a fat, stocked rainbow struggling on the end of her line.
Feeling ashamed of my paltry fishing skills at this point, I decided to see what was in a small pool just upstream.
On my second cast, an 18-inch rainbow trout nearly jerked the rod out of my hand.
It took a great deal of patience to get that critter to my feet and into my hand. In my life, I have never caught such a large fish in such a small creek.
I suspect we will have many more fishing adventures in the future.