I’m a yankee born and raised, but I only relax in the South…the deeper the better. The people are genial, the fish eager and the bread is made from corn, corn, corn. North Carolina was precisely what the doctor ordered last week, though I arrived for some of the worst trout weather in memory. The extreme heat was only interrupted by intense rain, so even the mountain streams were running warm and muddy. It takes an extremely skillful fisherman to coax a trout — which hunts primarily by sight — to bite down on a fly in conditions like that.
That’s not me, so, I switched to bass. Lake Lure, in the mountains of North Carolina near Asheville, is the most picturesque manmade lake I’ve ever seen. Fishing it at dawn fills up whatever reserve it is that gets depleted by trips to the mall and Payless Shoes. Bobbing gently in a bass boat in a shady cove, and sneaking a lure under a stand of trees where you just know the fish are hungry, you’re pristinely aware, yet thinking of nothing. Only the taughtness of the line across your fingers as you wait for the telltale twitch.
It’s this, the perfect, still awareness you experience after a cast, that makes fishing such a wonderful thing, especially for a guy like me who thinks too hard about everything. If you’re worrying while you’re fishing, you’re doing it wrong.
But I digress. Anyone who fishes will tell you what great little fighters bass are. Pull one in and you’re amazed that a fish that’s only a foot long, for just a split second, almost yanked your rod and reel right out of your hand. You can put the fellow back or take him with you if you like epto eat bass. For me perch make a great consolation prize if I can’t have trout for dinner, so I left the bass and went jigging in deep water when the sun got high. It worked, at least up to a point, and I brought home enough for a light dinner. Which made me look like a real outdoorsman to the girls. What a morning.
Here I’ll insert that while I generally let the fish I catch go, I deeply, deeply resent catch-and-release trout streams. There are way too many of those in North Carolina. But of course those are where the great fishing experiences are. Two years ago I fished Davis Creek, a hatchery that’s also in North Carolina, a bit higher up than Lake Lure. I got there again just after dawn. Standing in a foot of water under a canopy of trees, roll-casting in the cool, dappled light, I watched brown trout jump all around me. It was then that I determined that Davis Creek is where good fishermen go when they die. To heck with the river that runs through it — just shoot me now!
The rub is that trout make me hungry. When I finally catch one and I hold it in my hands — a gorgeous, golden little torpedo of meat — putting it back takes every ounce of discipline I possess. I worked so hard, I at least deserve a bite! Alas, the fines for that are steep…but almost, almost worth it. Someday I’ll find a jumpin’ trout stream that will at once reward my so-so fly fishing skills, yet won’t penalize me with a $750 fine and 30 days in jail should I succumb to my animal urges. On that day I may just wander off into the mountains with a rod and a handful of lures and never be heard from again.