Thursday, September 9, 2010


Steve Thomason casts for trout along this great trail
"If fishing is like religion, then fly fishing is high church." - Tom Brokaw

SYLVA, N.C. – It’s the sport introduced to countless Americans by Ernest Hemingway through his Nick Adams stories. Trout fishing with a fly rod is a connection with ancients who fished to eat and survive. Today, it’s more catch and release. Wading down into the Tuckaseegee River in Jackson County, North Carolina was a new baptism, an up to the hips immersion in Smoky Mountain holy water, a ritual to cleanse a troubled soul and quench a city dweller’s thirst for adventure.

The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail features some of the best trout waters in the South encompassing portions of four wild rivers, the Tuckaseigee, Chattooga, Whitewater and Horsepasture, with 15 prime spots for hooking brook, brown and rainbow trout. While the experience is for beginners as well as grizzled veterans, it helps to have a guide.


Alex Bell heads heralded AB's Fly Fishing Guide Service. He helped to choose the fly fishing trail's streams from wide-open rivers like the Tuckasegee for beginners to more remote and challenging waters like Scott and Panthertown creeks.  A former coach, Bell is the consummate fly fishing instructor and is the best go-to guy in the region for learning trout fishing shills. Bell emphasizes that fly-fishing is just as enjoyable for women and teenagers. “All you need is a desire to learn,” he says.

Bell provides guide services and also teaches classes at High Hampton Inn that includes a 3-night, 4-day fly fishing school, he describes as “the experience of a lifetime.” Located at a 3,600-foot elevation, High Hampton Inn is at the heart of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, The fly fishing school includes accommodations, all meals, and three nights lodging. Bell’s instruction is geared to any level. More information is available at


The recent addition to the trail of the 2.2-mile stretch of the Raven Fork trophy water on the Cherokee Indian Reservation includes waters stocked with rainbow, brown and golden trout, and is designated as catch-and-release fly fishing only. Raven Fork is a 2.2-mile stretch of water northward from the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge outside Cherokee and is regularly stocked with large rainbow, brown and golden trout. It's not uncommon to catch trout 20 inches or longer, and many exceed 30 inches.

"Cherokee wants to be a destination east of the Mississippi River that every fly fisherman knows," observes Alex Bell. "They have different strains of trout coming in and great vision for their fishing program. I think it's going to keep getting better and better."

The trail also features several smaller streams. Tanasee Creek and Greens Creek cut through scenic areas of the Nantahala National Forest, while Panthertown Creek bisects Panthertown Valley, which, according to Bell, is often referred to as the "Yosemite of the East."


Stephen Thomason, a photojournalist from Atlanta, joined other writers fishing under Bell’s command. “You don’t need pills,” he said, “to feel better when you’re in the water fly fishing.” Now 32, Thomason was stricken with crippling vasculitis three years ago and taught himself fly fishing skills and how to tie his own trout lures, universally called flies.

Fly fishing is an attractive, often healing option for those who suffer health problems or are infirmed or limited in their physical abilities. Thomason is quite skilled, fishing regularly in lakes and streams near his Atlanta home, but prefers the cool, clean mountain waters of Western North Carolina and North Georgia, he says.


Fly fishing here is an up and coming tourism trove and after just one year, the results are apparent. Bell sees the trail’s tourism potential as part of an economic turnaround for Sylva and the Jackson County area. “We are just two and a half hours from Atlanta and the environment is as good as you’ll find this side of
Accommodations are available at

Prior to plunging in the mountain waters, you are asked to take an oath: "As a true sportsman, I pledge to never litter and to avoid trespassing on private lands.  I will respect the rights of property owners, and always leave the streams in better condition than I found them."

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