December 14, 2020
Rainbow trout are one of the most stalked fish. Not just in North America but in almost every county that they’ve been introduced into. To a predominately salt-fly fisherman I like to almost match them up to the redfish. A decent sized trout will unquestionably give you an admirable run to remember and if not fought right, will lead to you breaking off, as I will learn in the next 24 hours unfortunately.
Stepping out of the hotel and into the cold, crisp air of the Blue Ridge mountains, I can feel my lungs expand with the wintry sensation of the northern air as dark clouds roll over head. Wearing ski pants and a Cotopaxi fleece paired with a Cotopaxi backpack, looking like an outdoor magazine, we head out towards the infamous Noontootla creek, known for their massive rainbow trout. Stories of 20 inch plus fish pushing anglers to their limits race through our heads as we pull up to the Noontootla Creek Farm that settles in the low land of the mountain ridge with activities like bird hunting, a full size clay range, and of course guided fly fishing in the creek that rings the farm. Inside the main lodge of the farm sat a few locals who were warming up by the wood burning stove, sharing stories of steelhead trout and state record bears being hunted by recurve bow only. We joined in and shared our stories of the salty world of fly fishing, telling tales of massive redfish and snook being caught on beaches and hunts for the notorious tarpon in the open waters of Northern Florida. In one of the many anecdotes being told, our guide signals for us to head out and gear up for what will be an all day expedition into the river and through two major points of tributary. Pulling up our waders and double knotting our boot laces we jump in the Chevy and follow our guide in his decked out Tacoma, all with rod tubes and miscellaneous fly fishing gear scattered about in the back seats.
A short drive across the road and onto some trails we arrive to the bank over looking the swift river below, not really knowing on what to look for. As our guide sets up some rigs he points and shows us how to sight fish in rushing water. “There! Right there, do you see the shine and pink?” I Glance over the edge and spot the sighting that our guide indicated. My heart starts to race like it always does when I see a wild native fish in is own habitat and I start to think how the guide needs to hurry with the rigs so I can cast my shot. After a few knots and tugs he hands me the Thomas And Thomas fly-rod combo and we take our first step into the river. I can feel the pressure of the water on my waders as I take a few more steps closer to the fish, stalking it closer and closer to get my back cast clear of the over hang Great Laurel trees. I cast to my right and pull up for a roll and into soft a spot just over the white water, letting it drift a bit and mending when necessary. First cast was a dud so the guide directed me over a bit and told to replicate the previous cast. Two false cast, mend immediately, let it drift, tiny mend, one more time, drift a little, nothing… then SET! The fish pulls on the line as it tries to head for safer waters all the while the guide directs me of rocks and over underwater structures. After a small fight and tripping over dozens of times, the guide bags the trout and a high five was taken. I dip my hands in the water to damp them for cradling fish and gently pull him out of the net. Cradling the fish for a pose of multiple pictures, excitement runs through me about the fight and I quickly release it back into the rushing river.
We walk down the sides while casting at ever stick that looks like a fish with nothingness except a few tugs of what could of been a small one. Stopping at the pasture that sit parallel to the river, I can see a dark spot in what looks like a cut in the river so I give a few false cast and perfectly land the fly into the cut. Keeping the rod tip high and following the indicator, I had low expectations of the spot until the foam indicator dipped below the surface and I pulled the rod up to check if something was on. As I set the hook softly it felt as thought I snagged a log, then all of sudden my line dashed to the left as it parted the water and whipped my hand and dragged line down to the reel and the drag let out an audible REEeee! The rod was bent as I tried to gather my senses and fight the fish when all of a sudden the line snapped off and everything went quiet. A quick look at the line it appears a wind knot was formed. The look of absolute disappointment is still on my face to this day. Rookie move.
Our last spot was an area called The Aquarium. Just standing at the edge you can see four or five gigantic fish patrolling the hole, rising and nibbling on anything that passes by. I grab my rod and waded into the water to about chest depth, giving long false cast and landing it perfectly 10 feet in front of the monsters. The indicator difts a few feet and then disappears quickly under the water. The trout almost feels like a redfish as it jumps and dives around the bend if the river and after a handful of minuets we landed the trout.
Some people say fresh water fly fishing isn’t anything compared to salt fly fishing because of the size of the fish. I was one of those people until I managed to get on the other end of some real monsters in the Blue Ridge that tested my metal and maybe even my salt water gear. Until the next Expedition, you’ll be missed Blue Ridge.