One thing you learn from living in the mountains is that you never take the weather for granted. Dramatic climate reversals can occur at almost any time, and what may have started as a perfectly beautiful fall day can dissolve into a week of damp, bone-chilling drizzle and frustration.
On small mountain brooks, the fly fishing novice can often be as successful as the seasoned pro. Unlike fishing the well-known tailwater rivers where fly selection, long accurate casts, and perfect presentation are requisites for success, you can catch plenty of trout on small mountain streams with very little casting. This is why many fly fishermen avoid the step-across mountain brooks - they're nearly impossible to cast on. Face it, fly fishermen love to cast. Some, in fact, are obsessed to the point they'd rather cast than catch fish. The good news is that the headwaters of many large rivers are rarely fished, and though the trout may be shy they're plentiful and generally not very selective.
The Davidson is a tributary of the French Broad River and its physical characteristics are typical of many rivers in the Southern Appalachian Range. Because of its ease of access, it is one of the most heavily fished rivers in the area, but if you're willing to do a little exploring, you can avoid the crowds.
When you enter the Pisgah National Forest on Route 276 just north of the town of Brevard, there are roughly ten miles of catch-and-release fly-fishing-only water on the Davidson. Double that if you count the tributaries, though some may be too small and overgrown for even the most gifted small stream enthusiasts to overcome. The two most accessible tributaries are Avery and Looking Glass Creek, both of which support healthy populations of small to medium-size rainbow trout. Avery is the smaller of the two, and has several even smaller tributaries feeding into it. Looking Glass Creek is larger and easily approached from Route 276.
Although throngs of tourists visit Looking Glass Falls and the Sliding Rock Recreation Area, the river itself seems to be generally overlooked by anglers.
On the upper Davidson and its lesser tributaries, and most pocket water in general, a long rod and a short leader is a hard combination to beat. Think about it: if your rod is 9 feet long and your arm's reach is about 3 feet, with a 6-foot leader and 5 feet of line you can cover all the water up to about 25 feet away without actually making a cast. This method of fishing is commonly called "dapping" and many purists regard its disciples with disdain, probably because accomplished "dappers" catch a lot of trout. One of dapping's greatest practitioners was the legendary Mark Cathey who, before he died in 1944, was ". . . accused of being the best fisherman in the Smokies."
It is said that Cathey would drop his fly behind a rock, skitter it from side to side and make it cavort irresistibly across the surface until some unsuspecting trout couldn't stand it any longer, and grabbed the fly. If this type of angling doesn't appeal to you or you feel that you're not really fishing when you're not casting, a shorter rod will be an easier tool to manipulate under dense overhead foliage, and without exception, an accurate roll cast will be your best ally.
You should also leave your sinking lines at home. Trying to fish a sinking or sink-tip line takes most of the fun out of small stream fishing. If you want to dredge the bottom, you can always clamp a split shot to your leader. Weight forward lines are great for double-hauling into the wind, but a double taper floating line was made for roll casting and is better suited for up-close fishing. It's always good to follow the rod manufacturer's recommendations when choosing a line weight, but keep in mind that the manufacturer's recommended line weight is based on the performance of the rod on an "average" 30 foot cast.
On the upper end of the Davidson or any of its tributaries, your "average" cast, should you have to cast, will likely be 10 to 15 feet. To overcome this line weight deficit, you may want to consider moving up a line size to compensate for short casts. Also, use only your wrist to flex the tip of the rod when making short casts. This will greatly improve control and accuracy when casting less than 10 feet of line.
You don't normally have to slither up to most mountain brooks on your belly, but at least try to maintain a low profile. The Davidson and its tributaries, like most Appalachian Mountain streams, are lined with bushes and impossible to fish from the bank. So find an opening and slip into the water as quietly as you can. With a long rod and short leader you can work your way upstream and cover the water ahead of you from bank to bank.
Flick your fly into a deep pocket or a likely-looking run, and lift the rod as high you can. Hold the line and most of your leader in the air so only the fly is touching the water. Follow the fly with the tip of your rod, twitch it and make it dance, or correct the drift with subtle manipulations and in-the-air mends. When a trout darts from beneath a rock to sample your offering, set the hook with a flick of your wrist and urge the startled fish downstream before it has a chance to stir up the pool.
Once you've released your prize, you can sneak back and get to work on the next fish in line.
Farrow Allen is a former SE Regional Editor for Fly Fish America -- -- Bill Byrd.
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