Some two years ago, I was fishing Chesapeake Bay Maryland for striped bass and during the trip I met Joe and Tom McMurry, two of the nicest brothers you could wish to meet. Tom, a financier, lived in Washington DC (not to be confused with Washington State on the west coast) while Joe, a geologist, lived in North Carolina only a few hundred yards from where he spent his childhood. During our striper fishing adventures Joe even caught a huge common carp on a green plastic worm. Before I headed back to the UK, Joe said "Come and visit with me, I will show you some good trout streams and lake fishing". It was an offer I put on the back burner until a few months ago when I realised I would be in the States fly fishing for the False Albacore, or Little Tunny, known affectionately as the 'albies'.
Checking with Joe to see if late October early November would be a suitable time I was told "Yes come on down". During the next few weeks E-mail's went across the pond quite often. What a wonderful invention this new technology is. The plan was, I would travel from Bradley International in Connecticut down to Charlotte NC after a few days fishing in Long Island sound. After a very successful few days fishing with Dixon Merkt for the False Albacore in Long Island Sound I was ready to go south. Dixon dropped me off at Bradley International airport after a delightful drive through the countryside, with every tree and bush looking resplendent in their fall colours. The early morning sunshine making it look even more perfect.
Sunday, arriving at Charlotte International airport in NC, I was met by Joe, my host, and one of his friends, Matthew Ange. The drive to Shelby was in pleasant sunshine with all the trees in their autumn (or as they say, 'fall') colours. With little traffic, unlike in the UK, the journey was soon over. After being greeted by two Labradors, one black the other yellow, I was introduced to Beth, a delightful lady who quickly put me at ease. Within minutes I was sitting in the big kitchen of Joe and Beth's home with a mug of tea. They then proceeded to tell me they had arranged a dinner party along with several friends as a 'welcome to Shelby NC'. It was certainly a fun packed evening. I can tell you now the Mexican food prepared by Beth, was far better than I have eaten in Mexico! Around ten PM it was a tired Martin who climbed into bed, quickly dropping off to sleep.
Monday, after Beth took sons Joseph and Benjamin off to school, the three of us sat down for breakfast. Joe said "We are going off to visit the ProBass shop in Charlotte today". Let me explain. These stores are spread throughout the United States, where they are a huge tourist attraction both for the Americans and visitors from abroad. Make sure you visit one on your next trip to the USA. Give yourself a full day to explore the place, then marvel at, not only the huge stock, but the low prices.
It was about eleven am when we pulled into the huge car park at the ProBass shop. Walking into the store I spotted a forty pound glass fibre musky on the wall which was the NC State record. I didn't even know muskies could be caught this far south. The store has something for everyone. For the past two years I have been trying to get a new heating element for my Power Zap. I picked one up in this store. This is where the prices are right. Rapalas for two dollars and excellent wading boots are to be had for less than fifty dollars.
To us Brits it's like visiting Aladdin's Cave. There was everything for the fly, lure and bait angler, including clothing and camping gear. A huge aquarium is stocked with many species of freshwater fish. You can purchase books and videos, and before getting the video of your choice, you can sit and watch the content. The staff are very knowledgeable, extremely polite and helpful. You can get your spools filled with the line of your choice, paying only the price of the line. They will put the backing and fly line on your reel, again you pay just the cost of the product. The labour comes free.
I have certainly found the people who serve you in the restaurants, shops, gas stations and hotels are very helpful, polite and friendly. Nothing seems too much trouble. Some of the service staff in the UK could well learn from our American cousins! Having spent more than enough time and money in the store, we went off to an old Italian restaurant, where Joe used to be taken by his father, when he was just a boy. It was a delightful place with excellent food - but no tea, unless that is, if you like iced tea, which Joe certainly does. He probably drinks a gallon a day. We ended the day fishing in the rain on a small pond for bass and crappie.
Tuesday was spent with Carter Johnson and George Parris, We started off at George's house, where on the walls were some fibre glass models of big striped bass George had caught. What really interested me was the picture on the sideboard showing George's pretty and petite wife with a bass that weighed over 40lbs - it was huge! You ladies certainly do make great anglers.
After chatting for a while about bass, trout, wild turkeys and deer it was time to have a look at the surrounding countryside. Carter, George and myself climbed aboard George's 4 wheel drive vehicle. Driving around the farm I was able to see lots of wild turkeys, then on the way back to George's house two Bobcats crossed the track. Carter said "I have never seen two Bobcats together". We then went off for a beefburger and coffee. I wished we had taken up George's offer of home made soup as old boot leather would probably have tasted better than the burger and probably more tender and edible. As for the coffee, dishwater would have tasted better!
Arriving back at the farm it was off to the forty acre lake. The quarry were Large-mouth bass. Before I left home in the morning, Joe had told me. "When you go fishing with Carter it will be with worms". But no, Carter had a five weight fly rod ready made up for me. I tied on a small sponge bodied beetle pattern with rubber legs. As we drifted alongside some dead reeds I cast close to the dead and dying stems. Within seconds I had a take, quickly landing a small bass. George fishing a big floating plug also caught on his first cast. During the afternoon we caught many bass and blue gills, the latter often called bream (pronounced brim). As dusk settled over the countryside it was time to call it a day. On the drive back to Shelby a big buck deer jumped across the road only a few yards in front of us. It certainly had been a great day in the wilderness with two really good guys.
Today, Wednesday, we were going to Lake Tahoma for a couple of days rainbow and brown trout fishing. Home would be a lake-side house with its own boathouse. (The 'we' being, Matthew Ange, Nathaniel Ledford, Jim Rose, Joe and myself). First stop was the supermarket to collect food and beer. I reckon we purchased enough food and drink to feed a dozen hungry anglers for a week. The girl at the check out said "It looks as if it's a guys fishing or hunting trip". No doubt she had seen it all before!
On the way to Lake Tahoma Joe made a detour into the heart of the mountains to show me some of the beautiful countryside. We stopped off at "Looking Glass Rock" where I shot a few pictures. Though I was in beautiful countryside I got rather upset when I heard a pack of dogs working the foothills. Turning to Joe I said "What are those dogs baying for". He answered "They will be chasing a bear". I felt sick at the thought of such a fine beast being chased by a pack of dogs. I can understand a hunter armed with a rifle going after a bear, but hunting with a pack of dogs turned my stomach over. The four guys with me agreed. I was disgusted. Then I thought of the horrid practise in England of hunting stags with dogs. How barbaric. We left for the lake.
To say I was surprised when I arrived at the lakeside house would be an understatement, the house was magnificent. "How the other half live" I thought. It was a big house with its own beautiful boathouse. I never did find out how many bedrooms and bathrooms it contained. To sit in the lounge at the waters edge was most delightful and peaceful. After the obligatory mug of tea, I made up a Thomas and Thomas nine foot, four weight L.P.S.model with a Cortland 555 W.F. floating line with ten foot leader and a three pound leader-tip. Collecting my life jacket, I made my way to the boathouse for a couple of hours fishing.
Joe and I were trout fishing, we slowly moved around the edge of the lake looking for rising trout. Matthew chucked his spinner-bait into all the likely spots that might hold a bass. He caught two nice fish. They are not my favourite species, coming in like a fish shaped plastic bag. The smallmouth bass further north are far better fighters.
Moving around the lake we came across a smooth bit of water, the lake was sheltered from the wind by a high bank and some big trees. A slight dimple appeared on the calm surface. With one false cast, the beaded Pheasant tail nymph dropped with a slight plop. I made two one inch pulls, then felt a good fish eat the nymph. My answering strip strike connected with something solid. Success at last I thought, as the fish bored powerfully away taking a few feet of line. After a brief struggle I had an 18 inch brown trout alongside the boat. Seconds later the fish was released from the barbless hook. It moved away quickly, untouched by hand. I feel the less we touch our fish, the better they will survive, allowing other anglers the chance to catch them. As dusk settled over the lake we made our way back to the boathouse and a good dinner.
Dawn on Thursday was very cold. I went back to bed, though Matthew did go off fishing for an hour. It was probably nine am when I climbed out of bed and headed for the shower. After a good breakfast I was ready for a few hours fishing. The wind had increased overnight, gusting at twenty knots. I decided to uprate my rod, choosing to use a Thomas and Thomas nine foot five weight Horizon model. This is a fast action rod, perfect for beating the wind. It casts beautiful tight loops. I also chose an intermediate line in preference to a floating line to beat the waves. I also thought the fish would be hitting a few inches below the surface. Jim Rose, Joe McMurray and myself fished from one boat, while Matthew who fished and Nathaniel who was shooting photographs went out in a kayak.
Out on the lake with Joe and Jim, it was quite pleasant once the wind abated. I was able to take off one layer of clothing. We started fishing towards the bottom of the lake, casting close to the bank and the various docks and boat houses. All of us catching fish which included golden trout. I didn't like the look of this species, they seemed too artificial. Jim and Joe chose light spinning equipment, both guys casting small spinners into holes, where you wouldn't think it was possible to cast without getting hooked up.
At three PM we headed back for the boat house, and with a hundred yards to go, I spotted a fallen tree in the water. I cast a big streamer pattern on a size 6 hook hoping for a big trout. Slowly pulling the fly over the submerged branches it reached the edge of the danger zone, I let the fly drop down a few feet, then gave a couple of quick pulls. A bass couldn't resist the fly. It was quickly pulled to the boat where it was unhooked. As we pulled into the boathouse I thought what a pleasant day it had been. Tomorrow I would do it all over again on a mountain creek. Time for tea. As the other guys sat back with their beers whilst I had that traditional English drink. We then headed back to Shelby.
Friday: After an early breakfast we hit the road for the Armstrong fish hatchery, where I met with manager Carl Briggs and Biologist Mallory Martin. It was a fascinating day. I was kitted out in chest high waders etc then shown the various jobs involved in producing hundreds of thousands of fish. I was taught how to strip fish of their eggs, then fertilise the eggs with a small amount of milt from a cock fish. We discussed many subjects of fishery management, stream enhancement, poachers, bears, even the use of labour from the local prison to build disabled fishing platforms and paths. What an excellent idea! Why don't we use prison labour for collecting litter from the highways?
Out in the wilderness on Buck creek, I tackled up with a Thomas and Thomas LPS model seven and a half foot for a four weight Cortland double taper floating line with an eight foot leader. I attempted to catch a trout of some 24-26 inches but it didn't want to eat any of my flies. It treated me with contempt. I moved off upstream looking for an easier fish to catch.
Mallory Martin doesn't only know about fish biology, he also knows about how to catch fish. Arriving at another pool Mallory made a few casts without success. I then spotted a nice fish, telling Mallory its position in the pool. He made a long cast upstream, allowing the fly to drift down then over the fish, which immediately ate the fly. After a good fight the fish was ready for unhooking. It was quickly lifted from the water so I could shoot a picture. I made a cast to the head of the pool into the white water where I missed a fish whilst not paying attention.
Time for lunch, we sat at the creek side eating chips and drinking water. No tea today. After the well earned break we made our way to Curtiss creek. Arriving at a small bridge over the creek I was asked for my fishing licence by a Fish and Game enforcement officer. I handed over my licence with pleasure. It was nice to be asked, unlike in the UK where an EA enforcement officer is a rare breed. Moving on we met up with a local prison crew working on the river. An angler was leaving, having had a good session with brown trout, all caught on a rather bulky Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear.
Choosing a nice looking piece of water flowing quite fast I cast a size eight black bead headed Woolly bugger upstream. On the light rod, it felt like chucking a chunk of iron oar. As the fly drifted downstream the line twitched and the strip strike connected with a powerful fish which bored off upstream. After an exciting scrap, I was able to bring a nice brook trout close to hand. Bending down I admired the beautiful colours of this fish before slipping out the barbless hook. I watched the fish move off upstream, no doubt to regain its previous position.
Moving upstream I cast into every likely looking bit of water, catching several more brook trout on the Woolly bugger pattern. Changing over to a Kaufmann's Hot butt woolly bugger I also had some nice brown and rainbow trout. The fishing was excellent, all for just twenty dollars a year, certainly excellent value for money. I know many of you travel to the States for your holiday so why not take along you fly fishing gear. After buying a licence you have hundreds of fishable streams creeks and rivers to fish. Don't try fishing without a licence, you could end up in jail, which is how it should be.