Diversity on the French Broad

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My favorite thing about fly fishing in the Southeast is the diversity of opportunities available to anglers.  In under an hour’s drive from my home in Brevard I can fish for native brook trout, trophy browns, voracious smallmouth, or giant musky.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg if you consider some great lake fishing opportunities with largemouth bass, bream, and carp in the mix.  Our home river, The French Broad, is itself a perfect example of the diversity of fisheries in the Southeast.  The French Broad has something for everyone and it’s all basically located right in our own backyard.

The river originates from ice cold crystal clear spring water seeping from the southern escarpment of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Courthouse Creek, a main feeder stream in the French Broad headwaters, comes out of a spring located underneath Devil’s Courthouse, a famous rock outcropping located on the Parkway.  In the upper sections of Courthouse, anglers will find the crown jewel of Southeastern fly fishing, the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout.  Below the 50-foot Courthouse Falls there are wild rainbow and brown trout waiting eagerly to smash a dry fly.

Along with several other feeder streams, Courthouse Creek forms the North Fork of the French Broad.  The North Fork tumbles through a steep and rocky gorge with deep plunge pools holding wild rainbows and browns averaging 8-12 inches.  These deep plunge pools and undercut rocks are home to some very big wild brown trout as well.  The North Fork parallels Hwy 215 down to our shop where it meets up with the West Fork to form the main stem of the French Broad River.

Although well known to local gear and bait fishermen, section 1 of the French Broad doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention from fly anglers.  Because both sides of the river are mostly private property, there is limited public access.  However, there are great trout fishing opportunities for those with access to a boat or willing to wade this larger river.  The first 4 or 5 miles of the river are home to a mix of stocked and wild trout.  Big brown trout lurk in these waters and when fishing in the right conditions seeing a 2-footer is far from uncommon.

Beyond mile marker 5 the river takes on a different character.  Slow moving water and sand bottom make for marginal at best trout fishing but an occasional smallmouth bass or chain pickerel can be found holding on structure like down logs and trees.  The action picks up again around mile marker 20 with a put-in at Hap Simpson Park.  This begins the so-called “musky mile.”  From here, all the way through Pisgah Forest, Penrose, Etowah, and Horseshoe these toothy river sharks lie in wait among log jams in search of a passing meal worth ambushing.  It takes serious dedication for any angler to land one of these “fish of a thousand casts.”  However, anyone who has landed a musky on the fly will tell you it was worth every second.

Beginning in the neighborhood of the Asheville airport, the river once again takes on a shift in character.  It becomes considerably wider and the water flows more swiftly over ledgy bedrock, making perfect habitat for smallmouth bass.  During the height of summer and early fall these fish feed aggressively on baitfish or crayfish streamers as well as top water poppers.  Vicious strikes and a hard fighting nature make a good day of smallmouth fishing hard to beat.

Every angler has what they consider a “home river.”  To have the French Broad as my home river with such diversity and year-round opportunity, I feel very fortunate.  Whether it’s a 5-inch brookie or 50 inch musky you are after, the French Broad has it all.  They say variety is the spice of life and here on the banks of the French Broad River, we are living the good life indeed.

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