Fishing the North Fork Gorge

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The wild and beautiful state of New Mexico has a fitting slogan, “Land of Enchantment.” Here in Transylvania County there is a stretch of river that is also wild and beautiful, a true “river of enchantment.” This stretch of river is located on the North Fork of the French Broad. Accessed via highway 215 the gorge section of the North Fork offers impressive scenery along with great wild trout fishing. Hiking into and navigating this section of river is not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare to test the limits of walk-wading, the rewards can be splendid. I recently had the chance to share my knowledge of this water with a traveling stranger and because of this “river of enchantment,” a friendship was born.

I unexpectedly met Gary on a rainy morning in April as he walked his dog Raja along the trails running behind my house. He ran into my neighbor the day before while fishing on the East Fork and had accepted an invitation to stay in the unoccupied cabin on our property. Gary was on a fly fishing road trip from the still-frozen state of Minnesota and had heard of good fishing in this area. After a brief introduction I scurried off to work. Later that evening, sipping a glass of fine bourbon, we made plans to fish together on Thursday, my next day off. Gary had already hit some of the best streams in the area, the Davidson, East Fork, and Cathey’s Creek. “I’ll take you into the gorge,” I said, “I think you’ll like it down there.”
Thursday afternoon we trekked the steep trail down and Gary was immediately stricken by the scenery. As we worked our way upstream fishing the short runs and plunge pools his affection grew as he saw the beautiful wild rainbows, all colored up for the spawn. We observed spring wild flowers just coming into blossom, giant boulders that had crashed down long ago and found a final resting point in the rushing water, and bats swarming in the early evening chasing the variety of insects hatching off the water. “I think this is the most beautiful river I’ve ever fished,” Gary mentioned at one point.

As dusk approached we settled down on a large rock and soaked up the enchantment of this little slice of Western North Carolina. We discussed the splendor of days off work and the prospect of me going back to work the next day. I explained that I did not have a guided trip; I would just be taking care of some things in the shop. To my near disbelief Gary asked if he could book me as his guide the next day to fish more of the gorge. “It will be more fun this way,” he said of having me as a guide.
The following morning I woke up feeling great about the day ahead. Gary followed me over to the shop and we selected some flies for the day. “That’s nice,” he commented, holding a #14 bead head yellow prince in his hand. We added it to our selection and headed for the gorge. We hiked down a different trail this time, not as steep and treacherous, but slightly longer. Once down to the river we hiked/bushwhacked our way upstream until the terrain would allow no further.
I set Gary up with the yellow prince nymph as a point fly and a #20 tungsten soft hackle pheasant tail dropped about 2 feet below. The action started almost immediately; one little rainbow on the pheasant tail and then a couple on the prince; then one, two, three more. Within the first hour we had netted at least 6 wild trout. We witnessed a huge cluster of butterflies, saw salamanders, steep mossy canyon walls seeping water, and caught fish after fish. Gary, a fairly experienced angler, was on fire that day. There was hardly a single strike that did not end with another fish in the net. I lost track of the number of fish somewhere around 10 and there were many that followed. Fishing our final run of the day we were about to assume nobody was home when Gary was gifted one last fish. At 13-14 inches it was one of the bigger wild rainbows and full of color, an appropriate closing to a great day of fishing.
Since that day Gary and I have corresponded several times. Each time the subject of his e-mail says, “dreaming of the North Fork gorge.” This “river on enchantment” has clearly left an impression and I look forward to the day he returns to explore it with me once again.

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