The Trout Whisperer

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Cashiers, North Carolina is where Floridians go in summer to escape from it all, then find themselves competing for a spaghetti squash at the Farmer’s Market on US 64 with a next-door neighbor from St. Petersburg.  It is a place with more Land Rovers than Ford F-150s. Locals pronounce their burg’s name ”Cash – uhrs.” You pounce on the “Cash” part, then let the last bit slide out. A number of years ago, one October, My Life’s Editor and I were pleasured with the opportunity to stay there for several days at the vacation home of my cousin, Susie, and her husband, John. It was rumored that there were trout to be had thereabouts, so I brought along my waders, boots, Frog Togg foul weather gear and my four-weight rig. Susie and John directed me to the Brookings Anglers Outfitters in Cashiers Village to line up a half day’s fishing with a guide. I drove there, stopping first for a coffee at Buck’s Coffee Café, at the nearby intersection. Buck’s is a place where college professors on sabbatical, hedge fund managers taking a break from mogul activities, and the occasional working man line up for a latte. The working men get back in their trucks, the professors and hedge fund guys sit down on leather couches to read the Journal.

Brookings was a fly-fishing Mecca. I genuflected before I went in. Studly young guys were surrounded by bins of flies and all the good fly-fishing loot – Sage, Loomis, and Orvis rods and Fishpond bags. I made arrangements for the next day.

A torrent of rain smote the North Carolina hills that night and drizzled on into morning. In the blowsy, sodden early AM I stared out over the deck of my cousins’ house, coffee in hand. Rats. I called Brookings. We had a back-and-forth. The guide was OK with heading out. I was dubious. Gone were the days when I would leap out of bed at 5 AM, shrug into my jeans, grab my tackle box, stick a Snickers bar in my mouth, reach for my thermos of coffee and burst out the door into a rainy day.

Diana told me to man-up, shoved me into our car with my gear and drove me to Brookings.

She left me there, on the Brookings porch, staring out over the parking lot at the rain pattering indifferently down.  An SUV pulled up. A figure got out, my guide. Wait. What? My guide was a she. An attractive she, Simons Welter had light brown hair, was about five and a half feet tall, I’d guess, and wore impeccable Simms waders and rain gear. Her smile lit up the gray morning and her handshake was direct and firm. My mind reeled. Guides were people like the guy I’d used in Missouri once that had a scar running from his right ear to his mouth. Neither I nor my fishing companion wanted to be left in the boat alone with him when one of us went ashore to pee.

We drove a bit and I learned that Simons was from Spartanburg, SC and had a daughter in high school and a boy in college. We came to a stop in a parking lot. I was mystified but had to be cool about things. I was from Florida where fishing commenced from a dock, not a parking lot. Simons set out a camp stool so I could get my waders and boots on easily. I pictured the Missouri guide again, scar glinting in the sun, telling me to get my butt in the boat. It turned out that the Davidson River, running through the Pisgah National Forest, was about a seven-iron shot away. We clumped across the lot, scuffled down an embankment and there it was, clear, clear water tumbling over rocks and small boulders with riffles and pools, perhaps two feet deep at most. Trout country.

Simons checked over my gear, nodded approval, then tied on a nymph. The Davidson at this point was not wide, perhaps twenty feet at most, a stream. A prodigious cast was not required. I would have liked to rip out a sixty-foot cast to impress my guide, but this would have collected the overhanging greenery on both sides of the river. It gets old fighting with spiders as you try to extract your fly from a tree, limbs stabbing you in the face like an irate wolverine.

I got to business, plopping the nymph randomly about the stream, rod tip up, alert to the bump indicating that a trout had taken an interest. Nada. The rainbows ignored me. Though this was a Fly Fishing Only stretch of the Davidson, and not stocked, it was down stream of the hatchery. I wondered if she had a fly that looked like a trout kibble, or the trout equivalent of an M & M. Simons allowed me a reasonable amount of time to show my stuff, then there was an “Ahem” at my shoulder. “I have a suggestion,” she said.

The next several hours were a revelation. I caught rainbows everywhere. Every pocket, every boulder held fish, fore and aft. Under her tutelage, I could have caught rainbows in the trees. One of my victims is on the cover of “You’ll Need A Guide.” Astute readers will see how I push the rainbow out towards the lens, the fish’s size is bogus, my smile the real deal.  At one point, Simons called a halt to the carnage and told me to look carefully at the flow of water around one large rock in the stream.  “See the fish moving?” she asked. I stared. Nothing. Then, hey, was that a trout moving against the rock like a boa constrictor slithering around a tree? One by one, trout moved up tight to the rock and then fell back to the pocket below, what in the fly-fishing trade is called a feeding lane. It was like second graders going up the lunch line for a first serving and then returning to the back of the line to get a second dish of banana pudding.  Trout, though, don’t do banana pudding, are more partial to crunching on a nymph or slurping down an adult fly that has wriggled out of its comfy pupa. Come to think of it, why would you want to eat trout, a creature that eats bugs, as opposed to eating a creature that eats corn, like, say, an Aberdeen Angus?

The day’s festivities were capped by lunch at a local BBQ joint. We drove back to the fly-fishing shop, me a satisfied guy. For the record, Simons Welter is a known entity in those parts, seen in trout fishing magazines. I was fortunate she dropped her client standards for the day. Of course, Mike Pence could not have fished with her at all.

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