My Fishing Trip to the Mountains

As many of you know, my escape from being a fishing guide is to go fishing.  When I get a chance between busy seasons,  I  head up to the high country and explore some of those beautiful mountain rivers for smallmouth, trout, and musky.  I love fishing rivers from the mountains to the coast. 

Here’s my brief opinion of all 3 mountain species starting with the trout.  Although I really enjoy the tailwater trout fisheries on the South Holston and Watuaga Rivers in Tennessee and I appreciate the complexities of fishing multiple tiny nymphs for highly selective trout or the challenge of presenting a dry fly to a fish that take an absolutely perfect presentation and mend in order to get a bite from a fish, I mostly enjoy the serenity of wild trout fishing and as Flip Pallot says, the “unique song of the stream.”  Some of my most enjoyable and memorable moments have been fishing alone on a small stream.   

The smallmouth bass is my favorite freshwater species without a doubt and fishing for them on a flowing river or stream is the absolute best.  Smallmouth fishing is more like what we do at home, especially with a fly rod.  You are throwing big hulking poppers and other topwater flies through the air while double hauling and turning that big fly over to hit the water hard enough to attract a fish.  That’s more like a lot of saltwater fly fishing and especially the topwater striper fishing we do here.  Streamer fishing for smallmouth is exactly like what we do when we need to go subsurface on the Pamlico for our mixed bag species.  Hooking into a 18-20″ smallmouth on a 6 weight fly rod in the current is something truly special.  

The third species is the musky, which is nicknamed the “fish of 10,000 casts”.  I’ve been on 4 musky trips and have never put a hook in the mouth of one, although I’ve had as many as 4 follows in a day.  The fish follow the bait or fly all the way to the boat but don’t eat.   It’s a very common occurrence musky fishing.  Getting one to eat is much tougher and less common.  Catching and landing the fish is even less common.  Conventional fishing for musky requires a big baitcasting setup, a wire leader, and a bait sometimes the size of a bowling ball.  Fly fishing for musky requires a 10-12 weight, a 450 grain sinking line, and fly the size of a chicken and the weight of a wet chicken while fishing it.  It’s a unique fly fishing experience. 

Long story short, I caught my first musky last week while fishing for smallmouth….a 40″ beauty.  It was an unintentional catch, but nevertheless, I got him.  Catching a musky in North Carolina has been a goal for me for some time.  It’s kinda like catching a tarpon in the Pamlico.  Sure……….anyone can go to Florida and catch a tarpon or go to Minnesota and catch a musky, but catching one in the mountains of western North Carolina is a greater feat.  

All of the credit goes to my guide, Judson Conway, of Elk Creek Outfitters out of Boone. Since I don’t live up there and have limited time to experience and learn about these mountain fisheries, going with a good guide has been extremely valuable in lessening the learning curve.  I highly recommend a trip with him or one of the guides who work with him.  Check them out at  

Going fishing with an experienced, dedicated, full-time guide in a fishery that is relatively unfamiliar to me has opened my eyes in many ways to the value of the service that we can provide.  If you want to learn and improve your fishing ability for a certain species or technique and can’t devote as much time and energy to it as you’d like, then spend the money to hire a guide for a day or as many days as you can afford during the year.  It’s an investment in your fishing game and most importantly, you will have an enriching and memorable life experience.




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