I lived in western North Carolina for two years some time ago. While living in the little town of Bakersville, which sits on the other side of the Roan Mountain from Unicoi, Tennessee, I mastered the art of fishing the small blue ribbon trout streams that ran through the area. The problem was, I only mastered it a few days before moving away from there.
Growing up in the midlands of South Carolina, I never fished for freshwater trout, but I loved to fish, and did it often. So, when I moved to Bakersville, which has Cane Creek running right through it, I naturally began fishing for trout. I didn’t fly fish, and neither did most of the locals, but the trout were easy enough to catch with Mepps Aglia spinners and – fly fishing purists close your eyes – nightcrawlers.
Cane Creek and all the other streams had some well-manicured banks which offered easy casting access, but those spots were always crowded, and the fish there were wise from seeing so many lures. If you wanted to catch the good fish, you had to walk the banks where the brush was thick, and hope to find a small spot to fish from. That was my biggest mistake, but it’s what the locals did, so I followed suit.
So how did I master the art of fishing these streams? I had a couple of lifelong friends come up from my hometown to help me move. One, who had never fished for mountain trout before, has always been very observant about things, especially sports and the outdoors. He’s the guy that’s going to limit out first at the dove shoot because he’s a good shot, but also because he can pick out the best spot with a quick look at the layout of the dove field.
I walked my friends to Cane Creek, and began fishing from a worn-down spot, careful not to cast into all the bushes around me, which forced anglers to cast to the middle of the stream instead of right against the banks, which would result in hanging your lure in the briars.
After a few minutes, my observant friend tromped right off the bank and into the stream, looked along the banks of both sides of the stream, announced that the water was surprisingly cold, and proceeded to cast in places no one could from the land.
He landed a trout – a good one. Then another. And another. That was enough for me.
Into the water I waded, giving up all intentions I had of teaching him how to fish a trout stream.
“How are you catching them?” I said.
He stood still, looking carefully toward the bank.
“You see them, there?” he asked, nodding his head in the direction.
I looked. And looked. All I could see were ripples on the water, bushes along the banks, rocks in the water.
“Just stare into the water. Look in one place,” he said.
I looked. Nothing. But I kept my eyes locked in one spot as he instructed. I stared. And then I noticed it. It wasn’t where I was looking, but I wouldn’t have seen the slight motion if I’d not been looking hard in one spot.
I moved my gaze to where I’d noticed the motion, 5 feet ahead of the spot I’d stared a hole through. Nothing. Ripples on the water. Rocks. And then, as if by magic, it appeared to me. Not one trout, not two trout, but a whole line of trout, hugging the bank far tighter than I’d imagined.
It was probably a dozen trout, hovering above the stream’s bottom, all lined up single file, facing upstream, nose to tail.They looked like bicyclists riding in a straight line, drafting off each other.
“I see it,” I said.
He made a cast, dropping a nightcrawler right in front of the lead trout, which swiped at the worm, but missed. Then it did something else that surprised me. Instead of trying to locate the worm again, the fish glided to the back of the line, as if to tell the fish behind him that it was his turn to try.
My friend reeled his line in, and carefully made another cast to the same spot. The worm landed, began to sink against the current’s wishes, and this time, the trout in front inhaled it. The fight was on.
After threading that fish onto his stringer, my friend went right back to work, staring at the water, letting his eyes adjust, finding that line of fish again. Then, another cast, another hook set, and another fish.
My schooling was done, and we split up to work different sections of Cane Creek. We got plenty of strange looks from other anglers, wondering why we were wading when the banks offered plenty of good places to stand, but when they saw our stringers, I’m sure they were tempted to get their feet wet too.
I’ve used that same strategy on different trout streams throughout both Carolinas, and it works like a champ. The key is locating the fish, which is aided by a good pair of polarized shades. They are hard-pressed to pass up an easy meal, so finding them usually equates to catching a few from each school.
Remember to look, hard, in one spot. Even if it’s the wrong spot, you’ll detect slight motion nearby if you really concentrate and don’t let your eyes wander. Then, hone in on that motion, and the game is on.