2019 Nantahala River
March 15th-17th, 2019
**Hearing is one thing**
seeing and believing
By: Keith Cloud
Our first visit to the Nantahala for 2019 was a visit like none other. The trip to Bryson City has always produced a crowd. In the lead up to the trip, I typically call and inquire about fishing conditions and also call to notify the two restaurants we will be visiting. With the restaurants, it’s just common courtesy and like always the folks at Anthony’s Italian and The Everett Street Diner were happy to hear from me. As with anything in the past year, rain rain and more rain has been abundant in all the Southeast. I was able to speak with the Tuckaseege Fly Shop who indicated that the Nantahala was a bit high but should be fishable for the weekend and with that bit of good news, I was as excited as ever to catch a Nantahala trout..
We had a long list of names who participated on our first trip to the Nan for 2018. Take a look at these characters and maybe your name can be on a future trip to such a fantastic place. Attendees were: Bob Grimm, Mike Waddell, Ted Tsolovos, Harry Huntley, Mike Strong, Kyle Altman, Mac Brown, Mike Ehmke, Gary Scott, Reuben Chandler, Mark Vedder, Fred Johnson, Steve Storick, and Keith Cloud. As always it’s great to have a few first timers attending as well. Those folks on their first trip with us were: Gary Meink, Greg Labyak, Jack Rowe, and Dwayne Bordelon.
Shortly after arriving on Friday I received a call from my ole buddy Reuben Chandler. I decided to return the call and learned that as I was in route to the Nantahala; Reuben and Mike Waddell were returning from fishing the Nantahala. I thought that to be kind of odd; but little did I know that his call would be critical for the whole weekend of fishing. Reuben indicated that the water level on the Nantahala was dangerously high and that he and Mike would be looking for somewhere else to fish. I knew it had rained some on Thursday and in fact, it had rained all night in Bryson City and we had a horrible drive up on Friday once we hit the North Carolina state line. Usually the Nantahala in high water situations returns to optimal fishing rather quickly. However per Reuben the high water was due to another issue other than rain. Maintenance work on the Nantahala Dam was the principle factor and the main cause of the high water conditions. Despite hearing that bit of bad news, I still had high hopes and wanted to put an eye on the Nantahala and see for myself.
On the drive to the Nantahala we were able to see the river as we passed the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Never before had we seen anything like this and both Ted (who was riding with me) and I were at a loss for words. It was indeed an amazing site as we did not see the first kayaker in the river. Even the kayakers were not willing to take on the challenge of the ROARING River. Our only hope was that the delayed harvest section would be a bit different. Finally we made the right turn onto Wayah Rd which is where the DH section of the Nantahala begins. Once again, we could not believe what we were seeing and we quickly discovered that this was an event we have never seen in our 20 years of visiting and fishing this river.
My heart sank and a lump in my throat began to form. I have a group of nearly 20 fishermen and now we cannot fish the river the trip is named for. The ROARING Nantahala was no doubt going to the Reference Point (how I choose to remember) the trip. I drove up river and ran across Mac Brown and Mike Ehmke who were able to locate a good little spot that had good fishing potential for the high water. The area was just below a bridge and although it was very fast water, there was a seam or two that if one could get the fly down with a good bit of weight, a tug on the line could definitely occur. The good news was that Mike and Mac were catching fish and with that, I felt a little better. Later I was able to summon two of our newbies Greg Labyak and Dwayne Bordelon. Mac was willing to share in an effort to have them catch their very first Nantahala trout. As for the fly selection it was going to be streamers such as wooly buggers and girdle bugs, anything with legs would be just fine. As they began to fish, I notice trout coming to the surface so I decided to ventured to my truck to grab another rod for a bit of dry fly fishing. Just as I was about to leave, both Greg and Dwayne had fish on and with that, I was a bit pleased and these two newbies had felt the tug of the line. I was finally able to tie on the dry and as I demonstrated to Greg how to fish the dry, a brook trout gladly obliged and took the fly.
Friday evening’s meal at Anthony’s would be GREAT as usual. The Mama Viscue’s Pasta is my favorite; but as I looked around the table I saw a wide variety of wonderful looking dishes. I guess I was quite hungry and after a day of chasing trout in raging waters, I along with our gang had worked up quite an appetite. As for the day of fishing, most of our attendees would find a small area to fish and try their best to not make a mistake in the river. One wrong move and it could be bad news. With hopes of the river falling, most all of our folks agreed to give the Nantahala another try for Saturday fishing. After our meal Crystal (the owner) kindly presented us with a $25 dollar gift certificate for our banquet. As for desserts, we ventured back to the cabin for a bit of apple pie and cherry crisp with whipped cream for a nightcap.
Saturday mornings visit to the river would hopefully provide our eyes with a welcome site of lower water flows. Much to our dismay it was not to be. Although toward the end of the day on Friday; the level dropped a foot or so. Sadly the level on Saturday would be just as high as when we arrived on Friday. Fishing was just going to be tough and that was it. There was no sugar coating this anomaly; we were going to have to tough it out and fish or venture to other spots over an hour away. As for me, I decided to fish the Nantahala and fish it without regrets.
Sandwich items were on hand for a nice brisk Saturday shore lunch. Right on Q as I sat up for lunch at the handicapped parking area on the river the wind began to howl and it was quite chilly as we tried to make and eat sandwiches and snacks. Two fellows who happened to be missing at lunch were Mike Ehmke and Mac Brown and after lunch, I had a sneaky feeling as to why they would miss the best shore lunch in North Carolina. So after lunch, it was my job to find them and get a fish story. There was no doubt that the only reason for missing the lunch was that they were into catching fish and could not break away. Sure enough I was able to locate them and both of these fellows had a big grin on their faces. They had found a nice spot where despite the high water they could wade out a bit on a gravel bar and fish a nice seam that held trout. The seam was a perfect ambush point for feeding. Casting a foot or two in either direction would not catch a trout. A cast too far to the right would place the fly in water way to fast and a cast a foot to the left would place the fly in slow water and the fly would have no movement at all.
Once I was able to speak with them, Mac showed a picture of Mike with the nicest trout he has caught on the Nantahala. Yep, a big beautiful brown 22 inches or so in length was kind enough to take a picture with Mike. The fly of choice that enticed this wonderful fish, was a black wooly. Soon I was able to nudge in and fish with these guys and picked up a nice fat 17 inch brook trout who wanted to get a picture with yours truly as it took a Y2K fly tied by my buddy Mel Maurer. Eventually the hot bite subsided and I decided to give up the hot spot to the next fishermen who would have it. All in all, Saturday on the Nantahala was tough fishing for those who decided to fish it.
Once back at the log cabin the smell of smoked BBQ and Baked BBQ beans had the whole cabin and surrounding area smelling pretty good. Mrs Cloud had prepared on her bran new Master Built smoker two pork roast for our evening meal. Side items such as potato salad, cole slaw and bow tie pasta salad (all homemade) was a nice addition to our evening meal. As our crowd begin to arrive, the fishing reports were not bad at all. Although the Nantahala was at record high levels, our guys mingled in and managed to do quite well. Steve Storick and Mike Strong fished and explored Noland Creek which is located in the Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s very remote and no stocked trout, but if you were to catch a real native fish, it’s worth the trip. A native fish really shows out when hooked and looks very pretty in a picture as well. Bob Grimm and Mark Vedder visited the West Fork of the Pigeon River near Canton, NC. They did well and caught good numbers of fish. Our Saturday evening at the cabin was fantastic. We had a great roundtable discussion and introductions and ended our evening with a couple of group pictures.
Sunday morning breakfast at the Everett Street Diner was excellent as always. Owner Mike was gracious enough to donate a gift certificate for our banquet. Also Gregg Livingstone the owner of Bryson Patch Cabins reserved a table for our gang. Much to our surprise when it came time to pay for the meal, he purchase our breakfast for us. What a wonderful gesture and needless to say, we greatly appreciated it as we look forward to our May return back to Bryson Patch Cabins and hopefully a safer Nantahala river as well.
Cost of the trip: $126 Two nights’ accommodations and sandwich items on hand for Saturday and Sunday fishing, and an EXCELLENT BBQ supper on Saturday night.