Sunday, August 21, 2005

Off the Reservation

I just returned from spending the weekend at my villa (read as camper) on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in the mountains of North Carolina. Long before the reservation made its income from the spinning reels of a slot machine, they made their money literally from the spinning of fishing reels. Although they now get most of their tribal income from the local Harrah's Casino, the Cherokee Nation runs the Raven Fork of the Oconoluftee River as "Enterprise Trout Waters." This means that they stock them with trout and sell permits to fishermen who want to fish these waters. Bait fishing rules these waters and the pressure is heavy.

I grew up fishing this river and long before I ever picked up a fly rod, I was learning to dunk worms and corn for stocked trout. Back when I was younger it seemed it was not uncommon for an angler to catch a limit of tasty trout (no qualms about eating these as they were born to be fried at the reservation hatchery) before lunchtime. Some folks would argue that the focus on the casino has changed this for the fishermen.

When I took up the fly rod it was only natural that I try my luck at Cherokee. The Raven Fork is tough on fly fishers. It is wide and deep and the stocked trout seem to only want to hover close to the bottom. This makes it hard for the average small stream fly fisherman to put his fly into the feeding zone. After many attempts, I finally figured out the correct technique to catch fish semi-consistently on the reservation.

This weekend, I met my father at our camper and he and I proceeded to fish a section of the river off of Big Cove Road. This section doesn't get as much pressure because it winds through a valley, far from the road and is surrounded on both sides by large cliffs. The only access for the most part is to wade upstream. Not knowing what to expect my father brought his spinning rod with a Mepps Spinner tied on and I opted for my 7'6" small stream rod thinking it might be hard to fish a larger rod in the wilderness. I was very wrong about the small rod and casting it the long distances required to get a good drift became a chore by the end of the day. A longer rod would have helped me get a better drift without mending line seemingly all the time.

We accessed the river by walking through the middle of a campground and getting into the water where the campground ended. Much to our surprise the campground had grown and about 1/3rd of the remote area we were to fish was now accessible by gravel road and lined with recreational vehicles. Bravely we continued on and eventually the road turned to a trail and then the trail disappeared leaving us no choice but to wade the rest of the way up river. Once we left the beaten path behind we actually managed to catch a few fish on small nymphs, although they were nothing to brag about. I blame either the heat (it was in the 90's all day), or defective trout. At any rate neither the fly rod nor the spinning rod had great success.

I would show you pictures but I took a bit of a spill while wading and got to test out the quick drying properties of my new fishing shirt. The digital camera in my vest did not react well to the sudden influx of river water and I am certain that it has made its last fishing trip. We did get an education as to how much water my waders will hold and also a nice reminder to cinch up the belt tight next time.

In conclusion, The Raven Fork of the Oconoluftee River is still a challenge for me to fish with a fly. It is one of the most beautiful rivers I have ever fished and the water is refreshing when you fall in on a hot day. For a boy of any age, fishing with Dad on familiar waters is always a good thing.

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