Maggie Valley, NC: Reminders of Simpler Times and Techniques
Fishing trips weren’t always about the donated gear – always photographed with the manufacturers label facing out, the custom artisan-tied flies tossed on trips with well-respected guides, and the eventual too-good-to-cook-my-fish release of legal catches.
But they are now. Work in this industry has been good to me. And I’m ok with that.
Ted, not so much. Ted’s skeptical.
“I’ll catch the fish while you just go try to impress the other fishermen” he ridiculed over my gear-planning text message before our long weekend fishing the North Carolina Smokies. His skepticism – at a level of pure practicality, a level only he can stoop down to – is intuitive.
Think about it. The sole point of the trip is to catch fish. Why do we need four days’ worth of clothes, seven different accessory mounts, and three cameras? What’s the deal with the wading boots, the mummy-styled sleeping bag, and the Simms button down? Fish don’t eat any of those.
All Ted needs for a fishing weekend is a rod, some red worms, and a skillet warming on the fire.
Fishing Hit a Fork in the Road
A little over four years ago, Ted and I fished the same – albeit one better than the other.
After leaving class at noon, tossing the night crawlers in the styrofoam cooler, and firing up the two door college fishmobile, we would bring hell to schools of juvenile largemouth, catfish, and bowfin from a bank just outside of Maumelle, AR. He would usually out fish me but with worm and bobber, it’s a chance game that leveled our playing field more often than not.
Toward the end of our senior year with no other responsibilities in sight, we fished daily until dusk or until our worms ran out only to stock up for the next day on the way home. On that bank we learned some things the hard way: bowfin will bite you, catfish are incredibly difficult to fillet, and crappie on the half-shell is a worse dinner option than our usual college PB&whatever-other-condiments-were-in-the-fridge sandwiches.
He still proudly tells stories of the 22-day streak of spring twenty-twelve.
Unfortunately for us and fortunately for the college’s campus rent-a-cops, graduation sent everyone off in different directions to doggie paddle their way through quasi-adult life, compounding student loan interest, and – most notably – new fishing holes.
Unchartered Western Waters
Fast forward to the long holiday weekend just outside of Maggie Valley, North Carolina – a third-tier skiing resort town at the east end of the Great Smokies, an area Ted and I had no familiarity fishing.
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Forget familiarity with the fishing. We had no familiarity with anything in the region. We had no reservations for lodging or campground on an overbooked holiday weekend, no clue how long we were going to be gone, hell, we even struggled to get out of his new neighborhood in Charlotte without getting lost. On top of all this, we had no concept of Western Carolina mountain fisheries.
Skirting around the gangs of overly patriotic, insufficiently courteous, motor touring bikers running into town on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we took Ted’s second generation fishmobile (same make and model as the first generation college fishmobile – slightly less Taco Bell bean stains on the floorboards) west from Asheville on 40 and stopped at the Haywood County WalMart – the essence of Appalachia.
If for no other reason, to pick up some worms and make the weekend’s plan.
Within minutes, we agreed on a tentative twenty-four-hour plan: bars and camping tonight, fishing further west tomorrow morning, regroup same time tomorrow to discuss further. In Ted’s eyes, there was no need to plan further in advance because our arms were probably going to be pretty sore after reeling them in all day and we may want to give the holes a breather at some point.
Some things never change, like the raging headaches the morning of a Ted fishing trip.
He’s only got two speeds: work Ted and party Ted. Only one made the trip west.
But some things do change, like our styles of fishing.
Ted threw tubes at rocks while I false casted into bushes. I stripped and twitched until my hands cramped while Ted sat on a rock and reeled his spoon through the deep pockets. I took breaks in the shade to rest while he sunbathed on the rocks, pulling his American flag, Wal-Mart swimmies up a little to get some color on his now pasty, stuck-behind-a-desk-all-day, CPA thighs.
We jumped from warm river to big lake to cold stream all through the greater Maggie Valley area learning what doesn’t work to catch their fish. We talked to the locals and stopped at some shops for local intel only to realize we were bad listeners and impatient anglers.
Despite the day’s poor performance on the water, we were back at it and felt like we used to back in our college days– confident. So we drank 24 beers and lit a huge fire to celebrate. The fish will be a little hungrier in the morning.
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Simpler Techniques from Simpler Times
I’m not sure they got hungrier, though they did eat. We caught two dinner-worthy North Carolina ‘bows the following morning after sleeping in, roughing a camp breakfast at McDonalds, and throwing our tackle set ups back to the good ol’ days: worm and bobber rigged on the two Wal-Mart specials with the least damaged eyelets that we could find in the back of the fishmobile.
And it worked, just like it used to. Just like it will on our next trip, a trip I won’t waste a day overthinking the fish. Every once in a while it’s nice to be reminded that you’re never too fancy for tossing worms under a bobber, you’re never too realistic to lose that naïve, college confidence after a skunk, and you’re never too old to mix fresh trout in your camp chili.
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While only a couple of my stops in the Carolinas made their way into this story, I do want to thank everyone that made my stay between the mountains and the beaches a little easier and a lot more enjoyable:
- Harrahs Cherokee Casino – You got me this time. Note to aspiring road trippers looking for #VanLife advice: Don’t go to casinos. What started as a revenue stream of disposable income quickly turned to a nagging fixed expense.
- Dinver and the FeelFree Kayaks Crew – Thanks for taking some time to shred the warehouse and play some ping pong with me. Looking forward to the overview article coming soon.
- Woody and the Native Watercraft Crew – I really appreciate the factory walkaround tour. That operation is unreal. Again, looking forward to the overview article coming soon. If I’m ever back around on a Thursday, I’ll take you up on those tamales.
- Ted and J-Fletch – Thanks for the comfy bed, warm shower, and bomb tacos.
- Hunter Banks Fly Fishing – It was all in one ear and out the other. Thanks for trying, though.
- Pet Paradise – You’ll be happy to hear that Cammi’s report card is proudly hanging on my refrigerator. My fridge may be a Yeti on the back hitch of the car, but we’re proudly showing off nonetheless.