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"In this week's news release, the Jackson County Tourism Authority announced that in the first 12 months of trail's existence, they had distributed 14,000 trail maps and received more than 21,000 visits to its website, www.FlyFishingTrail.com."
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Anglers Hooked on the Nation’s Only Fly Fishing Trail
SYLVA, N.C. - Fly anglers can visit a lot of places in the United States, but there’s only one place they can go to fish a designated fly fishing trail.
The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail in Jackson County, N.C., is in its second year of providing 15 prime spots to catch trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. The trail offers everything from wide rivers to medium-sized creeks to small streams. It’s been a hit with experts and beginners alike, drawing anglers and media attention from across the nation.
The trail was launched in late February 2009 by the Jackson County Tourism Authority. In the first 12 months, the authority distributed 14,000 trail maps and received more than 21,000 visits to its website, www.FlyFishingTrail.com.
“Nothing like it exists anywhere else in the United States,” says Julie Spiro, director of the Jackson County Tourism Authority. “I think the trail has been popular because we’re in a nice, scenic location, and people want to come here to fish and enjoy a relaxing getaway.”
For years the trout-rich waters of Jackson County have beckoned fly fishermen, but there wasn’t a cohesive program that tied together fishing, lodging, dining and things to do in the area. The creation of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail has changed that.
“Now when fishing enthusiasts call or stop by, we have a map to put in their hands. It guides them to the best public-access waters in the county, and has information on lodging and other activities,” Spiro says. “It’s a complete package now. It wasn’t thought of that way before.”
The trail’s creation was a team effort that included avid fly fisherman Bobby Kilby of Pawley’s Island, S.C., fishing guide Alex Bell of Sylva, and Spiro. Kilby is a native of Western North Carolina who has caught trout in more than 1,060 streams in North Carolina. His detailed fishing journal has been used by biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Commission. Bell is a retired high school principal who operates A.B.’s Fly Fishing Guide Service in Jackson County.
“I’ve been real pleased with the response to the trail,” Bell says. “When you consider the condition of the economy and everything else going on, it was great to see the number of inquiries and people who showed up to take advantage of the fly fishing trail.”
The main idea for the trail is to direct anglers to the numerous fishing options that exist on public lands in Jackson County. The trail is anchored by the Tuckasegee River, with five of the 15 fishing spots located on that river.
The delayed harvest section of the “Tuck” provides open spaces and well-stocked catch and release waters that can be fished year-round. New this year is the Raven Fork trophy water on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, which can also be fished 12 months a year. The Raven Fork is regularly stocked with huge trout, many exceeding 20 inches and a good number of 30-inch trout.
However, serious fly anglers tend to gravitate toward the smaller, lesser-known spots. One example is Panthertown Creek in Panthertown Valley, a high mountain valley known as the “Yosemite of the East.” A two-mile hike is required to access Panthertown Creek.
Other spots for the serious anglers include the wild trout waters of the Chattooga River, Whitewater River and Tanasee Creek.
“With 15 spots, the trail covers something for everyone. We’ve got the bigger waters for people who enjoy that, and we’ve also got the small waters and the medium-sized waters,” says Bell. “We’ve got some you have to hike a couple of miles to get to, and some where you park and go right down the bank and into the water. People like that aspect.
“I have spoken to Trout Unlimited chapters and FFF groups. A lot of times, those folks have fished the smaller waters on their own. They’re very appreciative of having places marked on a map so they don’t go in totally blind without any idea where to start.”
Free, water-resistant maps of the trail are available to anglers as long as they take the trail pledge: “As a true sportsman, I pledge never to litter and to avoid trespassing on private lands. I will respect the rights of property owners, and always leave the streams in better condition than I found them.”
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission annually stocks the waterways in Jackson County with nearly 100,000 trout, so the future looks bright for the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. Bell predicts the trail will become a true destination for fly anglers across the country. If so, that would make it a positive story in tough economic times.
“It has exceeded my expectations. We haven’t ever had any one thing or event that’s been as well received as the trail,” says Spiro. “We’ve booked large groups of overnight guests this year that are a direct result of the trail. I’d say every third call we receive at the visitor center is about fly fishing. It’s a very exciting time for Jackson County.”
For info on the Fly Fishing Trail, call (800) 962-1911 or go to www.FlyFishingTrail.com