FLY FISHING GOES WILD
By RONI TOLDANES
BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA — Tyler Almond staggered, but quickly regained traction and balance, his right hand clutching a fly rod, while on his way to his secret fishing spot, surrounded by boulders.
“It’s almost like rock climbing,” he said, describing the mile-long slippery hike to his fishing hole somewhere in North Carolina’s High Country.
Almond, 31, works as a fishing guide for the Foscoe Fishing Company. He belongs to a unique breed of sportsmen — those who adore the sparkle of sunlight dancing off a trout stream, marvel at the surreal beauty of a mayfly hatch and extol the thrilling eruption of a surface strike by a wild trout.
To him, size doesn’t matter. After all, he is hunting wild fish.
In the chilly, early morning hours of Aug. 18, Almond allowed a journalist to observe his techniques as he tried to prove the advantage of hiring the services of a fishing guide.
“Up here, it is close-quarter fishing,” he said. “You have to deliver finesse, you have to be stealthy, you have to be more precise.”
You need to know the right spots, he said.
Almond’s five years of experience as a fishing guide required him to develop a passion for observing, learning and analyzing the entire spectrum of fly fishing — from insect hatches to a trout’s eating pattern.
“Presentation is a big thing in fly fishing for trout,” he said, mentioning his pursuit of technical knowledge by reading books, including one by Gary Borger, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Borger’s book, “Presentation,” tackles the phrase that every fly fisherman needs to understand: Matching the hatch. To catch the skittish wild trout, the fisherman needs to select the fly lure that closely resembles the insect hatching in the water.
Artificial flies are hand-tied with thread, feathers and sometimes fur. Almond carries a compact aluminum case with dozens of flies.
Almond said fly fishermen watch the bugs that are hatching, because trout will often attack one kind of offering at a time. If you can figure out what that bug is and match it with an artificial fly, you might catch several trout.
Almond lifted a few rocks to show two kinds of stoneflies that were hatching from the river’s depths. His advice to new fishermen: “Take a minute and survey the stream and see what’s going on,” and then tie the fly that matches the airborne insects that land on the water.
Almond changed his fly lure three times. The buggy-whip effect gained from the rhythmic waving of Almond’s rod gradually extended the line, which then allowed the fly to settle to the water, similar to a falling strand from a spider’s web.
In less than two seconds, Almond’s offering came under attack.
A seven-inch brown trout devoured his lure, displaying a ferocious splashing and punctuating its displeasure with a large leap.
The wild trout’s colors are stunning: vibrant hues of pink, red and spots of light brown surrounded by silver — much brighter than the hatchery-released browns.
After taking a few photographs, Almond quickly released the fish. Two other browns gobbled up his offering in two other holes within the area.
Almond explained his piscatorial pursuit, the fascination behind fooling the fish and pulling it out of the water: “What fascinates me about trout fishing is their habitat, where they live. Trout tends to live in the most beautiful places,” he said.
In the High Country, specifically in Almond’s favorite fishing holes, beautiful is the appropriate adjective. Astonishing foliage surrounds him. There are wild mushrooms and wild berries, too. But he is not revealing his secret fishing spot.
Before choosing his fishing holes, Almond drove around several streams in Newland. He checked out the Elk River, the Watauga River, creeks and his other favorite fishing spots, but heavy rains early in the morning washed away mud, making it hard to sight-cast. Wild trout are sight feeders, Almond said, so they rely on seeing their prey.
As he drove away down the mountain from his favorite fishing spot, Almond pointed at two fishermen hunting trout along the banks of a creek with water that turned chocolate-brown. They were probably tourists, he said, and, chances are, they will never catch trout in that location.
“That’s why you need a fishing guide,” he said.