It may take awhile, but neophytes eventually figure out where to go fishing locally. Over time, fisherfolk generally find each other and exchange information, but establishing such a network doesn’t happen overnight, and it does take some work. You spot a Trout Unlimited bumper sticker on somebody’s truck and strike up a conversation in a parking lot; you talk to knowledgeable folks at the local fly shop.
But even so, you don’t always get the lowdown on the hot spots. Although I’m more than happy to direct folks to somewhat commonly known fishing areas, I try to protect the places where I know I can always catch fish. I think most fisherfolk are a bit miserly in that regard.
So, understanding this, how do you find out where the in-the-know locals go when you’re on vacation, far away from home? Sure, the fly shop there can set you up with a guide who’ll give you the real deal, but that may not work on a blue-collar budget. A fly shop will also sell you locally hot flies and steer you to lovely fishing areas, but those are the places that can generally be found online before you arrive; you probably won’t get directed to the ones the locals try to keep for themselves.
Still, there are strategies for getting past those barriers. I remember once in southern Colorado, the folks at the local Orvis shop sold me some fly patterns and sent me to a stream above a lake that was packed with people. Disenchanted with that info, I popped into a local supermarket to do some shopping. Approaching the store manager with a cart full of food, I politely asked if there was anyone working in the store who could direct me toward fishable waters. He called a guy from the meat department who steered me to a fine, secluded little stream with excellent fishing, which I visited several times. (I’ve had similar experiences in several different parts of the country, so I now tend to go straight to the meat department, bypassing the store manager entirely.)
And in fairness, not all fly shops are stingy with real-deal information. Another time, I walked into a fly shop out West and said to the proprietor: “I have only five hours and a 4-weight rod, and I want to catch some fish. Can you sell me some patterns and tell me where I can go?” He sent me to a place an hour away, but it was the best three hours of fly fishing I have ever enjoyed.
So if you’re heading to points unknown sometime this summer—or visiting here in Western North Carolina, for that matter—here are a few rules for improving your prospects. Don’t act as though you’re entitled to the information. Let them know you aren’t going to be there very long, that you live far away and won’t be back anytime soon. Let them know you practice the catch-and-release ethic. Don’t waste their time: Get the request out quickly, and if they seem busy, don’t keep them from other customers. Be appreciative, even if it looks like it’s going to be a dead end for catching fish. Make sure you buy something from the place where you get the directions, regardless of how good or poor the information seems to be. And if you’re lucky enough to catch some fish, make sure you throw them back for the locals.
[Jeff Ashton lives in Weaverville.]