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photo by Cynthia Harknessphoto by Cynthia Harkness

When I first got the idea to chase some trout this past fall in Western North Carolina (WNC), I had no idea that the words delayed harvest, private waters, and Lake Toxaway would become a standard part of my vocabulary. As a lifelong New Englander, I was a bit surprised when I heard that WNC had quantity and quality bows and browns.

I left Boston on a chilly day when stripers were making their last push through the beaches of Cape Cod. I put down my Clousers, grabbed some well-recommended Girdle bugs, and flew down to Charlotte. On the drive over to The Greystone Inn on Lake Toxaway, I passed more than a few show trailers for few horses, loving the back views of these.

The Greystone Inn on Lake Toxaway had waterfalls and lake views that made me wonder how I thought this only existed in New England. The inn was full of good food and the most gracious hosts, Shannon and Geoff Ellis.

Cynthia Harkness

Peeling myself away from the mandatory phone pictures of leather chairs and fireplaces, I got to the job of talking with the Headwaters Outfitters crew about our next few days on the local waters. Chris, Hannah, and Jessica, my new best friends and guides, were dropping words and locations that made no sense to me. But I listened. We laughed and played that "Do You Know" game that always ends up with pictures being shared. I appreciated the personal touch of getting to know them, and the waters we would fish. I was ready to wake up and do this. Since I can never sleep the night before a big trip, the flies and sling bag got that early morning check-up one more time.

First visit, the delayed harvest (DH) stream. DH refers to that time of year, usually beginning in the fall when trout fisheries are heavily stocked and strict "catch and release" rules are implemented. Fish are plentiful and competition from bait fishermen is nonexistent. At DuPont State Forest, known as the Little River, off the Triple Falls Trail, we started day one. It's a funny thing when you go somewhere for the first time. You listen and look and try to figure out where you are. But, inevitably, you get lost in the names. At least the guides never do.

We rigged up and trekked in. I was glad to see a really lovely restroom at the start of the trail. On went the Girdle bug. The stream had some big flat rocks creating pocket water that held browns and rainbows with current seams offering good target placement. Once I trained my eyes, it was a solid fish-on morning.

Cynthia Harkness

Triple Falls is named after a series of waterfalls.  Upriver, you get into pools and pockets and see views of beautiful waters that hold tons of fish. Near the falls, there was water clear enough to see the holding fish including a football-size trout lazily feeding. After figuring out the drift and picking a yummy looking nymph, I watched for that tail to move. This trout was a perfect specimen to fight, hold, and release.

The Greystone Inn made sure we had a thermos of hot coffee to share, not that I needed any caffeine to get more jacked up after that morning of fishing. Mid-morning brought us all back to the Tap Room at Headwaters, and I thought the double-digit, mega trout day had ended. But, not for these guides. It was just the beginning. No more DH streams, we were going up to some private water. The drive took us to an iron gate in the woods, and my first thought was, who has the key?

The grassy lawn looming next to the North Fork of the French Broad River was all ours. As such, this Sicilian broad went on the French Broad - ok, that's a different story. Knee-high waters, gin clear, with tree-lined banks meant roll casting was the ticket.  A size 18 Mercer's trigger nymph was tied to 6x tippet. Eager trout came to play, and then a train hit. Out of skinny water, sitting deep in river rocks, a monster rainbow took the nymph. My guide wearily said, "it's 6x" and all my focus was on this fish of a lifetime. When it came to the net, I was in shock. I could never have imagined that fish could hide in those rocks so close to where we were and hit that tiny fly. You know it's a good fish when you can hold the tail and wrap your hand almost all around it. Lifting it up over the net in the stream, I knew that WNC was a special place. Gorgeous colors, strong body, great take.

Cynthia Harkness

At day's end, friends gathered around the fireplace doing that picture-story thing that anglers do. When the Mediterranean Pizza came out of the kitchen, I knew I was living large. Over dinner, the next day was planned. It would be a Tuck adventure - afloat on the Tuckaseegee River.

The Tuck flows entirely within WNC. The name is based on a Cherokee word meaning "Turtle Place," representing the slow-moving waters. But there is nothing slow about the fishing. Rainbows and browns played, and we were pretty darn happy again. After a steak sandwich lunch, it was streamer time. My guide took notice of my standard strip-strip retrieve, like the striper gal that I am. He recommended a new stripping technique, which landed me another monster Tuck Brown that filled the net. A perfect way to round up the experience.

Cynthia Harkness

For the complete North Carolina Grand Slam, I had the pleasure of seeing the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. It's the only trout native to WNC and is regarded as one of North America's most beautiful native fish species. The locals call them "specks" or "speckled trout." Small, but super impressive, they eagerly and aggressively jumped onto the fly.

At the end of the week, I had some solo days so I visited the Davidson and Little rivers. It always brings a smile to my lips when I can take in the expert knowledge that a local guide has shared and repeat it myself. Parking was super simple to find, but maybe that's all relative, being from Boston and all.