First Brown on the Tuck

  • , by Caleb Snead
  • 4 min reading time

I'm typically not a morning person, but I made an exception one cold morning just before Christmas. The excitement of possibly catching my first brown trout was enough to shake off the fog. It was still dark when I climbed into my truck, layered up with all the warm clothing I could find. I'm never up at 5:30 in the morning, but this time I was driving through the backroads of Upstate South Carolina to meet my coworker Dan and our fly guide, Matthew. Our destination: the legendary Tuckasegee River near Bryson City, NC.

We stopped for breakfast at a charming café in Tigerville, SC. The other patrons were mostly veteran farmers and mountain folk, the youngest among them at least 70. Dining in such good company, laughing over steaming coffee in the wee hours, assured us the food would be a treat.

With full bellies and some extra biscuits for the cooler, we hit the road. As the sun peeked over the Blue Ridge Mountains, casting a golden hue across the Tuckasegee River, I knew it was going to be a day to remember. I was eager to explore these legendary waters and hopefully hook into a wild brown—a true gem of the Southern Appalachians.

Matthew readied the boat at the put-in and got us all rigged up. Matt was a seasoned angler and had grown up fishing these waters. His knowledge of the Tuckasegee was as deep as the river itself. After a rundown of our plan for the day and a quick pit stop in the woods, we launched the boat into the cool morning current.

The Tuckasegee River meandered through the North Carolina mountains, flanked by the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. With the old train engine chugging along and billowing its cloud of steam, I felt like I had been transported back in time. The mist rose from the water's surface, adding a mystical ambiance to our journey. As we drifted downstream, Matt pointed out prime spots—undercut banks, riffles, and deep pools—where trout were likely to lurk.

I started with a classic dry-dropper setup, using a size 14 elk hair caddis for the surface and a small pheasant tail nymph below. The first few casts were met with no action, but I remained patient, soaking in the tranquil beauty of the river.

Later, we switched to a dry fly setup, and Matt positioned me near a rocky bend with a little pool. I cast towards the far bank, letting the dry fly drift naturally along the current seam. Just as the fly began to drag, it vanished in a subtle rise.

Setting the hook, I felt the electrifying tug of a fish on the line. The water erupted as a vibrant brown trout leaped into the sunlight. Its colors were breathtaking—vermilion spots against a background of olive and gold. The fish danced on the surface, testing my tackle and resolve.

With Matt's expert guidance, I brought the fish to the net—a gorgeous specimen, a testament to the pristine habitat of the Tuckasegee. After admiring its beauty, I gently released it back into the cool depths. I couldn’t stop smiling. There is something thrilling about watching a trout rise from the depths and sip a dry fly off the top.

As we pulled the boat ashore at our take-out, I couldn't help but reflect on the magic of the day. The Tuckasegee had shared its secrets with me, offering glimpses of its wild inhabitants and leaving me with memories to cherish. Fly fishing isn't just about the fish—it's about the journey, the connection to nature, and the stories that unfold along the way. And on this float trip down the Tuckasegee, I had experienced all of that and more.

And I can’t stop thinking about it. I have been back to the Tuck, sure. But nothing beats that first time snagging a brown trout and seeing it take the fly.


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