Fly fishing is an art, a science, and a relaxing way to spend the day
Ty Mooney steps confidently into the East Fork of the French Broad River, water rushing over his green waders as he gets into position. He casts his line, the fly zipping out over the sun-dappled cove and landing in a shallow section with a satisfying splash. He floats the line out across the water, watching for movement, as the trees rustle in the breeze.
It’s just another day at the office for Mooney, a fishing guide and charter captain at Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman, North Carolina. As he sends the thin line flying, he considers all the ways he loves his job, and settles on one fulfilling aspect: “The connection to nature,” he says. “Not in a meditative way, but it’s just quiet. There’s not a lot going on. No commotion. You are trying to represent a bug in the water, so you feel very connected to how the world works.”
This appeal has led to quick growth for Headwaters, one of the most popular businesses in the area for family-friendly fishing, paddling, and tubing trips, which run from a half-day on the river to a full package of five courses through its School of Trout series.
Mooney says fly fishing is a great way for family or friends to spend time together while learning something new or expanding their skills. “We see a lot of fathers and sons,” he says, or even three generations coming to bond over the rod and reel. He’s also seeing an increasing number of grandparents who bring their grandchildren.
“I had a grandmother, and she had been with her grandson for a couple of weeks,” Mooney says. “She told me this was great, because she got to hang out, relax, take in the views,” while Mooney showed the grandson how to fly fish. The grandmother recommended the idea to all of her friends when their grandkids come to visit.
The hook twitches in the sun. Wind whips down the East Fork, past the old barn where picnic lunches are served and through nearby fields.
Mooney spies a rainbow trout lying in the water, peering up at the fly—designed to look like an insect, but made of synthetic materials. “He isn’t interested in what I’m putting on the table right now,” he says. “That’s part of the fun. Now I’ve got to make my food look better and more enticing than what they’ve got down there.”
There’s a rustle in the water, a flash of silver. “He ate it on the swing!” Mooney shouts. A rainbow trout had leapt from the water, grabbed the fly and then swam away. But Mooney knew he was on the right track. He considered the time of day, time of year, weather, water level, and numerous other factors.
Suddenly, he had one. The large, silvery rainbow trout wiggled on the line, and Mooney dragged him in, ever so slowly, so the trout wouldn’t get away. “It’s a really thin line. Its breaking point is three pounds,” he says. “If I put the wrong amount of pressure, it will break off.”
He held out his net, lifted the rod over his head, and scooped up the fish in one quick, practiced motion. The trout flopped back and forth in the net, long enough for visitors to get a look and snap a few photos. But it was the rainbow trout’s lucky day—Headwaters is a catch-and-release outfit.
He called me over. Mooney and his cohorts seem to enjoy helping others catch a fish just as much as they enjoy catching their own—maybe even more. My expectations were low; I had never caught a fish in my life and had never been very interested in trying to catch one. But strapped into waders, the water lapping around my heels, rod in hand, I was suddenly attuned to my surroundings.
After a few misfires and a brief tangle with a fallen log, my casts started sailing into the river and floating downstream just over a rainbow trout resting area. After a bit of patient instruction and encouragement from Mooney, I had one on the line! My victory over nature was short-lived, as the fish wriggled free and swam away, but in that moment, I understood the lure of a peaceful day on the river, interspersed with the thrill of the catch.
Plan Your Trip
Headwaters Outfitters, 25 Parkway Rd, Rosman, NC. (828) 877-3106; headwatersoutfitters.com
In addition to fly fishing, Headwaters offers trout fishing, lake bass charters, paddling trips, and river tubing, and has a gear shop and taproom on-site. Food trucks are regularly available.
Trip options include:
Half-day guided fly fishing (public or private waters)
Full day on the French Broad River (public or private waters)
Guided trout fishing float trips
Fly Fishing Fact File
Why is it called fly fishing?
Fly fishing is a fishing technique where the bait—called the fly—is presented on top of the water for fish instead of below the water. The idea is to trick the fish into thinking the bait is a fly or bug that has landed on top of the water or is just beneath the surface.
Do I need any skills or abilities to fly fish?
No. Mooney says being able to walk and stand are all that guests need, and Headwaters can provide a wading staff for extra stability, if needed. He has also put a lawn chair in the water for people to fish from a seated position.
Terms to know
Backing: Provides extra length to allow the fish to move a bit
Fly: The bait; flies mimic the bugs fish eat on the surface of the water or just below
Fly line: Provides the weight needed for casts
Fly reel: Open, instead of closed like in traditional fishing poles
Fly rod: Flexible graphite rod, much longer than traditional fishing poles, usually nine feet or more
Leader and tippet: Connect the fly line to the flies, helping to present the fly to the fish in an effective way