By Kelly Donaldson
Jackson County Chamber of Commerce
Gaze out across pristine Smoky Mountain views, hear the serene sound of cool river water trickling over slick rocks and feel the gentle nudge from a swallowed fly snapping a tight line in a fat rainbow trout’s lip. That’s when you know you’re wading in the heavenly fishing waters of Jackson County, N.C.
Just ask one of two U.S. National Fly Fishing team members, who have honed their precise fishing skills on the county’s creeks and rivers for more than 50 years combined.
Josh Stephens, 39, was born and raised in Sylva and attended Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, and currently resides in nearby Robbinsville, N.C. Stephens first made the U.S. National Fly Fishing squad back in 2005/06 and after missing only one two-year term in 2014/15, he recently qualified for his ninth and 10th years on the prestigious team in 2016/17.
Alex Boyer, 15, is a native of Sylva and attends Smoky Mountain High School. He is making his first appearance on the USA Youth Fly Fishing Team.
“I was pretty confident that I could make the team, but I was surprised whenever they called my name,” Boyer admitted. “I was surprised I made it.”
There is no coincidence to two Jackson County natives making the national teams. Boyer and Stephens have fished the same waters for years now, sometimes together, despite their 24-year age difference.
“It helps,” said Boyer about learning how to master the rod and reel under Stephens’ tuteledge. “I’ve met him and fished with him a couple of times at the N.C. clinics.”
Stephens said Boyer has a bright future ahead, as he has seen the 15-year-old rising sophomore improve tremendously since he saw him fish the first time six years ago when Boyer was just nine-years old.
“To be honest with you, I helped coach the youth team and I’ve helped for the last six years,” explained Stephens. “I saw Alex do his first one. Every year we’ve done youth clinics and I was there when he came to his first one. To see him grow, it’s just amazing and I’m so proud of him. There are a lot of great young fishermen fixing to come out of Jackson County.”
Boyer said even at his ripe young age, he appreciates having one of the most beautiful places to fly fish in his backyard.
“It’s just special because I’m in a beautiful part of the world and there are lots of good healthy fish to catch and practice with,” said Boyer, who admitted a lot of his competitors don’t have nearly the fishing opportunities he does. “I have a little advantage over them.”
Boyer qualified for the team at the National Youth Fly Fishing Championships in State College, Pa., June 24-26, 2016. Previously, he made noise in the fly fishing ranks through regional clinics and tournaments. Next up, he will be going to Colorado in August for a clinic with the team. From there, he will compete in tournaments between now and next summer, when he will try to qualify for the U.S. World Championship in Slovenia.
Stephens, who didn’t compete in the 2014/15 national fly fishing two-year cycle, said he never intended to be back on the team.
“I wasn’t trying to make the team,” said Stephens. “When you want to make the travel team, you go in talking about your credentials and you sell yourself. This year, I stood up and said I’m not your guy. It’s one thing to go to a tournament and fish and another to go put a U.S. flag on your back and compete. You don’t want to be a slacker. I’m going to give it my all.”
Talking about the benefit of having years of experience reeling in the big ones on Jackson County waters, Stephens said diversity is the key.
“What is unique about Jackson County is you‘ve got a lot of different kinds of water to fish. Like you can fish for wild trout on Caney Fork, which is challenging being covered with heavy brush and rocks, or you can go to the Tuck (Tuckaseigee River) and just wear ‘em out in the open stocked waters,” Stephens explained. “Within 30 minutes, you can be in Caney Fork or Rough Butt and be in the wilder streams. That’s the great thing about fishing in Jackson County. You can put people on top of the fish on the Tuck or you can focus on wild fish.”
Stephens added that Jackson County’s lakes, like Glenville, Wolf, Bear and Tannassee, are also great fishing locations and a great place to train young, up and coming fly fishermen. He said lake fishing is actually one segment of the competition at the world and national levels.
Stephens was a 2006 bronze medalist at the National Fly Fishing Championship, and in a silver medalist in 2007. As a member of Team USA, Stephens has been to five World Championships and finished 20th at the World Championships in New Zealand in 2008.
Competitions involving the U.S. team are catch-and-release. Anglers get a chance to fish five different sessions (with a length of three hours each) and scoring is based on the number and size of fish caught. U.S. team members are also counted on to grow the sport through youth clinics.
Stephens qualified for the team after excelling at the 2015 Southeast Regionals in Cherokee, and the America’s Cup in Vail, Co., those two qualified him for the National Championship in Lake Placed, N.Y., in June of 2016, where he made the team. He may go to the World Championships in Vail, Co., this September to help, but not compete.
The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and community partners created the WNC Fly Fishing Trail in 2009. The chamber spearheaded an effort in 2016 to have Jackson County proclaimed the N.C. Trout Capital. In April, county commissioners proclaimed the county the N.C. Trout Capital and in June the N.C. House and Senate designated Jackson County as the Premier Fishing Destination in the state. The official designation of N.C. Trout Capital could come as early as Jan. of 2017.
Jackson County is the proud home of the state record rainbow trout ever caught. Jackson has 31 public access points for fishing; supports fishing classes for children, is home to the nation’s largest river cleanup day in the country; and plays host to its own chapter of Trout Unlimited.
For more information contact the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce at 828-586-2155, visit www.mountainlovers.com, visit www.wncflyfishingtrail.com, or visit www.nctroutcapital.com. All three entities have Facebook pages as well.
State legislature supports Jackson County as Premier Trout Fishing Destination
Jackson County moved one step closer to becoming the N.C. Trout Capital on Wednesday, June 1 in Raleigh, as members of the state legislature recognized the county as the state’s Premier Trout Fishing Destination.
N.C. Senator Jim Davis and N.C. House Representative Joe Sam Queen both participated and spoke before the legislature in support of bestowing this honor upon Jackson County.
Also in attendance in support of the hearing in Raleigh were Julie Spiro, Executive Director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce; Brian McMahan, Chairman of the Jackson County
Commissioners; Jackson County fly fishing guide and co-founder of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail Alex Bell; Jackson County fly fishing guide Shannon Messer; and Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Assistant Director Kelly Donaldson.
The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce in Sylva and Jackson County Commissioners requested from the North Carolina General Assembly to proclaim Jackson County the official Trout Capital of North Carolina on April 21.
The General Assembly recognized the county’s immense natural resources and its place in history as home to the first fly fishing trail in the United States.
Rep. Joe Sam Queen, who presented the Member Statement on the House floor June 1 said, “It’s part of our heritage and it’s key to our economy. I’m all for supporting it.”
Queen said the possibilities for economic growth are endless.
“There are crafts, there is clothing, hats, creels, the making of the flies, there is a good fly fishing club at WCU, it’s just endless,” said Rep. Queen.
Later that afternoon, Sen. Davis presented a Senatorial Statement on the Senate floor as well.
Jackson County contains 4,600 miles of trout streams and receives an annual stocking of 92,800 trout, which is the most of any county in the state. It also features the state’s longest contiguous stretch of NC Mountain Heritage Trout Waters. Three of the 13 towns designated with Mountain Heritage Trout Waters are in Jackson County: Sylva, Dillsboro and Webster.
A recent N.C. Fish and Wildlife study found that trout fishing opportunities have a $174 million economic impact to Western North Carolina.
The designation will move forward through the state House and Senate for a vote, potentially designating Jackson County as the official N.C. Trout Capital, which could occur in early 2017 during the state’s long session.
Jackson County Commission Chair Brian McMahan said, “We are very excited that Jackson County has support among the members of the N.C. General Assembly in proclaiming Jackson County as the Premier Trout Fishing Destination in the state.
“We will continue to campaign on behalf of the official Trout Capital designation that may come early in the 2017 long session of the N.C. General Assembly, with the filing of the bill,” McMahan added.
In 2009, Jackson County Chamber Director Julie Spiro co-founded the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, a first of its kind in the industry that directs anglers to 15 prime spots to catch trout in the county. She knows the trail’s positive impact on Jackson County and hopes this designation brings similar results. The Chamber has spearheaded the official designation efforts.
“We are pleased our legislators have been supportive of our efforts to increase the visibility of fishing industry in Western North Carolina,” Spiro said. “We’re excited and optimistic, and look forward to branding Jackson County as the Premier Trout Fishing Destination in the state, and ultimately the Trout Capital. This adds credibility to the success of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, and provides additional opportunities for fishing and accommodation packages, retailers
and outfitters expansion of offerings, and potentially a new festival for our region.”
For more information on trout fishing in Jackson County, or to receive a free guide to the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, call (828) 586-2155, or go to www.NCTroutCapital.com.
(Posted January 2016)
Sylva, NC - The delayed harvest section of the Tuckasegee River, a main stop on the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, will be stocked with 19,600 trout this fall.
The stocking will be conducted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in two segments – 9,800 trout the first week of October, and 9,800 trout the first week of November.
Brook and rainbow trout account for 80 percent of the fish placed in the river, with brown trout making up the remaining 20 percent.
Anglers are allowed to fish the delayed harvest section of the Tuckasegee River year round. However, any fish caught between Oct. 1 and the first Saturday in June must be released immediately. The delayed harvest section of the Tuck runs from the N.C. Hwy 107 bridge in the Lovesfield community to Dillsboro.
“Your catch percentage goes up greatly when the delayed harvest waters of the Tuck are stocked in October and November,” said Alex Bell, a fly fishing guide in Sylva. “This provides a great chance to accomplish the ‘Tuckasegee Slam’ which is catching a brook, rainbow and brown all on the same day.”
Other good autumn places to fish along the WNC Fly Fishing Trail are: Scott Creek, Panthertown Creek, Savannah Creek and the Chattooga River.
Scott Creek, which flows through Sylva and Dillsboro, received a total of 3,000 brook, rainbow and brown trout in July and August.
Cast Off Your Cares Fly Fishing
(Posted Jan. 28, 2013) Trail Sponsors Fly Fishing Silver Medalist
BEND, Ore. — Fishing with sponsorship from the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, expert angler and Sylva native Josh Stephens earned a silver medal in team competition during the 2012 National Fly Fishing Championship in Bend, Oregon.
Stephens captured the medal as a member of one of three Team USA squads competing. He also placed eighth individually, winning the fourth round of the 5-round event in late October.
Stephens has now won a team medal in seven straight national championships, to go along with two individual medals during that span.
Stephens credits his dual sponsorship from the WNC Fly Fishing Trail and the Jackson County TDA for allowing him to arrive early and properly prepare.
"I was able to pre-fish different rivers and get a feel for what I was about to face. I cannot stress how important the sponsorship was and how much it helped," said Stephens, who qualified for the World Championships.
A total of 60 anglers on 12 teams competed at the 2012 National Championship, which was hosted by the U.S. Fly Fishing Team.
Stephens posted a personal best when he caught 63 regulation fish in three hours during the fourth round. That catapulted him into third overall, before a tough final round of lake fishing dropped him out of individual contention.
"It means a lot to say our local fly fishing trail here in North Carolina sponsored me. It's something I'm very, very proud of," said Stephens. "People were impressed and saying what a great idea it is. All you have to do is open the map and everything you need is right in front of you. It sparked a lot of interest."
Weekly Fishing Report is Also
Available on Trail's Facebook Page
SYLVA, N.C. — In addition to accessing our weekly fishing report here at FlyFishingTrail.com, anglers may also get the report on Facebook.
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Goes on the Trail for Trout
(from the April 12, 2012, edition of Chattanooga Times Free Press)
SYLVA, N.C. — Taking a cue from the world of golf is paying off for anglers as well as the tourism industry in North Carolina's Jackson County.
About a three-hour drive from Chattanooga, the county is known for good trout fishing almost year-round.
Seeking to expand their visibility, county business leaders began looking for an angle to promote their streams to anglers outside the area. Using the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama as their model and working with local fishermen and guides, the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail was created in 2009 ...
Mich. Environmental Council Praises Trail
LANSING, MI – Kudos for the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail continue to roll in, and sometimes from unlikely sources.
A recent article by the Michigan Environmental Council lauds the Trail for helping to steady Jackson County's economy during the Great Recession. It calls the trail "innovative" and even chides Field & Stream magazine for leaving North Carolina off its list of the top 10 fly fishing states.
The complete article is available by clicking here.
Media Catching On to WNC Fly Fishing Trail
SYLVA, N.C. – Media outlets, from television to national websites, are catching on to the great offerings along the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail.
Recently, an outdoors blogger from DiscoverAmerica.com featured the trail. DiscoverAmerica.com is the official travel & tourism website of the United States, developed by U.S. Travel in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
National blogger Matt Villano had this to say about the Trail: "those who've fished the waters say that Jackson County is one of the most serene places in the contiguous U.S."
Meanwhile, the popular television show "Life in the Carolinas" aired an in-depth story on the Fly Fishing Trail recently.
Trail Now Includes Trophy Water Option
SYLVA, N.C. – The WNC Fly Fishing Trail has added an exciting new destination for anglers - the Raven Fork trophy water on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
Raven Fork is a 2.2-mile stretch of water northward from the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge outside Cherokee. The water is regularly stocked with large rainbow, brown and golden trout. It's common to catch fish 20 inches or longer, and there are a number of trout that exceed 30 inches.
The scenic Raven Fork replaces the Horsepasture River as spot No. 6 on the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. Public access to the Horsepasture River is becoming increasingly limited. Anglers wishing to fish Raven Fork need to purchase a $20 special use permit and a $7 daily permit from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
Raven Fork is designated by the Cherokee as catch & release fly fishing only.
"The Raven Fork trophy water enhances the trail's overall experience because it provides a type of fishing not found anywhere else," said Julie Spiro of the Jackson Country Tourism Authority, which created the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. "It's thrilling to catch fish on that stream. There are a lot of large trout in there."
Local guide Alex Bell, who helped create the trail, has worked with several anglers who have eagerly requested a trip to Raven Fork.
Trail Exhibits at Fly Fishing Show
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The WNC Fly Fishing Trail was one of more than 80 exhibitors at The Fly Fishing Show, held Jan. 29-30 at The Park, a merchandise mart in Charlotte.
A steady stream of visitors braved a winter blast to stop by the booth. Trail representatives distributed 250 maps, and several dozen anglers attended two presentations about the trail in the Destination Theater.
"We were surprised at the number of fly fisherman who already knew about the trail and wanted more info," said Alex Bell, a trail co-creator. "People like the concept. That was obvious."
The trail also drew attention from fellow exhibitors. "The trail is a great idea. I think Jackson County and Graham County have the best trout waters in Western North Carolina," said noted outdoors writer Jim Casada of Rock Hill, S.C.
For trail info or convenient lodging, call (800) 962-1911.