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Ever since I first watched Brad Pitt fly fishing in the film “The River Runs Through It,” I knew I wanted to be on any river that he was on. Unfortunately, I am not sure how much fly fishing he gets in between trips to Africa or Asia to adopt children, so I had to go it alone.

I’m sometimes asked if the prehistoric Cherokees used any sort of poisons on their blowgun darts. These darts (slivers of black locust, hickory, or white oak) were from 10 to 20 inches long with thistledown tied at one end to form an air seal in the blowgun (a hollowed piece of cane cut to a length of seven to nine feet). The Cherokees were accurate with these weapons up to 60 feet, especially when shooting birds, but there is no evidence they used poisons of any sort on their darts. 

out frTwo more lakes in the region are now under a fish consumption advisory due to mercury contamination.

Unsafe levels of mercury have been detected in fish species in Nantahala Lake in Macon County and Lake Chatuge in Clay County, leading to a consumption advisory on certain species.

I was encouraged by a recent press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. The release stated, “In a show of force and unity, over 100 North Carolina sporting groups are calling on the General Assembly to restore critical funding for conservation. The groups, ranging from venerable statewide wildlife, turkey, waterfowl, deer, bear hunting organizations to trout, bass and local rod and gun clubs, are seeking investments in land, water and wildlife infrastructure in what amounts to less than 0.5 % of the entire budget.”

These groups representing Trout Unlimited Chapters, Wild Turkey Federation Chapters, Quality Deer Management Associations, NC Ducks Unlimited plus scores of other sportsman/sportswoman organizations across the state are all signers on a recent letter to North Carolina’s General Assembly. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“We are hundreds of thousands of dedicated sportsmen and women from North Carolina. We span political parties and ideologies. We are bird hunters and waterfowlers, trout and bass anglers, hunters and trappers. What we share is a deep-rooted passion and concern for conservation and our sporting heritage.”

“The country’s original conservationists, hunters and anglers, are still on the forefront of conservation. Our dollars spent on licenses, gear, and associated expenditures such as travel, bait and tackle, meals, and lodging has a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.  According to the most recent survey of the USFWS about the economic value of fish and wildlife based recreational activities, we contributed $4.3 billion to the state’s economy while supporting over 46,000 jobs.

“For years, the General Assembly has recognized sportsmen’s economic input and commitment to fish and wildlife resources by fully funding the state’s four conservation trust funds. Now conservation funding has been cut by a disproportionate 90 percent. Fiscal responsibility is important, but it doesn’t mean abandoning successful programs that have protected tens of thousands of acres of game lands, wetlands, fishing habitat and farmland across the state.

“In order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, the sports and traditions that North Carolinians enjoy, and the health and integrity of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential that you restore a portion of these critical funds for the wild places that sustain our sporting heritage and economic impact.

“This request comes to less than a half percent of the state budget, but the payoff is enormous. For every dollar invested the state receives at least $4 of natural goods and services such as drinking water protection, flood control and cleaner air.  When you add in the associated benefits for our $22 billion a year travel and tourism and $32 billion agricultural industries, it is clear that conservation is crucial to our economy. Please support this major economic driver by:

• Restoring funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) to $40 million, still well below historic levels.

• Removing the general prohibition on the use of CWMTF funds for land acquisition.

• Maintaining the dedicated revenue source for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and oppose any diversion of those funds.

• Funding the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund at $2 million.”

When traditional environmental groups like Audubon NC, Southern Environmental Law Center, Western North Carolina Alliance, NC Sierra Club and others decried the Republican assault on the environment in North Carolina’s General Assembly and penned a letter to Gov. Bev Perdue thanking her for vetoing S781 and S709 (both of which, I believe, have been overturned), it was easy for Republican lawmakers to rant about “tree huggers” and “environmental whackos.”

But when members of the General Assembly look at this wide ranging and broad base of support, marshaled by the NC Wildlife Federation (who, by the way, was also a co-signer on the letter to Perdue) that crosses all party lines and ideologies, perhaps they will see that all North Carolinians treasure North Carolina’s wild places.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Joe and Dawn Johnson of Atlanta might be making another trip to the mountains next weekend after learning about the WNC OutdoorAthlon in Franklin Oct. 8 and 9.

The couple both enjoy mountain biking, and she jogs routinely for exercise — making them perfect candidates to enjoy a smorgasbord of events lined up for the family outdoor recreation event. The Johnsons were on the Blue Ridge Parkway last week riding motorcycles and enjoying the start of the fall’s leaf show.

“It sounds like fun,” Joe Johnson said, before openly speculating with his wife about whether they could angle more time off from work to make the trip back that soon to Western North Carolina.

That’s exactly the kind of response Rob Gasbarro and Cory McCall of Outfitter 76 in Franklin were hoping to generate. The business partners believe Macon County is destined, by virtue of its location and superb outdoor opportunities, to become as big an outdoor draw as such traditional stalwarts as the Nantahala Gorge.

The future’s uncertain. But what is certain is that Gasbarro and McCall, who are touting the event as “the biggest little event in the Southeast,” are hoping, even expecting, thousands to show up for the OutdoorAthlon.

So what is it? Everything, really, to do with the outdoors — think Mountain Sports Festival in Asheville; or, the Guest Appreciation Festival at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Here’s what’s lined up: Food, music, an outdoor triathlon, a kid’s duathlon, a 5K, an Ultimate Frisbee Team Tournament and corn hole tournament. Free clinics for fly-fishing, paddle sports, stand-up paddling, rock climbing; do-it-yourself bike maintenance and demos, backpacking and camping demo’s and more. The outdoor triathlon offers a twist on the standard trifecta — with a line-up of paddling, mountain biking and trail running instead of swimming, road biking and road running.

There are 40 vendors scheduled, plus eight food vendors. The event is free.

“It’s going well,” Gasbarro said of the organizational aspects of putting together such a gargantuan undertaking. “We’ve got lots and lots of volunteers.”

The two men also have lined up $7,000 worth of “giveaways” from outdoor specialty companies.

The events are taking place at the Cullasaja Park along Macon County’s greenway, located off Fox Ridge Road near the flea market on Highlands Road in Franklin.

Gasbarro, taking a break from minding the front desk last week at Outfitter 76 to chat about the festival, noted that remote parking is being set up, and two buses courtesy of Macon County Schools will be used to shuttle people to the event.

Visit www.outdoorathlon.com for more information.

 

WNC OutdoorATHLON

The event runs Saturday, Oct. 8, and Sunday, Oct. 9, in Franklin at the Cullasaja Park. There is no entrance fee.

Events start both days at noon. Here are some key events:

Saturday

• 12:30-2 p.m. Honey Locust 5K

• 12:30 Bicycle maintenance clinis

• 1 p.m. fly fishing clinic

• 1 p.m. beginner mountain bike ride

• 2-3 p.m. Kids’ duathlon

• 2 p.m. intro to kayaking

• 2-5 p.m. Ultimate Frisbee Tournament

• 3:45 p.m. intro to disc golf

Sunday

• 12 p.m. putting and long drive disc golf competition

• 12 p.m. fly casting clinic

• 2 p.m. backpacking clinic

• 12-3 p.m. Paddle parade on the Little Tennessee

• 2-4:30 p.m. Adventure Triathlon (paddle, mtn bike, trail run)

• ­­3 p.m. intro to stand-up paddling

Ed Williams lugged a giant plastic bag teaming with silvery blue fish down a creek bank in Waynesville where they would soon test the waters of their new home.

Earlier that day, the fish were scooped out of Jonathan Creek and hauled across the county in coolers to this spot on Richland Creek. The Tuckasegee darters didn’t need much coaxing once Williams untied the bag. In a flash of tiny fins, the 200 darters were deployed on their mission to once again repopulate Richland Creek.

The Tuckasegee darters are one of eight lost species that were killed off in Richland Creek decades ago due to industrial pollution. The water is much cleaner now, but the fish need a helping hand to reclaim their old territory. The dam at Lake Junaluska stands in the way of natural migration, thus Williams and a team of biologists from various environmental agencies are reintroducing the species by hand.

SEE ALSO: From classroom to creekside, students study water quality by raising and releasing fish

“All the species need to be present and work together to be a healthy ecosystem,” said Williams, a water quality advocate with the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

Williams is one year in to the three-year effort. By the end of the project, he hopes Richland Creek will be taken off the state’s list of “impaired waters.”

Richland Creek had two strikes against it when it landed on the state’s list of “impaired waters.”

The first was a lack of biological integrity, meaning all the species that are supposed to live there don’t. The reintroduction aimed at reversing the problem seems to be working so far. Species released into the creek last spring and fall have survived, based on a recent survey by Williams and his team.

“They all looked happy and healthy, so they seem to like their new home,” Williams said.

The real test is to come, however.

“In the fall, if we find some small ones, we will know they are reproducing,” Williams said.

The second strike against Richland Creek was contamination from leaking sewer lines and septic tanks, resulting in high levels of fecal coliform. Williams has led an effort to fix this as well, working alongside town sewer crews to patch leaks and identify culprits.

The goal is noble. It’s rare for a creek to find its way off the list of impaired waters, especially when it means tackling both pollution and a dearth of species. Time will tell if the efforts pay off.

To read a story on the effort to clean up fecal coliform in Richland Creek, go to http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/1156.

For more information on the project, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This little slice of Western North Carolina just landed the big one when it comes to competitive fly-fishing.

The 2011 U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship will be held this spring from May 19 to 22 in Cherokee. In addition to fishing in tribal waters, about 60 of the nation’s top fly-fishing experts will test their angling skills along nearby stretches of water: the Tuckasegee River below Western Carolina University, the upper and lower sections of the Nantahala River, and a to-be-determined area lake.

This marks the first time the competition has been held in the Southeast.

“It’s a really big deal,” said an unabashedly excited sounding Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “This events puts fishing in and around Cherokee on a national stage. It puts us up with the big boys.”

Not to mention the corresponding upward spending bump expected at area hotels, restaurants and shops. Hundreds of spectators from the U.S. and from other countries are expected to attend.

The anglers will be tested in a variety of water — low, high, fast, slow.

“We’re putting them in places where we know there’s great fishing, but they have to be skilled,” Pegg said. “And these guys are the best.”

If, for instance, a raft full of tourists paddles through, or a kayaker drifts by, the competition on the lower Nantahala, so be it, Pegg said. That’s fishing, and so goes on many days the experience of fishing that particular stretch of water.

The tournament organizers and hosts are the N.C. Fly Fishing Team, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fish and Wildlife Management Department and the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, with River’s Edge Outfitters in Cherokee a supporter of the effort.

Cherokee is well known as a trout fishing destination, due in part to the stellar stocking of creeks and rivers by its own tribal hatchery. Robert Blankenship, director of the Cherokee fish hatchery and stocking operation, said putting Cherokee on the map as the best fishing destination in the Southeast has been their goal.

They raise and stock 400,000 trout, including trophy-sized, in 30 miles of stream. Compare that to the state of North Carolina, which puts 800,000 trout on 1,000 miles of stream.

“We are putting half that into only 30 miles,” Blankenship said.

Cherokee has gotten a great response from designating a 2.2-mile stretch of the Oconaluftee as catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only waters, a move that has lured new fishermen to the area.

Blankenship agreed it was quite a coup to land the tournament.

“It’s normally held in Vale, Colorado, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or somewhere out West,” Blankenship said.

Fishermen watching the nationals might decide to book their next fly-fishing trips here instead, further enforcing the region’s growing reputation.

“It will be good for Cherokee and the surrounding area and the local economy,” Blankenship said.

Another factor that puts WNC on the national fly-fishing map: fishermen from the western counties regularly dominate spots on the N.C. Fly Fishing team, and a couple of them usually go on to claim spots on the U.S. team each year. The tournament held here will determine who gets a spot on that coveted national team this year, said Paul Bourcq of Franklin, vice president of the N.C. Fly Fishing Team of Franklin. Those who make Team USA have a shot at the world team.

Bourcq is one of the big reasons the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship is coming to WNC. He’s hosting the Southeastern Regional Qualifier for anglers this weekend (Feb. 19-20) with venues on the lower Nantahala, upper Nantahala and Queens Creek Lake in northwestern Macon County. Bourcq said this qualifier would serve to help polish organizational skills the sponsors need to pull off a great national championship competition.

Fly-fishing has long been a hotly competitive and avidly followed sport in Europe, and it enjoys a level of popularity there comparable to that of bass fishing in this nation.

“This will help make the Southeast a destination for fly fishing,” Bourcq said, who added that an angler is only as good as the water he fishes, and in WNC some of the best fly-fishing in the nation can be enjoyed.

 

Get involved

If you can read a ruler and measure a fish, then you have exactly the skills necessary to be a judge in the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship, scheduled for May 19-22 in Cherokee.

Organizer Paul Bourcq needs judges, and lots of them — 60, to be exact, and he has only 20 signed up. This, he said, would be an excellent service project, perhaps for Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. Grownups are welcome, too, of course. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or through www.ncflyfishingteam.com.

As 10-year-old Dayini Lossie stood on the shore eyeing the wide shallow waters of the Tuckasegee River last week listening to the marching orders for the exercise about to unfold, one word came to mind: awesome.

Lossie had never heard of a fish weir before, but now she was about to walk in her ancestors’ footsteps, using the same stone wall her people built centuries ago to once again — hopefully — trap some fish.

“The objective is to herd the fish, stomping and screaming and basically scaring them downstream,” explained Mark Cantrell, a biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Lossie, along with two dozen other Cherokee students, couldn’t wait. They’d been in and out of the river all day, their shoes, shirts and shorts soaked through many times over as they swam, splashed and explored aquatic biology along the way.

But as they waded into the river this time, stringing themselves out in a long line and facing the ancient weir downstream, they realized they were part of something big.

“We’re learning about our history and how our ancestors used the river,” Lossie said.

As the students began moving downstream, flushing the fish toward a trap at the mouth of the weir, it didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. One student would fall, then another, then suddenly the chain would disintegrate leaving big gaps for the fish to sneak through. Some started splashing each other instead of the water in front of them. Others took intermittent breaks to float on their backs.

But eventually, the line closed in on the weir and two modest-sized fish were ushered into the trap.

“We all would have starved if this was dinner tonight,” Cantrell declared.

It became apparent just how much cooperation a fish weir entailed.

“I learned so much myself,” said Roger Clapp, director of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, which coordinated the event. “Though it is obvious, you could really see how Cherokee fishing at a weir is a community experience, not just one, two or three people.”

The re-enactment was orchestrated by WATR, an environmental group whose central focus is water quality. Funding came from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, the Royal Bank of Canada and WATR. To help pull off the re-enactment, biologists with the Cherokee Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and several volunteers with WATR pitched in.

The field trip brought kids not only in touch with their heritage, but the ecosystem, Clapp said.

Armed with nets and buckets, kids took to the river upturning rocks and sifting through sediment in search of crawdads, bugs and fish lurking below the surface. A science station allowed them to examine their finds under microscopes.

“The creek bottom underneath them is actually teeming with life,” said Clapp. “It is a living ecological unit.”

The students also got to hear a program from Russ Townsend, a historic preservation officer for the Cherokee, who quizzed them on the role rivers played for their ancestors, which included everything from transportation to the gathering of mussel shells that were ground up and mixed with clay for pottery.

“The Cherokee were very smart. They knew how to use the environment. They loved living here because they could get everything they needed and the rivers were a major source of that,” said Townsend

Out like trout

Anybody who knows any thing about Western North Carolina is aware of the bountiful rivers and stream waters that paint an awesome landscape for trout fishing.

Urban and backcountry waters running in all directions makes the area an attractive mecca for fishermen from all over the country and certainly a treasure for Haywood County and the State of North Carolina.

According to Haywood County-bred and Waynesville native Roger Lowe, who has fished these waters for years, “We who live in this area know and have been raised here to know where the best spots to fish are on a daily basis.”

Lowe and his wife, Dianne, own and manage Lowe Guide Service in Waynesville. The couple often fish together and guide others to popular fishing spots in the area.

Each month people who come to Waynesville and Maggie Valley to fish, according to Lowe, most of them return the next season to fish again with several friends in tow.

Waynesville and Maggie Valley are enjoying the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters program in a cooperative effort between the N. C. Wildlife Resources Commissions and local governments to encourage trout fishing as a heritage tourism activity in Western North Carolina.

Maggie Valley — with the Trout Festival — hopes it can take advantage of this heritage designation. Residents and visitors who want to fish in a stream that is designated a Heritage Trout Water may purchase a 3-day license for $5. The license is designated only for waters in the recognized waters, and they are available at the Maggie Valley Visitor Center and at town hall. Visitors can use loaner fishing rods will be provided. Anglers under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian.

When Matt Rosenthal opened the doors of a new fly-fishing shop in Waynesville last week, word spread quickly among the fishing community. All week, fishermen moseyed through the new Waynesville Fly Shop, sizing up the owner Matt Rosenthal as much as his wares.

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