Owner/founder of AB’s Fly Fishing Guide Services, Bell was a basketball player at a college on the Florida panhandle in the mid-1970s. Once he found out the team had been eliminated by the school, he started looking around for another institution to not only play, but also acquire an education. He soon came upon Western Carolina University in Cullowhee and was hooked.
“When I came up here for a visit, it was the first time I’d ever been to this part of the country,” he said. “I fell in love with mountain vistas first, then with the local people, then with the fishing.”
Following graduation, Bell officially relocated to Jackson County and never looked back. An educator in the local school districts for the better part of three decades, he was a teacher in the classroom, principal in the administration and coach in the heat of competition. Upon his retirement, he knew he couldn’t just sit on the sidelines of life.
“I spent 30 years in education and I never dreaded going to work a day in my life,” he said. “I’m not somebody who can just go sit on the porch and rot. If you do what you love, you’ll never really work a day in your life.”
An avid fisherman all of his life, Bell has spent a lifetime in search of the perfect river, perfect cast and catch to turn any day into a great one. As a child, he was either on the ocean or inland lakes with his relatives. That love of nature and family is something he’s carried with him into his Jackson County endeavors.
“I don’t even remember not fishing,” he chuckled. “It was a great way to spend time with my father. It was all about that time with him, that time on the water — it’s very therapeutic. I just enjoy the whole aspect of casting, trying to improve, trying to fool a fish.”
In 2008, Bell started the fly fishing guide service. Based out of his home, the company specializes in family, group and individual trips into some the most pristine and prized waters in the country. Each jaunt into the Southern Appalachian wilderness is tailored to the client’s skill level, expectations, requests and where the fish are most likely to cooperate.
“This is a way I can share my passion for fishing and love for nature with other people,” he said. “I love teaching and coaching, so this is a combination of those two things. I tell people, ‘I’m still teaching and coaching, just that my classroom got a little more scenic.’”
Throughout the week, Bell will guide numerous groups around the county, with clinics on Saturdays at the High Hampton Inn & Country Club in Cashiers. For him, it’s about the priceless look on a client when it all clicks, when the cast, the rhythm and the catch all fall into place for an unforgettable experience on the rivers of Western North Carolina.
“Watching them get the cast right for the first time, catching their first fish, that look — it’s a gift,” he said. “I love teaching a parent/child combination, where you’re seeing something they can share, and share for a lifetime.”
At the center of Bell’s love of fly fishing is his crowing achievement, which is establishing the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. Encompassing big rivers, small streams, easy access and backcountry hike-ins, the 15-spot trail was the first of its kind in the United States. As a co-creator of the trail, Bell made sure the map was a thorough and accommodating for fishing enthusiasts and the curious alike.
“It’s really been a neat experience. We had no idea how popular this trail would become. It’s been beyond our imaginations,” he said. “And we’ll keep tweaking, keep modifying it, so that it will always be new and fresh.”
Reflecting on his journey from Florida to Western North Carolina, Bell is thankful for all of the unique and incredible experiences he and his family have crossed paths with in Jackson County. With world-class fishing, majestic mountain peaks and welcoming communities, he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“Those who weren’t blessed enough to be born here, we came here on our own,” he smiled.
AB Fly Fishing Services
Hunter Banks Fly Fishing
178 Waynesville Plaza
River’s Edge Outfitters
1235 Seven Clans Lane
Hwy 441 Cherokee, 828.497.9300
49 Pillar Drive