Fishing Destinations: South Toe River

By Daniel Day

Like a tired teenager who stayed up too late the night before, the early morning mist was still resting on the rushing water as my three kiddos and I approached a new fishing spot on the South Toe River. It was the last weekend we had available before schoolyear commitments consumed our weekends, and we decided to seize our final opportunity for camping and fishing. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was excited about sleeping on the ground for two nights, but that first morning—with the mist sitting on the river—I knew we had made the correct choice.

Large gray and moss-covered boulders lined one side of the river, and trees painted with the first touches of fall lined the other. White water flowed between brown, gray and dark orange rocks. If you stick your hand in the sand, you will pull up shiny—glass-like—pieces of mica scattered in the brown, dark orange and purple sand. It’s beautiful in every way. It’s peaceful. It’s the perfect sensory experience—sight, sound and feel.

My kids set up their poles on one side of the river, and I decided to brave the current and make my way to the other side. I needed some space. It had been years since the last time I tried fly fishing. I didn’t want to accidentally catch my son’s nose or my daughter’s ear while casting. When I was first learning how to fly fish, I caught my own ear—I knew how painful that was—but that’s a story for another day. Our camping trip was an excuse to reacquaint myself with fly-fishing, and I was excited. It seemed we had discovered the perfect quiet spot, and I had plenty of space to cast. I picked up my pole.

“Daddy,” I heard the voice of my little girl over the constant roar of the foamy water, “I want to come to your side.”

“Just fish on that side for a few minutes,” I said.

“But I want to be with you,” she responded, batting her eyes and turning her head to the side.

How could I say, “no” to that? I waded back across the river and put her on my back. I knew the current was just a bit too strong for her, so I carried her across. It was tricky. The rocks were slippery and the current was strong enough that the wrong move would get us both very wet. We made it across. I sat her down and told her she had to stay in a certain spot so I had room to cast. I picked up my pole.

“Daddy,” the voice of my 7-year-old floated across the river.

“Yes, Fin.” I responded.

“Can you help me across?”

I sat my pole down and waded back across. I put him on my back and followed the same path I had walked with my daughter. I got him situated. I picked up my pole.

“Daddy!” I heard my 9-year-old, “I got one!”

I look up, and my son is holding a 7-inch rainbow trout. I hurry across the rapids, making sure not to fall. We celebrate and then pull the trout off the line. By the time I made it to him and helped him get the fish off the hook, the trout had been out of the water for a moment so we revived him by moving him back and forth in the water. He took off like a shot-gun.

“Great job, Noah! I’m so proud of you, bud.”

My son beamed with joy, and I slowly made my way back across the river. I picked up my pole.

“Daddy!” Noah yelled again, “I got another one!”

Sure enough. Noah had another 6 ½” rainbow trout. I went back across the water and helped him get it off.

By the end of the day, Noah had caught three different rainbow trout and I hadn’t caught any. I would say I didn’t care, but if I’m honest, I really wanted to catch one too. I did remember how to cast a line on a fly-rod, and it was so rewarding to watch the roll cast, well, roll across the water until it landed the fly right where I wanted it. Although I didn’t catch three fish like my son, I was a dad to three kiddos who didn’t need anything from me except for me to be present with them in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

If you haven’t been to the Toe River, it’s amazing. There are plenty of trout to catch, and there are plenty of deep pools in which to swim. Check out Black Mountain Campground—it’s right on the river. But more than just a destination for fishing, the Toe River offers peace in a world that is too busy for peace. It offers deep breaths in a world that moves too quickly to breathe. It offers true beauty in the midst of a world that tries to manufacture beauty. It offers music. And if you have a fly-rod, well that’s just pure poetry.

Daniel Ryan Day is the author of two books, including his most recent work: Intentional Christian (now available). He’s also the COO of Cascades Mountain Resort, Old Orchard Tavern and Asheville’s Fun Depot. Daniel lives in Fairview, NC with his wife and three kiddos. Connect with him on Facebook, Instagram or at