The Perfect Day?

By James Lackey

It’s happened to all of us. We plan and plan for our perfect day on the river, take off work, go to the nearest fly shop to practically buy them out, or order way too much gear online, preparing every detail for the outing. The day arrives and we are off before the sun rises. Arriving at the river, we find that perfect spot we have been dreaming about.

All is perfect. We have been enjoying the beauty surrounding us as our stress levels have plummeted to zero. This is our day. Then out of nowhere steps another fisherman in the run just above you or maybe below you. Surprised, our attention goes from getting the perfect drift to watching him or her and thinking, what the heck are they doing in my stretch of river?! Then to top it off, you watch this other fisherman, only after a few casts, catch a trout, then another, and then another. Our perfect day has now turned into a day full of emotions that have nothing to do with perfection—anger, frustration, and maybe even jealousy, the very stress we were so longing to get away from.

When I began flyfishing back in the early 80’s, there was a somewhat different code of ethics on the river. Flyfishing was special and there was an air of pride that came with it and one thing was known, you did not encroach on a fellow angler to the point you could have a conversation with them. If you did your conversation would probably be short and communications would indicate a desire to be left alone. Communication between fly fisher men was very distant, you knew what you knew, and experience was everything.

I go back to a day on the Jacob Fork in the South Mountains as a young eighteen-year-old who had been fly fishing for some time with no luck. As I was leaving, I noticed an older gentleman in the river flyfishing. I stopped up the trail to observe, and in about five minutes he had caught three trout. I think out of compassion he invited me into his run and in the next two hours, I learned more about flyfishing for the trout (that I had convinced myself were not there) than I could have learned in years. He took time to show and teach me so much and from that day on I felt like I belonged on the stream. Much to my regret, I never got his name, but I never forgot what he did for me. His kindness that day changed my whole prospective about small stream flyfishing and that’s where the obsession began.

Back to the person who has encroached on your perfect day. Maybe instead of the typical emotions that flood our brains, a different approach may work best. Communication is always a good thing, so step out and talk to the guy. His only fault, might be that he had the same idea you had for the day. A friendly tone may work best. Form a plan to fish on up the stream to give him space and he will probably give you yours, and by all means ask what he is working. You never know it may change your whole approach to the stream and you may learn something new. Today, I meet countless anglers on the river and most all are willing to share and talk. A lot of days, I give more flies away than I use and there are plenty of trout for everyone. You never know, you may make a fishing friend because in today’s world that is priceless

As a guide, I see more and more anglers on the water each year, and with the recent pandemic more are taking up the sport because of its solitude. I read an article recently that stated that flyfishing in general was up almost 50% since 2016. The streams are becoming a lot more crowded than ever, especially in the delayed harvest waters here in North Carolina. We have an abundant of strictly small wild trout streams in our state, but these fish are wild, and their diet is super specific.

Let’s face it, to catch these fish takes skill, patience and a lot of experience. Its usually not the big yellow egg or the huge mop fly that they are after, it goes back to watching and spending time on the stream and putting in the effort that it takes to figure out what these fish are feeding on and even then, a lot of times its trial and error. It takes work and especially time on the water. For me, it’s rewarding even with clients. Most people who fish with me understand the skill balance that it takes when you are dealing with stocked fish and wild fish.

Flyfishing is not always about big numbers or the 20” rainbows. To me, it’s about learning the sport and developing an appreciation for just how technical this sport can be. Most of all, it’s about enjoying the beautiful surroundings I find on every stream I fish. Recently, I had a client tell me how much he appreciated me showing and telling hm how technical and tricky this sport can be but giving him the tools and understanding of what flyfishing was all about. Our day did not produce big numbers or a 20” rainbow, but it did give him the excitement and the enthusiasm about flyfishing that eighteen-year-old boy had on the Jacob’s Fork that day long ago. For me, that works every time.

Jimmy Lackey has been a fly-fishing guide for Hunter Banks Flyfishing almost ten years. As a retired firefighter his passion for the sport began as early as fourteen years old. He prides himself on small wild trout streams throughout Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. He is always open for any questions and good fishing stories (704-477-9856, and loves to share with clients. He is married to the love of his life Christine Earls Lackey and together they have four sons. Hunter Banks Flyfishing, 828-252-3005.