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Wednesday, 03 March 2010 16:12

Cherokee outfitter store to offer premium guide service

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Cherokee’s trout streams have earned their reputation as the crown jewel of North Carolina’s trophy waters, and now the area has an outfitter shop of the same quality. Business partners Joe Street, Chris Anderson and Steve Mingle, building on the success of their Spruce Pine store, believe their new all-purpose outfitter shop will help make Cherokee a national trout Mecca.

“Our goal is really to be the best fly shop on the East Coast,” Street said.

Joe Street’s ambitious plans for River’s Edge Outfitters Cherokee were incubated during a 20-year corporate career at UPS in Atlanta. An avid fisherman who used his guided trips as a pressure release, Street retired to his home in Spruce Pine two years ago knowing where he wanted to put his passion.

“It had always been a dream of mine to open up a fly fishing shop, and in the world’s worst economy, we decided we would go for it,” Street said.

The Spruce Pine store offers a full range of top-of-the-line gear and a two-mile stretch of private trophy water. With the tourism economy lagging in general, Street said he was only a little surprised that River’s Edge did so well.

“Rather than people doing elaborate vacations, they’re spending more time within a three-hour ride from home,” Street said. “The store’s had a lot of success.”

With some of the best trout water in the nation, less than three hours from Atlanta, and only a little ways down the Blue Ridge from their Spruce Pine store, the partners kept track of what was going on in Cherokee.

“We’ve been watching Cherokee for a while and saw how well they managed the fishery. We did some market research and we felt the area needed an outfitter shop,” Street said.

Spruce Pine only gets about 200,000 tourists per year and Cherokee, as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and home to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, beats that number by about 3.8 million.

Add to that fact Cherokee is centrally located within striking distance of the Tuckasegee, Nantahala, Oconaluftee, Watauga, Little Tennessee, French Broad and South Holston rivers and the thousands of miles of streams that flow into them, and you’ve got a formula for success.

Street wants the shop’s outfitter trips to spread the joy he felt when he was still in the corporate trenches.

“It was my getaway, my stress reliever,” Street said. “When I left UPS to move back to the mountains, I wanted to share that with people.”

Street, Anderson and Mingle are newcomers to Cherokee, and they relied on strong local connections to execute their plan. They had made friends with television fishing host Curtis Fleming.

Fleming brought his Fly Rod Chronicles to Cherokee last year, and he had already built relationships with local guide Eugene Shuler. Street said Shuler supplied the missing piece of the puzzle.

“We knew no one guide-wise, so we hired Eugene to direct our guide operation and he has a network of guides, so it’s a perfect fit,” Street said.

An experienced local guide, captain of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team, and creator of the Southeast Fly Fishing Forum, Shuler had a network of friends with decades of on-the-water experience in the area.

“It’s kind of a neat thing,” Shuler said. “I knew their abilities and skill levels and the way they were on the water, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to put a team together.”

Shuler said his team of 12 guides will emphasize customer service and friendliness, but the focus is still going to be the abundance of prime fishing water.

“The Southeast is slowly becoming the West in terms of fly fishing,” Shuler said. “Our rivers may not be quite as wide as some of theirs, but we just have great water and great fishing.”

With that kind of water and a steady supply of tourist passing through Cherokee because of its casino and other draws, a large-scale outfitter was the only thing missing.

River’s Edge Outfitters in Cherokee will model itself after the biggest full-service outfitter shops in the West. The shop will offer a full range of gear with top of the line brands like Sage, Simms, St. Croix, and TFO, as well as every kind of trip from all-day floats and wading trips to week-long backcountry adventures.

They’ve even got partnerships in the works with local bed and breakfasts and cabin rentals to create a seamless fishing vacation experience for beginners and experts alike.

“Sometime fly-fishing comes off as being stiff to folks, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Shuler said.

Joe Street said the Spruce Pine shop has been successful making fly fishing approachable for groups by providing features like catered lunches and specialty trips for women.

“It’ll be something you won’t find many places,” Shuler said.

River’s Edge Outfitters Cherokee, located on the west side of N.C. 441 a few miles south of NC. 19, opened Saturday, Feb. 27, and the guide service will be ready in time to launch trips for walleye during their spring run.

Shuler said his guides will harness their experience in creative ways to go after white bass, walleye, carp, smallmouth bass, and, of course, the mammoth trophy trout that make Cherokee’s waters so spectacular.

On April 17, the shop will hold a grand opening to celebrate its involvement with Healing Waters, a nonprofit fly fishing program for injured war veterans.

River’s Edge Outfitters Cherokee will also offer free fly fishing clinics every Saturday at the shop. For Street, that’s just part of spreading the word.

“Trout only grow in beautiful places, and it’s a great way to get outdoors and relieve the stress for a while,” Street said.

For info, visit www.flyfishcherokee.com.

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