In its two years of existence, the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians has shown a willingness to travel.
First, from the mind of fly fishing enthusiast Alen Baker to the wood-paneled space of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. Then to the sunny Swain County Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Bryson City. And, soon, to a new building on Bryson City’s Island Street, just across the road from the trout-stocked waters of the Tuckasegee River.
Rods, reels, and wader-clad teenagers dotted Big East Fork’s meander to Lake Logan through the warm summer mornings last week, a picture of mountain tranquility framed between green-shrouded banks backlit by the mountain-bordered reservoir downstream.
“It’s pretty relaxing,” said Gabby Dilemme, 14, of Brevard. The rod she grasped was her own, an instrument she’s used before when fishing with friends. But at Rivercourse, the annual four-day fly fishing and conservation camp organized by N.C. Trout Unlimited, she was hoping to dig a little deeper into the sport.
“This is the ugliest fly I have,” says Mike Kesselring, pulling a battered-looking brown-bodied, black-feathered fly from a box marked “18. Antiques.”
The box is just one of the many filling the back of Kesselring’s red SUV, the fly just one the roughly 9,000 in his expansive collection. The flies run the gamut from the long, flowing streamers designed to resemble flashy-colored minnows to tiny but intricate creations mimicking the river’s smallest insect nymphs. Nearly all are prettier, more pristine than the 20-year-old thing Kesselring, 64, now holds up to the sunlight.
Out of Ed Norris’ 68 years of life, Vietnam accounts for just one. Those months he spent deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps are now almost half a century distant, but Norris’s time in the service changed his life forever, the emotional and physical evidence still apparent.
“There were times when I worked at a job I wore a suit, and walking down the street a truck backfired,” he said. “I hit the deck. I turned around and had to go home and change clothes because I messed up my suit.”
It’s been more than 10 years since Alen Baker decided, while recuperating from surgery, to pass the time by writing about what his Trout Unlimited chapter had been up to that year. Those 15 pages turned into a book, which turned into something even bigger — the idea that somebody should take it upon themselves to memorialize the Southern Appalachians’ fly fishing legacy in a museum somewhere.
SEE ALSO: A look inside the museum
Step inside Cherokee’s newest museum, and the scent of freshly cut wood and tranquil lighting will immediately greet you with the knowledge that you’ve made the right choice.
When Michael Bradley first picked up a fly rod in 2011, he wasn’t looking for anything more than a relaxing pastime. He’d tried fly fishing once before, as an 11-year-old kid, but “didn’t do so good at it.” At age 20, he thought things might be different if he gave it another try.
He was right.
Word on the river is that more and more people are getting into fly fishing, spurring a push for fly-focused tourism and marketing – and the opening of a pair of new fly shops.
“‘A River Runs Through It’ with Brad Pitt brought a lot of attention to the sport,” said Bob Bennett, who co-owns Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in Bryson City with Dale Collins. “Just in the recent five years or so, things have just really taken off, and I think part of it is bringing awareness to access. This is not a sport that you have to go to Montana for, or Alaska. You can bring it right here in Western North Carolina in the thousands of miles of stream we have.”
It’s been two years since Alen Baker, the self-described “instigator” of the effort to create the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, sent an unsolicited pitch to the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. But now, the building is renovated and the chamber has moved its offices into part of it. Opening day is slated for May 1, and the museum will hold its first annual fundraising dinner Nov. 1 to gather funds to purchase and display fly-fishing memorabilia from across the region.
A seemingly dead-end situation became a life-changing moment for Alex Bell.
“We came back to school from a tournament and they said our program had been cut,” he said.