Fly fishing, as I have come to know it, is a sport defined by local flavor and knowledge; its micro-cultures and idiosyncrasies strongly tied to elements of place. The fly fishing community as a whole, sortof likewise, is a small and transient band.
February’s overbearing temperament sends anglers south to the Caribbean—to Belize and the Bahamas—to stalk windswept, saltwater flats and test their wits against the “Gray Ghost,” the almighty bonefish of legend and lore. Montanan fly shops do the bulk of their business in the summer months, as the world’s anglers are there, casting flies to trout in some of the world’s most storied rivers. In October, everyone packs up and heads northeast, to New York. Not the city, but the Salmon River near the small, gray, road-salted town of Pulaski. When the king salmon run, the river might resemble the Big Apple, at least in a mostly introverted fisherman’s mind, but the fish make it worth it, and angling parties from around the country exchange half-hearted nods.
Each destination has its culture—the glue that adheres the angling attraction to the rest of the world, and gives what fishermen do there context. A departure from the normal.
Western North Carolina, it turns out, is no different.
“Y’all want some fried bread with that?”
The question was stunning.
William Heresniak and I had just returned to our quiet booth from a small, dimly lit room in the back of the Boxcar Grille. It was around 9 PM, and a sign betraying a “buffet” hailed us from the darkening street, where we searched like starving wolves—or spent fishing guides—for the most food sold as a single meal.
The Brood VI cicadas, a species that spends 17 years underground before emerging in the summer to lay eggs and die in a raucous flame, were emerging to form their own massive insectan colony along the western edge of the North Carolinian piedmont. During such emergences, cicadas blanket the trees, and thousands of expiring bugs spill over into the water where they become a protein rich nutritional opportunity for all fish with a metabolism.
These emergences summon a very fickle and mighty fish to hunt with a fly rod to the surface, where they feed with relative abandon and can be caught on topwater bugs. In turn, these 20-30-pound carp attract in-the-know anglers from hundreds of miles around, keen on sight-casting to fish of such proportions. When we arrived at our preselected boat ramp along the shore of a large reservoir, several quickly recognized, trailered vehicles greeted us. It was the place to be.
We spent the day in William’s raft, adapted to still water from the moving waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, running a trolling motor along the clay banks looking for feeding fish. We found several, and hooked a few while I was manning the oars after the trolling motor died and the battery charger proved to be an empty promise. But after well over 12 hours on the water, and with not much to show for it, we were tired—and hungry.
The wait staff at the Boxcar Grille didn’t help much with the latter complaint. The buffet we found shunned in the back room after ordering Cokes and being waved in that direction was largely congealed, stale, and unrecognizable—severe downgrades of the traditional southern fare I’ve incorporated into my muscular structure throughout a southern childhood.
The offer of fried bread, of which neither of us had heard of, cracked our sunbaked shells of exhaustion and hunger, and the kind of hysterical laughter that can only result from such a combination kept us breathless till the checks were paid.
Full on God-knows-what and fried bread—which was, perhaps not surprisingly, just rolls that had been fried—we checked into a Super 8 Motel dressed with curious lodgers and the typical indiscriminate smell of smoke. But it wasn’t so bad. It’s a scene I’m used to.
Don’t want to die in a Super 8 Motel
Just because somebody’s evening didn’t go so well
I chuckled to myself when Jason Isbell’s Super 8 danced into my head, and I prepared for an early rise. This shady corner of the South was home for the community to which I proudly belong, if only briefly, and I recognized it as a place I would likely return, if only 17 years from the day, older and more grizzled, and with a stronger perception of place.