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Casting Carolinas Gives Cancer Survivors Hope


It’s everywhere. And it affects everyone.

In 2018, 1.7 million Americans will contract some form of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 600,000 will die from it.

“Cancer is evil,” TFO advisor Wanda Taylor said. “We detest it.”

Science can help prevent cancer. Compassion can help those who are fortunate enough to survive it.

It’s the main reason Taylor helped start Casting Carolinas, an organization in North and South Carolina that helps women’s cancer survivors cope. Taylor and other anglers gathered in the Western North Carolina Mountains last weekend to host the Tie-One-On Challenge, a fly-fishing team tournament and CC fund-raiser. Also on hand at the Cherokee, N.C. affair was Starr Nolan, CC’s executive director, who was assisted by a slew of volunteers, who braved high water and a wave of cold rain to pitch in during the two-day event.

“My father died from lung cancer,” Taylor said. “Starr had a close friend die from cancer. We wanted a way to fight back. This is our way to fight back. When you find out you have cancer, your world stops. We wanted a way to stop that. That’s basically it. It’s not just one cancer. We have 17 different kinds on our retreats. When it all comes together, it’s like a posse. Everyone says, ‘thanks for giving your time. You’re so patient.’ They have no idea how much it helps us. It helps me to know my dad didn’t die in vain. There are people out there surviving. Each year we have earlier detection. That’s key for the healing of cancer.”

Nolan and Taylor were both involved in Casting for Recovery, a non profit that provides fly-fishing therapy for breast cancer survivors, but decided several years ago to start Casting Carolinas, which is independent of any national oversight and welcomes women who have faced all forms of cancer.

“We wanted every dime donated, every dollar, every hundred-thousand dollars donated to stay in state,” Taylor said.

The goal of Casting Carolinas is to provide education and support for women who have survived cancer. Part of the weekend retreats is fly fishing. Taylor, a member of Southern Appalachians Fly Fishing Hall of Fame, has served as one of the instructors.

“You can’t think about anything else when you’re fly fishing,” Taylor said. “When you’re casting toward fish, your world is focused on that. You can’t think about chemo. You can’t think about dying or radiation. The brain needs a vacation, a huge vacation. They’re so giddy, whether they hook a fish or not, just from being in the water, they’re so refreshed. When they come in, they’re so beaten down. When they leave, they’re so refreshed. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Nolan stressed that CC’s mission is much more than fly fishing, but nevertheless its impact is undeniable, particularly when it comes to creating confidence.

“They get to the end of the retreat and it’s like, ‘Wow. Success,’ which is a big rush,” Nolan said. “Part of healing from anything is having successful experiences, maybe doing something that you never thought you could do.”

Taylor has assisted with cancer-survival retreats since the early 2000s. She sees no reason to curb her commitment.

“For me, it’s a passion I have bringing other people into the sport of fly fishing,” she said. “I love fly fishing. I dream of fly fishing. I just think I get a joy of bringing new people into the sport. What we teach our staff is, this is never about you. It’s always about someone else. In any volunteer organization, that’s the bottom line. If you’re doing it for any other reason, for fame, for notoriety, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

And CC would not have thrived without Taylor’s expertise and enthusiasm.

“Her heart is in it,” Nolan said. “That’s what moves non-profit organizations along is having people who are so devoted in terms of understanding the vision from a heart place. That’s been Wanda all along. She’s always been there. She’s always been there and supportive, available and part of the vision. We could not replace her.”

Every non profit needs resources, and TFO, through Taylor, has donated rods and reels for retreat participants to use. Taylor and other TFO advisors developed several series of rods as a tribute to various charitable organizations, including Casting for Recovery, Project Healing Waters and Reel Recovery.

“People have such big hearts,” Taylor said. “(TFO) loves creating new anglers, whether they’re missing their arm or leg or part of a breast. If they have a passion for it, (TFO) will find a way to help.”

Thoughts on Casting Carolinas or other fly-fishing related charities? Feel free to chime in on one of TFO’s social media pages.

Tactics for Stubborn Summer Trout

Summer traditionally is a time to enjoy the outdoors. Anglers enjoy the longer days. Trout? Not so much.

Of course, this scenario depends on geography. Western trout thrive; southeastern and mid-atlantic trout struggle with summer’s swelter.

But this is not to say that non-western fishermen should hang up their waders in August. Quite the contrary. There are fishing opportunities; you just have to know when and where to go.

Here are a few pointers.

Go Early

Set your alarm clock. Try to be on the water at sunrise — or shortly thereafter. As the air temperature rises, so does the water temperature. Mornings are cooler than afternoons.

When the water temps hit 70 degrees, trout become lethargic and feed very little. I try to shut down my fishing by 10, 10:30 a.m., sometimes earlier, if it’s warmer than usual.

Hoof It

Lower-level streams tend to be warmer. If you want to find cooler water, find streams at the highest elevations possible. That might mean hiking a couple miles. The key is to find water with temperatures consistently in the 60s.

Once there, fish the shade. Trout like cover from aerial predators. Plus, they can feed on the terrestrials — ants, beetles and grasshoppers — that fall into the stream.

Fish the Foam

When I first started mountain trout fishing, I fished the slower water that formed the tail of the pools. I simply assumed trout would have to work far too hard in the faster water. Generally, that’s true. However, in the summer, trout seek the oxygen of the riffles. It’s not uncommon to see them stack up in these spots to find comfort.

Go Subsurface

I started out as a diehard, damned-the-torpedoes dry-fly snob. That rigid approach softened after enduring many fishless days one summer.

Insect activity slows to a crawl after spring ends. Add in the fact that fish want to stay cool, and you can understand the need to nymph fish. This can be as simple as indicator fishing or you can take it a step further with euro-nymphing. TFO’s Drift rod is perfect for this tactic.

Find a Tailwater

Tailwater fisheries are known for keeping the water at a cold, consistent temperature year round. When the natural streams are too warm to fish, you can usually find a tailwater with water temperatures in the 50s. The hatches are usually consistent and productive, and the fish are usually willing to eat. The only downside to tailwaters are the releases. The Nantahala, near where I live in Western N.C., is controlled by Duke Energy, which tailors the releases to the rafting companies that use the river. The water usually runs high during the day, but is more suitable for wading early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Check with your local electric company for a release schedule before planning a trip. And if you do get caught during generation, seek the safety of the shoreline. Better safe than sorry.

If you don’t have access to a tailwater, find a spring creek, which offers ground-fed cold water year round. Virginia’s Mossy Creek and Montana’s DePuy Spring Creek, for instance, are known for their year-round prowess.


Summer fishing can be rewarding if you plan properly. Any other suggestions? Let us know on one of our social media pages.


How to Fly Fish for Trout on Small Streams

When I first learned to fly fish, I was, in retrospect, too stupid to know better.  I remember thrashing about in the brush on a technical spring creek. I was fishing a hopper, but in reality, my fly was on land more than water, as I tried to figure out how to get the line and leader from point A to point B where the fish were, at least where I thought they were.

I assumed the fish were in the middle of the stream. They were under the banks.  It took me a good six months to figure out that nugget of information.

I started fly fishing on Virginia’s Mossy Creek because I thought that venue was my only option, which led to months of futility and frustration. Fortunately, a more experienced fisherman pointed me toward the local mountain streams. That water was my best teacher.

If Mossy Creek was akin to calculus, the traditional small streams of the Blue Ridge Mountains were Algebra I. After a season or two on the smaller water, I was ready for calculus.

Here’s a few things that I learned along the way.

Dry-fly fishing is Rare

When I started out with the long rod, I was a dry-fly snob. I probably watched too many Saturday-morning ESPN outdoors shows with massive caddis hatches. The reality is nymph fishing is the most consistent way to catch trout. Once I put my ego aside and learned how to high-stick nymph fish, the more I caught fish. Was it pretty? No. Was it effective? Yes.

For a primer on nymph fishing, check out TFO advisor Jason Randall‘s post on how to fish subsurface.

However, if there’s a hatch, bring your dry-fly box. If not, reach for a subsurface fly. You will catch more fish and you’ll consider it a religious experience when the Green Drake hatch arrives.

Fish the Foam

I used to only fish the tail of a pool. Typically, the tail yields a big fish or two. But I struggled as the water levels dropped and the water temperatures increased. Why? Because fish need oxygen, and faster water creates oxygen.

And even in cooler weather, fish still hold in the faster water, if there’s quality subsurface structure. The good thing about probing the riffles is the fish have to make a decision whether to eat quickly. They don’t have time to be picky.

It’s a Matter of Geometry

I remember wading as little as possible at first because I feared spooking fish, so I stayed on the bank. Although this approach is doable, my casting angles were limited.

Eventually I learned to fish from the middle of the stream. My strategy: Use the fast water as cover, stand in the middle and reposition incrementally to get the straight-on presentation, where the line, leader and fly were in the same current drifting downstream.

To avoid spooking fish, I didn’t wade up and down the stream. I picked my spots ahead of time and traveled from spot to spot on land. This is key: Once you’ve mined an area, get out of the water and walk away from the bank. Stay away from the edges, because fish can hear footsteps, even if you’re on dry ground.

Shorter is Not Better

Like many new anglers, I spent a lot of time getting hung up in the streamside brush. To correct that, I built a smaller rod — a 6-footer that I was immensely proud of. However, I essentially traded one problem for another. I stayed out of the trees, but I had trouble with drag, because I couldn’t keep enough line off the water.

I went back to my longer rod, a custom-made nine-footer. To stay out of the trees, I choked up and moved my casting hand up and down the butt section, using shorter lever for tight casts and a longer lever for line control.

TFO’s Drift rod is a good option. At 9 feet, it’s long enough and doesn’t require much line to load and cast, which allows you to efficiently punch out short presentations, the norm for high-stick nymphing.

Carry a Stream Thermometer

Before I started fishing seriously, I used to attribute success to sheer luck. Although there are a number of factors that determine whether you catch fish, a primary component of success is a water temperature. There are no absolutes in fishing, but once the water temperature hits 70 degrees in a mountain stream during the heat of summer, trout become lethargic and the chances of catching one drops dramatically.

The Long Road to Success

As I reflect upon nearly 30 years in fly fishing, I remember that I almost quit the sport after my first few months. Thank goodness I had someone help me navigate the learning curve.

Even with assistance, take these tips one at a time. Do not try to implement all of them at once. Be patient. With time, everything will come together, and consistent success will be that much more rewarding.

Spin or Fly: It’s Time to Think Outside the Box

I have a confession to make: I bought my first spinning rod and reel in more than 20 years.

I admit it. I’m a diehard fly-only, fly fisherman. I grew with the old closed face, Zebco reels, but once I got the long rod in my hand, I never wanted to let it go.

Was I stubborn? Maybe. The truth is I fell in love with making a rod bend and forming a loop.

However, my passion for fly casting recently ran smack into a dose of reality. Traditionally, I’ve fished the Florida salt — in Tampa, Jupiter, St. Augustine, but recently switched to freshwater when I moved inland —- to the banks of the Santa Fe River in North Florida.

My river house has a platform on the water that backs up to a treeline. There’s no floating dock and no way to cast a fly. If I wanted to fish in my backyard, spinning gear was the only way to go. Passion yielded to pragmatism and I bought a spinning outfit and a batch of Rooster Tail spinners from the local True Value hardware store, a development that led to the idea for this blog post: What can gear fishermen learn from fly fishermen and vice versa?

I called upon Collins Illich, Vice President/Bass Category Manager of TFO, for a bit of insight on how fly and gear anglers can learn from each type of fishing. Collins is a former fly shop owner and fly fishing guide. He also fishes with traditional gear. Below are a few excerpts of our conversation.

TFO: What can gear fishermen learn from fly fishermen?

CI: “The number one thing fly fishermen have that gear fishermen are trying to do. … There’s a whole category of gear fishing that’s called finesse fishing. No matter how finesse you get with a baitcaster or a spinning reel, you are never going to be as finesse as you are with a fly rod. Fly fishermen represent the ultimate in finesse fishing. Associated with finesse fishing, I would talk about precision. Gear fishermen in the bass category, they’re going to cover a lot of water quickly. They make a lot of casts. Fly fishermen are much more precise, more methodical traditionally. One thing that I try to visualize when I’m trying to get guys to cross over is if I’m fishing a specific piece of water, but I only care about the first three feet of the retrieve, if I fish with a fly rod, I can cast, make the first few feet of the retrieve and cast again. You can’t do that with a baitcasting rod. The methodical nature of fly fishing is a good lesson. The finesse of fly fishing is a good lesson for the gear fisherman. You’re seeing a lot of techniques in the gear side adapted from the fly side. You’re seeing bass fishermen use bucktail jigs.”

 TFO: Is it realistic to expect the gear fishermen to acquire the finesse without the fly rod and fly?

CI: “It’s how you use a rod, how you use a bait. They’re all realistic. Studying other fishermen is going to make you a better fisherman. There’s an expression Rick Pope uses here at TFO: A master mechanic has more than just a crescent wrench in his toolbox. You can literally take a rabbit strip fly — rabbit strip is one of the most effective materials in terms of enticing a fish to bite —- you can take that instead of a soft plastic and drop shot it on 6-pound mono or 6-pound fluoro and catch fish that you would have never caught (before), heavily pressured fish.

TFO: I know (pro bass fisherman) Shaw Grigbsy is a big fly fisherman:

CI: “Best sight fisherman in the world.”

TFO: I heard Roland Martin is a big fly fisherman as well.

CI: “I’ve fished with Roland Martin. That’s cool. It doesn’t surprise me that Shaw Grigsby is a fly fisherman. As you slow down and as you get more precise with you casts, you’re going to become a better fly fisherman. No one questions whether Shaw Grigsby is the best sight fisherman among the elites.”

TFO: Now for the second half of the equation: What can fly anglers learn from gear fishermen?

CI: “The first and most effective thing is to fish deep. The number one limitation that people complain about in fly fishing outside of the wind is fishing deep. Seeing how a gear fisherman positions himself and studies the water and uses various columns and how he uses electronics, you don’t see a fly-fishing guide with $3,000 graph on their boat very often. There’s a reason the gear fisherman has that; he’s looking at water; he’s looking at water temperature; he’s looking at structure. He’s looking at ways to present a bait in 30 feet of water, in 20 feet of water, in 12 feet of water that the fly fisherman would have never even tried without watching a gear fisherman do it.

“The other thing would be (to speed up) and it’s the inverse of teaching a gear fisherman to slow down. Well, a gear fisherman can teach a fly fisherman to how to speed things up. If you fish a bait efficiently, you can fish it very, very quickly, especially if you’re skipping spots. Learn where the fish are. Don’t fish the open water. Fish the water with the fish in it. Both can teach efficiency, but on a different spectrum. One faster. One is slower.

“I would talk less about teaching it and more about enjoying it. If I’m a fly fisherman fishing Toledo Bend with a fly rod, I’m enjoying it. I’ve got a three-day trip. This is awesome. Then day three, it’s raining and the temperature’s dropped 10 degrees overnight and we’re blowing 30 miles an hour, and I don’t know how to gear fish, I’m not going to be able to fish effectively. Learning how to broaden your scope will make you a better fisherman, let you fish in more conditions and let you enjoy more of it.”