Week 25. Josh Garris: Curtis Wright Outfitters
At the peak of the last Ice Age, glaciers pushed an Arctic climate way down into what is now the southern USA. We can only imagine polar bears and wooly mammoths scouring the region, but we do know for sure that Arctic char were there. As the glaciers retreated, the char were stranded in alpine lakes, and as those drained, they eventually sought refuge in the cool mountain streams of the southern Appalachians. Those Arctic char eventually evolved into the brook trout that we know today.
Brookies been holding strong in the southern Appalachian highlands for thousands of years, but they have some company now too, with rainbows and browns in the lower streams, and smallmouth and rock bass in the bigger rivers. In one day, you could hit a handful of different micro-climates and catch all of these fish.
The guides at Curtis Wright Outfitters have all of these waters covered, from float trips on the region’s rivers to wading trips in the mountains. Some of the brookie streams are so isolated that there's scientific evidence that a distinct species of brook trout have evolved that can only be found in remote southern Appalachian streams. Curtis Wright head guide Josh Garris knows where to find them.
Below are my questions in bold, followed by his answers.
What are your home waters/terrain? How is it unique from some other areas in the Appalachians?
The mountains of North Carolina are my stomping grounds. I’m based out of the Asheville and
guide and fish on most of the water within an hour and a half of Asheville. We have a ton of water to fish with thousands of miles of trout water in North Carolina alone — all kinds of water — and we never have a closed fishing season, which means we always have opportunities to fish. We also have four distinct seasons allowing a wide variety of food sources for the fish, and some absolutely, gorgeous backdrops.
What are the various species you target? Is it mostly brookies and smallies, or a broader range? How are the ideal conditions different for each?
We have brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout, brookies being our only native salmonid species. The others were introduced after settlers came in and started logging our area. At this point the water was too warm for the brook trout, which forced them up in the mountains.
Nowadays, the native brook trout can found above 4500’ in elevation. Of course the brook trout is they are not actually a trout. They really belong in the char family. All trout and char thrive in cold clean water, and are best chased in the cooler months.
Our lower level rivers and main drainages will also offer smallmouth and rock bass in good numbers.
I've read a bit about the southern Appalachian brook trout and how it's different than northern strains? Are those still around and discernible?
They are still around, but depending who you talk to, they are not necessarily discernible by looking at them. My understanding is that it takes a DNA test to be sure. The southern tend to have brighter colors, and the northern can get bigger.
What are your core seasons? What are some of the season cues you look for heading into the spring season and hatches, and also fall season?
Our spring will usually start in early March but can make early appearances in February. We will have hatches that come off all winter long including Blue Winged Olives and little Black Stoneflies.
Our larger insects, will start to show up once we start to get consistent warmer daytime
temperatures. Water temps are the real que, but daytime temps are one of the biggest factors. Blue Quill are usually first to the show, followed quickly by Quill Gordons and it will carry on from there.
The most anticipated and sought after hatch is the Green Drake hatch that happens
in middle May to early June depending on spring time temperatures. They are the Largest Mayfly that hatches off in our area. They can reach up to 3-4” including tails.
Around the middle to end of August, the owner and myself, with the help of Park’s Fly Shop in Gardiner MT will host a group (usually 14 people) for a trip to Yellowstone National Park. We spend a week there and then I will spend another week in another part of Montana fishing with friends. I have been doing this for 14 years. I will return in the beginning of September and have about a month until things start rolling with our fall
I will also manage to sneak in at least a few days a year to get out and fish with my dad
and kids also. We all have busy schedules, but wouldn’t miss those times for anything.
Fall will bring the largest of our caddis species which is the October Caddis. A bright orange to amber colored insect that seems to remind fish that cooler temperatures are on their way, and food will be less abundant. Fish will feed heavily on this insect in preparation for winter.
Winter I’ll take advantage of the downtime (usually 2 months) with fishing for myself, or tying for the upcoming season. After doing this for many years, I have nailed down at least a dozen patterns that I will use day in and day out. I try to get ahead on tying several dozens of each of these patterns. I will also use this time to get in some family get adventures, that will usually not include fishing.
If you only had to use three flies, what would they be?
If I only had three flies, the first would be a wooly bugger. It imitates so many food sources for so many kinds of fish. The second would be a golden stone fly nymph -- probably in the top 3 of numbers found in our area, and most of North America. The final fly for me would be a floating beetle.
I saw that you volunteer with a number of non-profits too -- could you tell me a little bit about that work and their missions?
I have been very lucky in finding nonprofit organizations that benefit from my expertise and
passion. One of the major ones I work with is Casting Carolinas, which provides various retreats to women who are in various stages of breast cancer recovery. A normal retreat will consist of an all women staff conducting a weekend getaway in the mountains of North Carolina and will consist of learning about the sport and various ways the ladies can use fly fishing as a recovery tool in their journey. On the last day of the retreat, locals will come in and work with the ladies one on one while standing the river chasing our finned friends. The time on the water for some, is the most therapeutic event they have had since their diagnosis.
Rivercourse is another event that I always make time on my calendar for. This is an overnight fly fishing camp for boys and girls ages 13-15. The kids will explore various avenues of fly fishing and many connected subjects. Some included are species identification, entomology (study of the insects), riparian buffer zones, and how the fish are involved in the circle of life. The kids during all this learning manage to sneak in some fishing twice a day with local volunteers willing to share their time, knowledge, and passion for our sport. Many of the kids in attendance with make their fishing debut at the camp and a lifetimeof passion and conservation can be passed on through a few hours of working with these kids.