North Carolina has a lot of trout water.
Can’t swing a dead trout around the mountains without hitting some ditch with trout in it. As much trout water as North Carolina has, the Old North State has a serious lack of floatable tail water. That’s why there is never a shortage of North Carolina plates pulling drift boats over the mountain and paying 85 bucks a year in out-of-state licenses to our not-so-volunteer-like Tennessean friends. This paradox is one that has perplexed most of my friends and I for longer than I’d care to admit. Our frustrations generally manifest themselves in drunken discourse that inevitably comes back to the evil oligarch that is Duke Energy, and their piss poor performance in managing our rivers for anything other than profit. It’s easy to cuss the power company, the state, hillbilly poachers, and a whole slew of other folks. The hard thing is to get anyone to do anything about it that involves more than agreeing on the fact that it sucks.
Well folks, the time for bitching is over, and the time to act is upon us: The Catawba River wants you. The tailwater below Lake James flows through mostly undeveloped Carolina bottomlands before making a long journey past Charlotte and into South Carolina. For years the dedicated few floated and fished the Catawba, negotiating bone dry minimum flows, unpredictable dam releases, and predictable mud releases, slaying few but far between brown trout that called the river home. It was a float that was always on my list but not high enough on that list to keep me out of Tennessee. In the late 90’s, things started to change. Members of TU, Squeak Smith, and a host of others could no longer see the potential of the Catawba wasted on misregulation and the apathy of silty landowners. Riparian zones were rebuilt, minimum flows were increased and one of the most massive brown trout stocking efforts the state has ever undertaken left the Catawba fishing and functioning better than the Old Girl had in decades. Even through all these efforts, the Catawba is not nearly as good as it should be.
The Catawba should and could be the best brown trout fishery in North Carolina if not the region. The water is cold, the habitat plentiful, and forage base adequate. Sadly, the Catawba will never become this without a little (if not a lot) of help from her friends. More riparian work has to be done to keep the river from turning to a brown mess for four days after a big rain. Duke Energy has to be browbeaten into understanding that there is a middle ground between profit and the recreational users of a natural resource that belongs to all of us. Finally, in my opinion, the State has to be pushed even further into giving at least a section of the tailwater regulations that promote healthy, holdover populations of trout that have the opportunity to grow to dragon-like proportions. None of these things will happen on autopilot. The parties involved don’t have our best interest at heart. The only way anything will change for the better is if we take our best interests to their front door…and shove it down their throats.
Yes, old retired people have more time for river cleanups, governmental hearings, and whatever else the over-60 crowd does that we all benefit from and give them no credit for. But, you can only ride the coattails of the elderly for so long…they don’t move very fast…so it’s kind of hard to get anywhere. The Catawba river sits in the Foothills of North Carolina just waiting for one of us to come by and give a shit. In the end, it comes down to, “Is it worth giving a shit to build a fishery?” I hope so….