When it snows in the mountains of North Carolina, things shut down.
All the way down. As soon as there are reports of flakes falling from the sky, people leave work, schools close and milk sandwiches suddenly dominate the menu of every mountain household. Yes, milk sandwiches. To the rest of America, the milk sandwich is a virtually unknown dish, but to the hearty souls who endure the harsh winters of Western North Carolina, it is the food of survival. When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, it will be the milk sandwich that keeps the last of humanity bravely fighting the undead. The need of WNC residents to procure the makings of the milk sandwich can be witnessed at any grocery store as soon as snow is forecast.
Old cat ladies can be seen with a gallon of milk in each hand rushing for the express lane.
Old cat ladies can be seen with a gallon of milk in each hand rushing for the express lane. The bread aisles become scenes from The Day After as distraught shoppers squabble over the last loaves of Wonderbread. Shopping carts are left to roll into the icy streets as store patrons quickly rush back in the door to stand in line for the Red Box, only to find that all the copies of The Best of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour have been rented. It is during this time, The Milk Sandwich Time, that true locals venture out to explore the Davidson River.
The Davidson River is listed as one of North America’s top 100 trout streams by Trout Unlimited. It is this prestigious designation that causes the river to be crowded, fickle and undesirable to most local anglers. Summer’s warmth brings with it an onslaught of tourists escaping the sweltering hell found in the states to the south. By Memorial Day, luxury SUVs fill every possible pull-out along the river and sunlight is virtually blocked from reaching the water’s surface by a canopy of Tilley hats, fedoras and straw gardening bonnets. As long as the air temperature remains over 50 degrees, anglers stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the low, clear water trying to convince themselves that they enjoy fishing as much as playing a round of golf. Winter, however, is a different story. As the flakes fly and the milk sandwich cry goes out across the land, the Davidson becomes an empty playground. The tourists have long since left the comfort of their 25,000 square-foot luxury cabins and returned to the land of the box people. The opinionated gentlemen who can be observed fishing the same 20 feet of water all summer long, are caught up in the aforementioned bread aisles trying to fill the pantry before inches of snow pile up on the roads. Even the elite anglers of the Davidson River Social Club disappear from the hatchery parking lot, possibly fearing the icy weather could damage the official wooden license plates attached to their front bumpers.
Winter fishing on the Davidson is not for the faint of heart. The water is typically high, cold and clear, making deep presentations a necessity. Leaders of 12 feet in length ending in 6x fluoro are standard, and fishing a rod shorter than 8’6” is asking for an impossible day. Winter flies should match hatches found on the Davidson. The most commonly fished hatch is the pellet hatch that occurs near the fish hatchery. On a normal day, anglers typically post up in lawn chairs until the hatchery tanks are flushed and the hatch begins to make its way down the river. On a snowy day, the doctor’s office-style waiting is non-existent, and the hatch can be enjoyed by a single group of anglers from the time it leaves the pipes until it disappears into Horse Cove. Other hatches, such as the tube hatch, don’t occur in winter months allowing anglers to carry a more basic selection of flies.
The harsh conditions faced while fishing the Davidson during winter storms create a need for careful planning and specialized gear to make the day comfortable. The river can be fished in winter with a standard fishing kit, but being unprepared can spell disaster when nature unleashes her chilly wrath. When preparing for a trip to the “D”, remember these four words: transportation, acclimatization, floatation and libation. Transportation means that you don’t drive a two-wheel drive SUV or a rear wheel drive truck into the Pisgah National Forest in a snowstorm. While all the “look at me” girls outside the sports bar might think you drive a burly vehicle, a trip up Highway 276 in a driving snowstorm will soon prove that looking cool doesn’t get you very far outside the Charlotte Metro area. Acclimatization is something that most fly anglers should do regardless of whether or not they are going to fish in winter. The concept here is that it sucks to fish with lots of clothes on and that the less you can wear, the better. To properly prepare your body for winter fishing, wait for a cold night and proceed as follows. First, put on cotton underwear and a t-shirt. Then, take a cold shower.
Without fully drying off, grab a Rubik’s cube and head out on the deck and find a chair. Sit on the deck and attempt the to solve the cube until you are shaking too badly to hold it. Finally, come on back inside and take a warm shower.
After several weeks of this routine you will have both readied your body for cold weather fishing and hopefully solved a Rubik’s cube. Floatation refers to the need for good indicators to handle the massive amounts of split shot you will be fishing in front of your egg patterns. Last, but not least, libation is the need for warming beverages on the river. Hot coffee or tea in a Thermos never tastes as good as it does when you can’t feel your digits. Adult beverages are also a good call. Just make sure you aren’t behind the wheel on the drive home.
This winter, when you see that the upcoming weather forecast is sponsored by the local grocery store, don’t panic and rush to the dairy case. Grab your rod, layer up and head on over to the Davidson for a frosty adventure. Even if the fish aren’t cooperating, you will find more to sustain your soul by watching the snow falling softly on the water than you will between two slices of enriched white bread taking a lactose bath.
Essential Gear for Davidson River winter fishing:
- 4×4 or All Wheel Drive Vehicle
- Warm Hat
- Hand Warmers
- Polarized Glasses with yellow lenses
- Pellet Flies
- Egg Patterns
- Crazy Streamers
- Carrot (for impromptu snowman building)