Fishing the reservation is a shock to every sense. The only place where things might be bigger than in Texas is Cherokee—from the size of the fish in the pay-to-play trophy water, to the size of the casino buffet. Often written off by local fly flingers and eschewed as too crowded, too poached and too expensive, it’s the type of place where you’re going to see a lot more out-of-town plates than local ones in the turnouts. I am here to contend, however, that much like a loveable transvestite, Cherokee is simply misunderstood. If you go over the mountain and expect to catch steelhead every time you cast on a stream that is devoid off jackasses, well, you’re in for some disappointment. But, if you go to Cherokee looking at the big picture with an open mind and a loose sense of political correctness, well now we have some room to have some fun. With my patented three-prong approach of fishing, perusing the local shops for the finest in tourist apparel and a trip to the casino, a day of fun on the reservation is not only possible… it’s guaranteed.
Cherokee is the most heavily stocked piece of land in the Southeast. The general waters are stocked every week and the fly fishing-only waters are stocked based on an abstract equation, with holidays and pre-fly tournaments being the only constants. If you fish the general waters, it’s not so much about finding the fish (they’re everywhere), as it is finding a place where you won’t be beat about the head and chest by night crawlers. The fly fish-only water is an entire different beast altogether. I’ve had days where I netted nine over 20 in the first three hours I was there. I’ve had days where I could not be convinced that there was a trout in the river, and I’ve also had days where I waited all day on a hole only to have an obese shirtless Native American man decide to porpoise Shamu-like through my water after my second cast. It’s a crapshoot most days. My only advice is to go when the weather is bad and the water is high—big fish eat big flies on high water, if you know what I mean.
Now this where I lose a lot of you, but please give me a chance to explain. Once you’ve caught some pellet pigs, the novelty tends to wear off. Once you’ve had your fill of the water, you really owe it to yourself to see what the Cherokee’s fine purveyors of schlock have going on. Where else can you walk into a single shop and get yourself and your fishing buddy a “BFF” airbrushed t-shirt, a Budweiser bikini for the wife, and a velvet portrait of a bear eating a fish in front of a rainbow? Cherokee, my friends, that’s where. And there are at least a million of those shops within a four-block radius. On my trip, the deals of the day were personalized sheriff’s badges, coonskin caps and serapes. I was looking for a sombrero, but no dice. Still, I think I came out way ahead.
After a long day of fishing and spending money on oddities of the retail world, I like to end my day at the casino. Yes, one of the benefits of spending your time fishing on reservations is that they often have a casino conveniently close to the river for all of the dark pleasures the river can’t provide. Now I have friends that walk onto the casino floor and disappear amongst a cloud of good intentions and bad judgment, never to be heard from again. Me, I head straight for the buffet. It is the only game where the house always loses when I play. Now don’t get suckered into loading up on carbs. What you’re looking for after spending $25 per person is protein. My simple rule is pasta station, bad; carving station, good; peel-and-eat shrimp, at your own risk. Once I have satiated myself on food from every corner of the globe, that’s when I finally hit the casino floor with a good prime rib-stuffed head on my shoulders. Take a turn yankin’ on the one-arm bandit or waddle up to a blackjack table. Really, it’s pick your poison here, folks.
I realize we have strayed a little from the strictly fishing side of things here, but sometimes fishing to stocked fish just isn’t enough to satisfy an adventurous sole. So, by following this simple plan you can turn what you tell your wife is a fishing trip into so, so much more.