Editor’s note: In 2016, Danielle Arceneaux, a black professional woman from Brooklyn, quit her job and moved full-time to Asheville, N.C., in part to pursue fly fishing. This is the first installment in a series of blog posts that will describe Danielle’s experience on the water in Asheville.
By Danielle Arceneaux
The road that led me to quit my job and fly fish in North Carolina that summer was as twisty as the Blue Ridge Parkway itself. But after seven cancer surgeries and radiation, multiplied with the strain of a big job in a big city, the cracks began to show.
Weary, I booked a three-day weekend to Asheville, and on a whim, I booked an outing with Richard Witt, a local guide. On the phone he explained to me that trout fishing in Asheville is an 11-month-a-year enterprise and that February was a fine time for an outing, but by the time I arrived I wasn’t so sure.
As Richard got our gear ready in the back of his GMC conversion van, I was even more uncertain. My teeth chattered in the frigid February air, and a
water temperature of 37 degrees seemed incompatible with a fun day in waders. My casting was as rusty as the old red bridge that stretched across the stream. I thought about my hotel — specifically the majestic fireplaces in the Biltmore Inn, and the hot toddy I had savored the night before. I wished I had never gotten out of bed.
“Grab my arm,” Richard said, who was more eager to get started than I was. I clutched his bent elbow, moving slowly in the water. “Walk slower,” he said. “The fish can feel the vibrations.
It is a universal truth that no matter how slow you are wading, it is never slow enough for your guide. We stopped.
“You see that dark rock over there?” he asked. “I want you to cast and try to hit that rock with your fly.”
Thankfully my casting was not as terrible as I had feared. The fly
skimmed the water’s surface. Even though the water was nearly freezing, my body unclenched as a result of being so deep in the woods. The winter sun was not warm, but its blast was purifying. The knots in my jaw smoothed out, and realignment rippled throughout my entire body.
“Now, lift the line up slowly and make a little circle in the sky with our wrist.” I complied. “What does that do?”
“It’s called a mend. Your line was dragging on the water a little. The fish can tell.”
I nodded like I understood, even though I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You see where those bubbles are?” he gestured. “And you see the stream coming in over there?” I nodded, not entirely sure what I was seeing.
“If you can find where two currents collide, that’s a sweet spot for the fish. The pressure of the water pushes the currents apart, creating a tranquil nook. If I were a fish, that’s where I’d want to be.”
I cast my line into that spot and the rod jerked downward. After playing the fish for a while under Richard’s guidance, it was time to bring him in.
“This is it,” he said “Point your rod tip towards the sky.”
The trout broke through the water, writhing, suspended in air. The harsh winter light reflected off its scales, illuminating them like a disco ball. Water trickled down its rainbow-streaked belly
“Will you look at that?” said Richard in a hushed tone. “I’d say that’s about a 15-pound rainbow trout.”Richard unzipped the front of his waders and snapped a picture of me, fish in hand and grinning like a fool.
On previous fishing outings, I had probably cast hundreds of times and had only ever caught a handful of fish. With Richard, I was successful from the start. I surrendered to the rhythms of the water. As Richard recited his instructions to me, it felt like a kind of witchcraft. I pointed my rod at the water, and made the fish rise.
We were chatty on the way back.
“How did you learn how to fly fish?” I asked. “I wish I could do this. You know, on my own.”
“A lot of time on the water. If you ever moved down here I’d be happy to teach you.
I thanked Richard for the day, and during dinner at Asheville’s famous 12 Bones restaurant, the wheels began to turn. If Richard was willing to teach me how to truly fish, should I take him up on it? No, I convinced myself, it was a stupid idea. Trout bums are college boys on summer break and free spirits, not women like me.
Certainly not black women from Brooklyn.
But as I inhaled the last of the hush puppies, I started to challenge these assumptions. Who makes these rules? After the cancer and 20 years of total
dedication to my clients, didn’t I deserve a tranquil nook like the one Richard had described? Maybe Asheville could be it.
The wheels were already in motion. Three months later I quit my job and drove in a long-term rental to immerse myself in trout and more barbecue.