Celebrating a dream come true in North Carolina

There was abundant sunshine, bluegrass, barbeque and 300 fly fishing enthusiasts that gathered to celebrate the grand opening of one of the nicest fly shops you’ll ever see—and the only one I’ve ever seen with a built-in bar—the new Brookings Fly Shop in Cashiers, N.C.

If you’re reading this, then you are probably one of those fortunate souls touched by the sport of fly fishing, and you know a great fly shop when you see one. Brookings is certainly that, but it’s also more. 

When 300 fly fishers show up to celebrate your grand opening on an even grander spring day when the trout are rising in local streams, you have built more than a fly shop – you’ve built a community. When asked how many of the 300-plus attendees he knows personally, Brookings owner Matt Canter said, “Every one of them.”

More than just a fly shop

As a hub for the fly fishing community in western North Carolina, Brookings has been a catalyst for conservation initiatives in the area. Several years ago, Canter and business partner Stephen Zoukis organized a fundraising event that enabled Trout Unlimited to add staff in the area. That led to an ambitious community science initiative to gather data on watershed impairments, followed by grant proposals that have brought in $1.4 million in grants to reconnect trout habitat and improve water quality by completing two culvert replacements, 19 streambank stabilizations, removal of 12 obsolete culverts and road decommissioning. 

The focus of this work is a TU Priority Water area known as Sky Island. It is home to the remarkable high elevation headwaters for Cathey’s Creek and the North Fork French Broad, Cullasaja, Tuckasegee, Pigeon, Mills and Davidson rivers—some of the healthiest native and wild trout populations in the region.

This area features vast tracts of contiguous high-quality habitat, with much of the land under Forest Service management. At their grand opening event, Canter and Zoukis generously shifted the spotlight to Trout Unlimited and the Sky Island conservation initiative, raffling off a dizzying amount of fishing gear to benefit local conservation work.

While holding the jumbo scissors at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Zoukis told the story of when he first met Canter. Zoukis was looking for someone to manage the business, and in his interview, Canter described his dream of one day owning a fly shop. That dream was achieved long before Saturday’s event, and yet the opening of the spectacular new shop had a celebratory atmosphere befitting the decades of hard work it took to get there. Who doesn’t love the story of a person achieving their lifelong dream?

What the future holds

And while we’re dreaming, the sight of hundreds of people coming together based on a shared love of fly fishing and supporting TU’s Sky Island conservation work can make a person dream about the future health of the area’s trout streams. There is a lot of work to do – flow improvements at tailwater dams, culvert replacements, sediment remediation and more – but with partners like Brookings Fly Shop helping to lead the way, dreams can come true.