Anglers from throughout the country strapped on waders and made their way to the 3 River Fly Fishing Festival in late April that has raised money for the Town of Highlands Scholarship Fund for the past nine years. This year fishermen pulled in double the record amount ever raised during the event with $18,500.
Austin Lowry came up from Atlanta with family for the tournament. He has fished the Cullasaja River several times, but it was his first time on the Upper Nantahala during day one of the tournament. He said there was some activity mid-morning, even loosing a fly on a bite.
“I’ve had a couple bites so far, one broke my line,” said Lowry. “But there’s some big-time activity here so I’m thinking this is my spot for the rest of the day.”
He added he was a bit challenging on the first day because of high water and wind.
“It’s going a bit slow but it’s a gorgeous day and we’re fishing for a good cause, how can you beat that,” he said.
Fisher Druffel and Noah Pressler, both of Cashiers, won the contest last year and both guided team’s in this year’s tournament. Druffel said things were crowded on day 2 but his team ended up pulling in the biggest fish. On the flipside, Pressler’s team ended up winning the award for smallest fish caught (not the only one they caught, but noteworthy).
“Conditions were high and a little dirty, but our clients were able to get it done,” said Pressler. “We had great weather despite the water levels all week. Always a blast participating in this event. It’s such a diverse place as far as places to fish between different types of streams and lakes.”
The tournament first began in 2011 when avid fishermen Eric Nesmith, David Wilkes, and Steve Perry saw an active local and destination-interest in fly fishing, said Hilary Wilkes, owner of the Highland Hiker and one of the sponsors of the event. She added there were a record of 20 teams competing this year and they surpassed the goal of raising $15,000.
“We have grown exponentially over the last few years and have already raised record funds this year,” said Wilkes the day the tournament began. “We are almost to our goal of $15,000 and may get closer to $20K after the auction on Saturday night.”
Grand prize goes to the angler who catches the most number of fish, and competitors must catch at least one fish out of three different types of streams; including hatchery-supported, delayed harvest, and native. Fishermen must stay within the contest boundaries that include the Chattooga, Cullasaja, and Nantahala Rivers.
Perry said despite the cold and wind, 236 fish were caught over the two-day period, and 2501” were caught in total (an average of 10.6 inches per fish).
The unguided team winner was Team Catamount, from the Western Carolina University Fly Fishing Club, TJ Easterling and Chris Maser who caught 69 fish in two days, with total inches at 739”. Their largest fish was a 17” Rainbow Trout.
The guided team winner was the Pauley Lyle Team, Robert and Randy, with a total of 28 fish, total inches was 315”.
The biggest fish caught and recorded was Henry Akopov’s 19” rainbow trout. It was Akopov’s first time fly fishing. The smallest fish caught was a 3.5” unidentified species by Jake Upshaw. He also caught the prettiest fish, a 15” brown trout.
The ugliest fish caught was a carp by Brad Armstrong.