100-Fish Days: Tips on Fishing Cherokee by Michael Bradley of Fly Fishing Team USA2.22.2017
A lot has happened since we last spoke to Michael Bradley, the 26-year-old Cherokee fly fishing champion. At the time, he was a hopeful finalist for the national 2016 Fly Fishing Team USA. Michael went on to make Team USA, earning medals at the National Fly Fishing Championship last summer. We caught up with Michael about his success this past year, and to find out what he has his sights set on next.
Hey, Michael! Catch us up on what’s happened for you in the last year.
The biggest thing would be the National Championship in June, in Lake Placid, New York. I finished third on the team and fifth overall for the national standings for Team USA. I’d won an event there the year before, and knew some of the water, but there were a few new pieces that I didn’t know.
The first day I won both of my sections and a lochs section. We hadn’t fished that lake before. I caught the most throughout the tournament on that venue. It was only 11 fish, but it was enough! It was a mix of brown trout and rainbow trout, and there may have been an Atlantic salmon.
When you’re not competing, what is your go-to fishing spot?
We stay local in Cherokee. Big Cove area is the best to fish. It’s got a wide variety of fishing water. It has a lot of options and appeals to all levels. The ponds have a lot of fish in them. I went out there Saturday and Sunday and fished and caught around 75 fish in three hours.
Your grandfather taught you to fish in Cherokee. How did he learn to fish?
When my grandpa was alive, it was mostly him teaching me how to fish. After he passed away, when I was 13, my Dad got into it. Now me and my dad fish two to three times a week. His Mom taught him how to fish. Growing up, about every summer we would be on the river or on the lake doing some sort of fishing, and my Grandmother would fish with my Grandpa. She was from Germany.
Who do you look up to in the fly fishing world? Do you have a mentor?
I’ve had a few mentors. Probably one of the biggest ones is Paul Bourcq. He’s from Franklin. I was aware of him when I first started and he contacted me about joining the North Carolina fly fishing team and it started from there. He pretty much shared everything that he’s got.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Right now I’m fishing 7 days a week. We do have a USA regional here in Cherokee on February 24 and 25. I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Tell me about Fly Fish Cherokee, your fly fishing guide business.
I’ve had some really good days on the water this year. Every single person I’ve taken has caught fish; I’ve not had anyone blank. I’ve had a few hundred-fish days with clients. This past year I had a few more than normal. One guy booked two days with me. The first day, we fished in Cherokee. Then we went to Tuckasegee and he caught 110. He ended up booking a third day and caught 130.
About three weeks ago, I had a younger angler, 13, and he had two 60-fish days here in Cherokee, and they were all really big fish. He caught a 22-inch rainbow on that trip and he had only been fly fishing for five or six months. I was pretty surprised.
What are your days like, as a guide?
In the wintertime we get in the water around 8:30 or 9 o'clock; in the summertime we meet around 7 a.m. I guide smaller groups so I can keep them together and maximize their time, and we go for about four hours. I don’t allow people to keep the fish. We practice catch-and-release, to preserve the quality of fish in the streams and promote growth opportunities. Fly Fish Cherokee, LLC, works with new fishermen, experienced fishermen, and clients of all ages. I've taken families on full trips to learn the basics, as well as shared some of my personal favorite spots with the pros.
What’s a tip that you can share with a beginner trying to fish Cherokee?
My tip would be to fish the general waters and not the fly fishing section. The fly fishing section gets a lot of pressure and doesn’t get as many stocked fish. The general waters get freshly stocked fish once a week, at least. You have a better chance of hooking up some fish there. They may not be as big, but it’s a good way to practice.
What’s a tip that you can share with more seasoned anglers who wants to fish Cherokee?
I would say use smaller tippet, 6x or smaller, and smaller flies. They’ve done me a lot better. We’ve got pretty clear water—crystal clear—all year. I don’t recommend fly patterns. I recommend darker colors: blacks, brown, real slim profiles.
What, in your opinion, draws people young and old to fly fishing?
I guess for the younger generation it’s the challenge, and for the older generation it would probably be the peace. I take a lot of older fishermen, and they don’t care if they catch fish or not, they just want to be out on the water. A lot of the younger people around here, they kind of take pride in the competitive side, and they learn pretty quick.
What’s next for you?
I would like to be on the World’s Team, and I feel like I have a really good chance at it. The team votes on it. After nationals they got us all together, those of us that qualified for Team USA, and we talked about ourselves. Then everyone voted and they labeled me as a backup alternate for the World’s Team. The next vote is next year, so my goal is to make the World’s Team in 2018.
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Good luck, Michael! We hope you have a great competition season and wish you all the best!
Ready to cast your line in Cherokee, NC? First you’ll need to get a permit. Then the season kicks off in full swing with Cherokee’s Annual Opening Day Fishing Tournament on March 25. For future fishing events, be sure to check out our events calendar. Happy fishing!