100-Fish Days: Tips on Fishing Cherokee by Michael Bradley of Fly Fishing Team USA2.27.2019
Note: The following interview was conducted in 2017 and has been updated.
Michael Bradley is a Cherokee fly fishing champion and Fly Fishing Team USA member who has won numberous fly-fishing events around the East Coast. His business, Fly Fish Cherokee, was formed with the intent of giving avid and new fishermen the opportunity to have the best experiences on the local waters.
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.
Tell me about Fly Fish Cherokee, your fly fishing guide business.
I’ve had some really good days on the water. 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. 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.
Another, younger angler, 13, comes to mind. 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.
# # #
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 held on March 30th through Sunday, March 31st. See the full 2019 Cherokee fishing tournament lineup.Happy fishing!