Environment Picture

How one state capitalizes on its fishing identity

(and it didn’t even make it in the Top Ten!)
North Carolina didn’t make Field and Stream’s list of the top ten fly-fishing states, but its mountainous western flank has a wealth of tumbling streams with names like Whitewater River, Raven Fork and Rough Butt Creek.

Thanks to an innovative tourism campaign launched in 2009, the lure of local trout water is helping to steady the area’s economy while guiding anglers to prime fishing holes.

The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail consists of 15 trout hotspots identified by area fishing guides and by Bobby Kilby, a local native who has caught two or more trout in 1,040 North Carolina streams and has kept such thorough notes on his aquatic exploits that the state’s wildlife division uses them as an official reference.

The trail is run by the tourism authority in Jackson County, which is home to 14 stops on the trail. Its funding comes from an occupancy tax on local lodging.

While there’s been no formal study of the trail’s economic impact, it has helped soften the blow to the county of tough economic times, said Craig Distl, a public relations representative for the county.

“We’ve seen a small uptick in our occupancy tax revenue,” Distl said. “You have to remember, this was launched during the recession. Things were really down. We could have had losses. Instead, we stayed level and even went up a little bit.”

The trail’s website—which includes a detailed description of each fishing spot—has received some 55,000 visits, and the county has received requests for a water-resistant map of the trail from all over the United States and from other countries.

“The word has definitely got out,” said Distl. “It’s been done on a limited budget, and there’s not been a lot of pomp and circumstance. But we’ve been amazed by how fly-fishing forums and blogs have spread the word.”

Distl said customers at local fly shops are clamoring for apparel bearing the trail’s design—an order the county and retailers are now working to fill. And, he added, many visitors to the trail bring their wallets to Jackson County more than once.

“We have people who want to hit all 15 stops on the trail,” he said. “They’re checking each one off, but it will take several visits.”

—By Andy McGlashen, MEC
-Andy McGlashen, MEC
RELATED TOPICS: green economy, water protection
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