Fly fishing has been an angling technique for hundreds of years. Like many activities with this lengthy of a history, time has refined and perfected the techniques into a nuanced recreational sport. Fishing was originally a favorite leisure activity of the wealthy and elite and became widely popularized in the mid to late 19th century with the rise of affordable transportation that could ferry weekend fishing enthusiasts to locations conducive to fishing, unlike where they lived. Prior to that time, lack of access to private land and rivers was part of the barrier for the less wealthy.
The hobby exploded in popularity at this time, as evidenced by the numerous books on fly fishing that were published. The novice could now learn the principles of fly fishing on their own, instead of relying on knowing an expert and having knowledge passed on to them. The sport became even more widely accessible, dovetailing with the rise of outdoor recreation and tourism as new, best locales for catching fish could be sought out by the adventurous based on the published documentation of others.
This photograph of fishing in the Davidson River is dated 1905. Identified people include brothers Richard Gantt Paine and Porteus Russell Paine. These photos are part of a small album documenting when the Charleston-based brothers came to visit Transylvania County and stayed with the William Hix Allison family. It appears that the Paines were guests at Allison’s Deer Park Estate, which was in the general location of where Straus Park is located now. W.H. Allison was known to host well-heeled clientele at his country estate, and these photos appear to be part of guided adventures conducted by one or more of the Allisons.
The Paines fishing expedition on the Davidson River was prior to the formation of Pisgah National Forest in 1916. It is unclear which part of the Davidson they’re fishing on, but it’s likely that it was part of the Allison family lands during the time of the Paines’ visit. A landscape photo that is part of the collection indicates that the image is of “Allison Davidson River,” providing further evidence for that theory.
The photograph of the Paine brothers fishing expedition gives a glimpse into a moment in history when outdoor tourism was on the rise and was drawing visitors to Transylvania County. This and other images are part of a fly fishing display that has been newly added to the Roberts Gallery space on the second floor of the Transylvania County Library. Modern fly fishing equipment, books, and images all celebrate the art of fly fishing and fly tying. Special thanks to Kevin Howell of Davidson River Outfitters for the loan of some displayed items.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.