Friday, August 05, 2005

Fishing an American icon

Richard Formato

Richard Formato is an avid catch-and-release fly-fisherman from Wytheville, Va. When not on the water, he operates a small business there. Formato loves to fly-fish in his native Southwest Virginia because of the great water and wonderful people. He also loves to fish the flats and shallows of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic whenever work and weather permit. He is on the Department of Conservation and Recreation's board of directors and is a trustee of the Shenandoah National Forest and Skyline Drive.

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If you do not know about the Biltmore house in Asheville, N.C., please allow me to sum it up in one word: awesome.

George Vanderbilt’s idea of a country retreat better defines the relativism of American wealth than any other edifice.

I grew up in Asheville and have been visiting the Biltmore since I was in preschool, visiting everything from the old dairy to the house, its winery and gardens.

I am still enjoying the ice cream at the Biltmore Dairy Bar, from the Biltmore Village.

I am also good friends with the Bill Cecil, the president and CEO of Biltmore.

Bill in the direct descendent of Vanderbilt, and is one of the most unassuming, down-to-earth person you will ever meet.

Like you and me, Bill lives for his family, attending school events, and videotaping his eldest son Ryan ride in mountain bike trials events.

Bill drives a Ford truck, and has done something unusual in the dynasty business.

He has transformed Biltmore into a world-wide brand symbolizing accessibility, quality, hospitality.

Taking the lead from his dad, Bill and his family have added to Biltmore by extending the experience to include the award winning Biltmore Estate Winery, a 5-star hotel that matches the splendor of the home and gardens, and he has added fly-fishing as pastime for his guests to learn or experience.

Bill Cecil totally “gets its” and knows what it takes to be in the hospitality business.

He loves his guests, and he loves sharing Biltmore with the general public.

I was able to see this first hand last week when I went fly-fishing at Biltmore.

With 8,000 acres in the prime estate, Biltmore is loaded with fine fly-fishing water.

The Swannanoa River runs along side the main entrance, and converges with the French Broad River, one of the areas premier bass streams. Its water is much like the New River's.

To ensure his guests at Biltmore have a first-class experience, Bill has engaged N.L. Wilson to be the fly-fishing concessionaire at Biltmore.

NL Wilson Fly Fishing Schools provide access to some of the most prized trout waters in Colorado, Wyoming, New Zealand, North Carolina and Vermont.

To be a concessionaire at Biltmore, you must provide the knowledge and quality that is synonymous with the Biltmore name.

Nate Pearson casts on the Lagoon with the Biltmore house in the background

My guide on Sunday was Nate Pearson, a West Virginia native, and even though in his mid-'20’s, an expert fly-fisherman and instructor.

Nate met me at the gatehouse in the program’s white, clean Land Rover labeled “Fly Fishing at Biltmore,” towing a Clackacraft drift boat.

Immediately, this trip was different than I expected.

The surprise of this trip were the secret areas of Biltmore that are now open for fly- fishing.

Deep within the estate are several ponds and lakes that were used by Biltmore for their agricultural interests.

Nate offered to drive, but with a load of rods and flies in my truck, I followed him (off road for most of it) to the Alta Vista pond on the west side of the property.

Named after the original Alta Vista Jersey dairy herd, the pond was in an area of the estate I never knew existed.

Nate and I soon broke the ice. We spent the rest of the day laughing, cutting up, and trading fishing and life stories.

Unlike some guides, and because NL Wilson’s forte is teaching, I found Nate to be one of the most personable fly-fishing guides I have ever met.

No matter whether you are self professed pro or novice who always wanted to learn, if you go to Biltmore, you will love Nate and his sense of humor, and ability to convey the simplicity of throwing fly line.

Once at the pond, I was amazed at how was remote, beautiful and unspoiled it is.

Formato with his largemouth bass caught in Alta Vista pond

Deep in Biltmore’s dominion, it made you forget you were within a stone’s throw on downtown Asheville.

Nate and I threw some big flies between rain showers and I caught a nice largemouth bass on a big white popper.

Not wanting to push our luck, and me wanting more, we then went to The Lagoon, which was built as reflecting pool for the Biltmore house.

This was one of the most stunning experiences of my life.

Alone with Nate on the drift boat, I couldn’t believe I was fly-fishing in the shadow of the largest private residence in the United States. With the mansion in the horizon, the Lagoon is surrounded by huge trees and lawns conceived by the greatest American landscaper of all time, Fredrick Law Olmstead, who in addition to Biltmore, designed Central Park.

These Biltmore fish are huge -- even the brim and sunfish we released were big and feisty, but don’t expect them to be a slam-dunk.

Nate and I tried at least five different flies before we found the right color and pattern: a black or olive strip strike streamer that we fished “almost dead” off the banks.

In addition to these two pools, guests can fish at Long Valley Lake, the winery lake on the west side which holds largemouth, crappie, and assorted pan fish.

In the fall, Nate will be hosting guest for fresh water trout trips for brookies, browns, and rainbows in the Pisgah National Forest, which has once owned by the Vanderbilt’s, and is the birthplace of American forestry.

What is essential to know about the Cecils is they have always given back as much as they have gotten.

The Cecils have sustained Biltmore by giving the public a insight into America’s gilded age, but their nature is all about preserving the lesser known aspects of Biltmore, which are as rooted in farming, agriculture and land and water preservation..

Bill’s great grandmother, Edith Vanderbilt, founded the 4-H in North Carolina, and was president of the state's agriculture association.

This legacy is one of the reasons Bill has added fly-fishing to the Biltmore experience.

True to the sport, all of Biltmore’s fish are wild, non-stocked, and on a catch-and-release basis only.

I can’t think of a better day for a fly-fisherman or someone wanting to learn than heading to Asheville to spend the day with Nate, and fly-fishing in the shadow of an American icon.

Tight Lines,


NL Wilson Fly Fishing Schools

Nate Pearson