Local fly fishing legends of the past & future

Each week we will share an interview with a local fly fisherman that has done many things for the sport.



This week we highlight Brayton Bird. Cleveland Tn. native, member of Team F3(Faith-Family-Fly Fishing), and a really great guy.




Tu640: What was the first fish you remember catching? How old were you?



Brayton: My first fish was a largemouth bass caught on a little Zebco push-button 
combo my grandpa got me for Christmas. I was 3 1/2 years old



Tu640: At what age did you start fly fishing?



Brayton: I started fly fishing at 10 years old with my dad on the Hiwassee River, and
naturally, I started tying flies a couple of years later. While I was still young,
my dad would make me wear a bicycle helmet because the Hiwassee can be 
a little treacherous if you don’t wade carefully. I thought it was silly at the time, 
but I wouldn’t trade those Saturday morning trips with him for anything. By the
time I was old enough to drive myself to the river, I was hooked for life and would
go every chance I got. 



Tu640: What is your favorite species of fish to target?



Brayton: My favorite species to target are southern Appalachian brook trout. Nothing
compares to watching a native brookie inhale a dry fly as big as its own head. 
The sweat equity it takes to reach them makes it even more satisfying.



Tu640: What's your favorite river to fish? What makes it so special?



Brayton: The Nantahala River in North Carolina is my favorite river to fish. The best
thing about the Nantahala is the density and diversity of the trout. You can
literally catch fish until your arm gets tired. Each cast could yield a gorgeous
wild fish, a fresh stocker, or even a huge holdover. It’s always a surprise.



Tu640: What is your favorite method of fly fishing and why?



Brayton: I love Euro nymphing. This method is so effective and versatile. It allows me
to be in constant contact my flies with minimal drag throughout my drift, and 
I can easily fish any level of the water column without needing to adjust an 
indicator or add split shot.



Tu640: How did you get involved in competitive fly fishing?



Brayton: I got involved in competitive fly fishing after talking it over with a few friends.
We had some preconceived notions about what competition fishing was, but
I’m a competitive person and figured it would be a good learning experience.
I started fishing competitions with a couple of those same friends in the fall of 
2018. We’ve been competing year-round ever since.



Tu640: What’s the best part of competing? Most challenging?



Brayton: The best part of competing is the growth you experience as both a person and
as an angler. Competitions provide an opportunity to build some great relationships 
with other anglers, while also pushing you to sharpen your own skills. The most 
challenging part of competing is maintaining your mental toughness when fishing 
gets tough and you aren’t performing well.



Tu640: Are you on a team, and if so, how do they choose members?



Brayton: After fishing unaffiliated for a little over a year, I became a member of Team F3
for their inaugural season in 2020. Team F3 was founded on the principles of
faith, family, and fly fishing by a great group of guys who were looking for something
different than what the existing fly fishing teams had to offer. I’m super excited
to see the impact this team is going to have on the competition scene in the future. 
Since Team F3 is so new, we are still hammering out the process for adding new 
members going forward.



Tu640: Do you practice together or fish on your own and just meet at competitions?



Brayton: We do hold team practices every now and then. Since our members live all over the 
southeast, it can be difficult to get the whole team together at once just to practice. 
Most often, I find myself fishing with a couple of the other members who live closest 
to me. When a competition rolls around, the team will meet up and spend the whole 
weekend fishing and hanging out together.



Tu640: How do they score competitions? 



Brayton: In a competition, anglers are randomly divided into smaller groups called “flights”. 
All anglers within a flight will fish for the same time period, called a “session”, on 
their own pre-assigned sections of the river, called “beats”. After each session, you 
are ranked among the other anglers in your flight based on total centimeters of fish 
caught within your beat. Your ranks from each session, called “placing points”, 
accumulate over the course of the entire competition. At the end of the competition, 
anglers finish according to their cumulative number of placing points among all flights. 
The angler with the lowest overall placing points wins the competition.



Tu640: Your go-to gear and rig?



Brayton: My go-to gear is an Umpqua Overlook chest pack, a 10 ft 4 wt Douglas DXF rod, and a 
Ross Animas 4/5 reel loaded with Cortland competition line. My rig is normally a custom-tied 
11 ft fluorocarbon leader with about 2-3 ft of 3x indicator tippet on the end. From there, 
I run 3-4 ft of 6x tippet down to a size 16 perdigon nymph on a dropper tag. Below the top 
nymph, I run another 2 ft of 7x tippet to a heavier size 14 walt’s worm. 



Tu640: Do you remember the first competition you were in and how did you do?



Brayton: My first real competition was a benefit tournament for the Casting Carolinas organization 
held on the trophy water in Cherokee, NC. This was a two-man team event, and I fished 
with Levi Ladlee, who happens to be a great guide in the area. The weather was nasty, 
and we had to fish at the end of the day after two other teams had already fished the same 
stretch of water. Somehow, we ended up finishing in 3rd. I was stoked and immediately 
ready to fish another competition.



Tu640: What's the most memorable competition moment you've had and why?



Brayton: The one moment I’ll never forget happened while I was fishing on the Soque River with 
my teammate Robin Lewis during our first competition together. I was fighting a large fish 
and not really paying attention to my surroundings. While changing my rod angle during 
the fight, my line became tangled in the tree limbs above me. No matter what I did, I 
couldn’t free my line from the limbs while also keeping tension on the fish. I yelled for 
Robin to come net the fish for me before my line or rod ended up broken. Eventually 
he was able to scoop the fish up and take it to our controller with my line still intertwined 
in the tree. I spent the next 10 minutes retying my entire rig, but we got that fish on the 
score sheet.



Tu640: What is your favorite competition you've been in and why?



Brayton: My favorite competition thus far was probably the 2019 SEFFL Championship. It was a 
two-day tournament with three out of the four venues being held on private water. 
Those private water fish are some of the biggest and strongest fish I’ve ever had a 
shot at landing. It was a blast.



Tu640: What's the biggest fish you've caught in competition and highest place in a tournament?



Brayton: My biggest fish in a competition was a 56 cm (22”) rainbow. My highest finish is 2nd. I’ve been 
on the podium a few times, but I’m still working towards that top spot. 



Tu640: If you could fish anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?



Brayton: If I could fish anywhere in the world, I would spend some time in New Zealand. The scenery 
and fly fishing are unrivaled. I’m a big fan of sight fishing to large trout, and New Zealand is 
one of the best places on Earth to do it.



Tu640: Best ways you’ve found to improve your skills?



Brayton: I’ve been able to improve my fly fishing skills exponentially since I started competing, but 
not necessarily because of more practice. Competitions can give you a front row seat to 
watch some of the best anglers in the country. The easiest way to shorten the learning 
curve is by observing what the most successful anglers are doing, and then applying it 
to your own game.



Tu640: Biggest things competition guys do that casual anglers do not?



Brayton: In my opinion, the biggest thing that separates a competition angler from a casual angler 
is the willingness and ability to fish all water types. Casual anglers will find the prettiest 
run or hole to fish, walking right by some of the most productive water. Competition 
anglers will fish shallow riffles, pocket water, and everything else in between. They can 
find the fish that no one else has touched. 



Tu640: Your advice for someone thinking of competing?



Brayton: If someone is thinking about competing, I would tell them to give it a shot. They can start 
by checking out the South East Fly Fishing League website (www.southeastflyfishingleague.org). 
You can find more info about the competitions, the teams and competitors, and how you can 
sign up for an event. 



Tu640: What are your other passions and what does the future hold for you?



Brayton: Most of my free time is spent knee deep in a trout stream or hunched over my vise, but I 
do have a love for snowboarding and wakesurfing as well. I’ve spent a lot of weekends 
carving down the side of a snowy mountain or riding a wave on the lower Hiwassee. I’m 
also pretty passionate about finance and investments. That’s why I’m happy working five 
days a week at an investment advisory firm instead of being a full-time trout bum. I don’t 
know what my future holds, but I know God has a plan for me. I just hope it involves a lot 
more fly fishing.


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