After the fish is netted, Cartee, who once worked in construction but sought a new career during last decade’s economic downturn, goes back to being happy-go-lucky. “I get excited when I catch a fish. But I get really excited when you catch a fish,” he says. “It’s that simple. I’d rather see you catch one than catch it myself.”
Cartee, 38, and his wife, Jenny, who is a potter, have two daughters. A native of Spartanburg, SC, Cartee began to fish as a young kid. At home he had an aquarium, but when he got tired of his guppies and tetras, he caught crawfish, salamanders, and shiner minnows from the creek below his home and put them in the tank. Today he pursues fish in the remote coves of local waters.
You seem to have an ideal job …
When I tell folks I’m a fly-fishing guide in the mountains of Western North Carolina and that I spend my days playing in creeks, walking through the woods … it creates the image of an idyllic existence … but life is still life, with everything that comes with it. I pay taxes, I have kids … but when I’m guiding another angler, even on a tough day, I’m happy.
Which of your own skills do you still work on?
All of it. I’m good, but I’m no master. If anyone ever tells you that they are, the only thing they have mastered is the art of lying. This is not something you win at. It’s not something you will one day reach the pinnacle of. If you started very young and devoted your whole life to this sport, you would just start to understand it and be accomplished at it the week before you died.
How did you learn to guide?
By doing it. That’s the only way.
What rivers do you like to fish?
Anything that’s difficult. Davidson River trout are the most persnickety bunch of fish you’ll find in a thousand miles. My 5-year-old is less picky about what she eats than those fish. I also like fish that are really easy to catch, but difficult to get to. Backcountry fishing starts up when the big rivers get a little warm, and combining a fishing trip with a scenic hike and maybe a waterfall or two is a pretty good summer day.
What’s something funny that’s happened on a trip?
I once had a guy spend 10 minutes telling me how great I was and how impressed he was with my knowledge of fish and water and my abilities with a fly rod. I normally don’t ask, but that day after he was done, I turned to him and asked what he did for a living. “Oh, I’m just a heart surgeon,” he said. I thought it was pretty funny that someone who saves lives for a living was that impressed by some dirt bag with an overpriced fishing pole.
For more information about Heath Cartee, see pisgahoutdoors.com. On Saturday, May 6, Oskar Blues Brewery (342 Mountain Industrial Drive in Brevard) hosts the Fly-Fishing Film Tour, a series of traveling documentary footage from around the world. 8pm. Free. See http://flyfilmtour.com for details.