Charlotte native Caroline Smith Irwin has a passion for fly fishing for trophy redfish in the picturesque Spartina grass flats of the lowcountry. As the instructor for the womens fly fishing class at The Charleston Angler, she encourages people, especially women, to stop dreaming and just do it, whether it be fly fishing or any other pursuits.
Native to Charlotte, Caroline Smith grew up in a boat with a fishing rod. Whether it was with her beloved grandfather, bluegrass legend Arthur Smith or her brother Scott, she was introduced at an early age to the spirituality of nature and angling. Her love for the outdoors of North Carolina brought her to Appalachian State University in Boone to pursue her college education. Boone was where she was first introduced to flyfishing through friends of hers who shared her passion for nature and the sport. Caroline was interested in trying but was intimidated by the difficulty and chalked it up as a male sport.
The cast and the rod itself are so beautiful, but always seemed so complex to learn. Its like playing the guitar, I would want to pick it up for the first time and play my favorite song. Lets be real, that does not happen.
The intimidation of learning this complex sport did not hinder Caroline for very long. After moving to Charleston, Caroline attended the annual Southeastern Wildlife Conference. There she had the chance to participate in a fly fishing demonstration taught by her future husband, John Irwin. Interested in pursuing both the sport and Irwin, she took another step and attended a second class to learn the fundamentals with a group of other novice anglers. After that she took her confidence to the boat, where she hooked and caught her first sea trout. After that moment, she too was hooked and her obsession planted.
It is easy to see how fly fishing can become addicting so quickly. It is a challenge. It is an art form that takes time, practice, and experience to master. Sight fishing a redfish is less like fishing and more like hunting. You need to know when they eat, what they eat, and tide patterns. The cast itself needs to be perfectly in line with where the fish can see it, which leaves a very small margin for error. Even if you master all of it, that does not mean the fish has to take it. Landing a tailing redfish is a difficult accomplishment, one that took Caroline three months to attain.
I love when we approach the flats in our skiff and see a fish feeding in the distance in that moment. As we pole the boat stealthily, I draw line from my reel, stand on the bow of the boat, and cast my fly into a position where the fish will see it. My heart races whether I land the fish or not.
Fishing has a way of allowing the angler to experience things in nature that they have never experienced or see things from a perspective that they have never imagined. Caroline has had the opportunity to fish all over the world and she shows no sign of stopping, with her next adventure taking her to the Bahamas.
I look at the wind differently. It makes casting more difficult as it howls. Fly fishing has allowed me to see wildlife and colors in nature I never knew existed.
Now teaching fly classes at the Charleston Angler, Caroline encourages people, especially women, to stop dreaming about fly fishing and to simply start fishing.
All you need is a desire to learn and you can, no matter your age or athletic ability. If anything gets in your way, its yourself.
Sign up for a class with Caroline by visiting thecharlestonangler.com or schedule a guided trip at flyrightcharters.com.