It’s a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, and I’m knee deep in a river somewhere north of Walhalla, South Carolina. This is not my typical Tuesday outing, but I can tell Katie Cahn is in her element. Katie, a fly-fishing guide with adventure organization Headwaters Outfitters near Brevard, is about to cast. Fly tied to a barbless hook, she whips her line gracefully through the air before the current pulls it downstream.
On the Fly // Enjoy peace on the river (and catch a rainbow or two).
Within seconds something bites. This one is a small rainbow trout—you can tell by the multi-colored stripe running along its abdomen—but there are many to follow. She attributes the catches to the river being stocked hours earlier, but I can tell she’s talented. She was, after all, the top female competitor in her first fishing tournament, snagging a 24-inch rainbow, and 65 fish overall.
Katie, who grew up in this patch of wilderness known as Mountain Rest, is a self-described loner. She’d rather be in the middle of a river with a rod and a net and her adorable fur-baby Beans (who likes to snuggle up on her sweatshirt while she fishes) even if the weather is not as perfectly agreeable as today’s.
“The cold and rainy days are the best,” she explains later. “There’s something about putting your mind and body through those elements and ending the day with a beer and story to tell your loved ones.”
Wading Game // Fly-fishing expert Katie Cahn pauses in a stream near Mountain Rest, SC. Though she snags a variety of trout, her best catch is a brook, which is native to the area. ON KATIE // Brim hat. By Brixton. Stormfront hip pack, $199. By Patagonia, find at Halfmoon Outfitters. Butterstick rod with Zero reel, price on request. By Redington, find at Chattooga River Fly Shop or Headwaters Outfitters.
Katie’s fondness for fishing began at Western Carolina University, where she “could literally cast a fly from my doorstep.” She received a degree from WCU in special education, but her previous adventures span the globe. She’s released scarlet macaws into the jungles of Costa Rica, kayaked and mountain trekked across Nepal and India, and guided rafts down the Chattooga River.
“That community opened my eyes to what adventure can do for the soul,” Katie says. “It’s been a beautiful life so far.”
A life not without its challenges. Last fall, mere weeks after her marriage to husband Daniel, Katie started experiencing intense back pain. A doctor’s visit revealed renal cell carcinoma, cancer of the kidney. Though treatment didn’t require radiation or chemo, Katie’s left kidney was removed, and she struggled with the fear the cancer would return. Nine weeks later her appendix and left ovary were removed, as well, and within six days, she was back on the river.
“Cancer changed me,” Katie says. “I have a greater appreciation for . . . everything. I love harder, I breathe deeper, I stand taller. As cliché as it sounds, we aren’t promised tomorrow.”
Back in the water, Katie deftly removes her hook from the trout’s mouth. She palms the fish for a moment for me to see, then places it back into the current, releasing her gentle grip only when the fish is ready to swim off on its own. This little guy’s not promised tomorrow either, but he’s been granted another day on the river. If I had my bets, you’ll find Katie here, too, wading out into the water, ready to embrace life’s next adventure.
Connect with Katie on Instagram @katiecahn or at Headwaters Outfitters for guided fly-fishing trips, or to schedule paddling, floating, and other water adventures. (828) 877-3106, headwatersoutfitters.com