Fly-fishing team grows from an alum’s love of the sport


Christopher David Lee ’98 grew up fly fishing Western North Carolina’s rivers and creeks. Years later, it’s still one of his favorite activities.

“I love it,” Lee said, adding that the pastime is “probably way more time-consuming than I ever envisioned or my wife ever envisioned.” Lee’s wife is Cynthia Wray Lee ’01 MAEd ’07, a lecturer in the WCU Department of Communication. The couple, who married in 2002, live in Bryson City, Lee’s hometown, with their young daughter, Mayson Elizabeth.

Christopher Lee ’98 fishes with Paula Deen

Lee, whose day job is N.C. Department of Transportation engineer charged with overseeing bridges in the state’s 10 westernmost counties, co-founded the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team in 2006 with the goal of developing local anglers who might become competitive on the national and international fishing scene. WCU ties to the team are strong. Seth Gerring ’04 of Brevard is a team member and WCU student Tucker Horne currently serves as team captain. Michael Joshua Stephens ’00 of Robbinsville, who has a spot on Fly Fishing Team USA and has competed at the world championship level, works closely with team members and competed with the team during the America Cup fly fishing tournament in Frisco, Colo., in September.

Since the team’s founding, membership and aspirations have grown. The team has earned a number of sponsorships, including regular support from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which works to promote a stretch of premier catch-and-release waters on the Qualla Boundary. The team also achieved nonprofit status and now works closely with a nonprofit program dedicated to the rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing.

This summer, a big-fish opportunity of another sort came Lee’s way when Rivers Edge Outfitters in Cherokee offered him the opportunity to guide cook, restaurateur and television personality Paula Deen, who recently opened a restaurant at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel and was in town on business. “None of them had ever fly-fished in their lives,” Lee said of the group. “Paula had one fish on that was gigantic, and she fought it and fought it, but it got off and she lost it,” Lee said. “She caught several more, but none of them were as big as that one. It’s all about the one that got away.”