From a young age, Kevin Howell was not only immersed in the sport and culture of fly fishing, but he also developed a lifelong love and passion for it. That’s something that has run deep in his family for generations.
“My father won the United Bass Fisherman Classic in 1976, which would be the Fishing League Worldwide Championship today. He was a huge fly fisherman and renowned around the world for his fly tying and rod building,” said Howell. “So, I grew up in the whole fishing industry, and I knew from an early age that this is something I wanted to do.”
Owner of Davidson River Outfitters in Pisgah Forest (just outside of Brevard), Howell fondly remembers those days long ago when he would jump into the rivers around Transylvania County.
“What was amazing to me was that back then, there would be 10 people on a stream, and I was related to three of them,” Howell reflected.
Even before he entered college at Appalachian State University, Howell had already fished the majority of the United States and a couple foreign countries. With his summers free to fish, Howell kept coming back to his hometown rivers. Following graduation, he became manager of Davidson River Outfitters in 1997, and also helped his father operate Dwight & Don’s Custom Tackle.
“It’s all about the challenge in fly fishing,” Howell said. “Every day, you have something different to figure out, always something new to learn and undertake, a new technique or new rod. It’s exciting every time you’re out there.”
When his father passed away in 1998, Howell took over the custom tackle shop. And the shop soon joined forces with the outfitting business when he transitioned from manager to owner in 2000.
“I think with anybody in the fishing world, you’ve got to be in it because you have passion for the sport and want to share that passion with others—that’s what drove me into my love for sport and my desire to run this business,” Howell said.
Although the lakes, rivers, and streams of Western North Carolina have long been regarded as some of the finest fishing waters on the planet, it’s only been in recent decades that the national and international recognition has found its way into travel magazines and television shows.
“I’ve always told people that once you master fishing here—because these fish are pickier and more pressured—you can go anywhere in the world and catch fish,” Howell said. “This area has proven to be a training ground. From here, a lot of us have gone on to become national- and international-level fishermen.”
Aside from his numerous accolades and avenues by which he ideally represented the hallowed sport of fly fishing, what means the most to Howell is just being able to get on a body of water and soak in the essence of his surroundings. It’s a Zen zone by which all things simply go with the flow.
“And fly fishing is a close-knit community. We’re all willing to help each other out and work together,” Howell said. “When you’re out there fishing, whatever was bothering you or on your mind earlier in the day, it doesn’t really matter anymore once you cast that first line.”