Awesome Luck On The Tuck!

The Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) is teeming with fish! Big ones, too! We’re at the peak of Delayed Harvest 2023, so book a trip with us soon while your odds of landing a trophy trout are excellent!

On November 2, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) stocked the Tuck for the final time this calendar year. Since then, the trout have been smacking our nymphs and streamers from mid-morning till sundown. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve guided an array of anglers, some of whom never held a flyrod, and they’ve brought in hefty rainbows and brown trout while wading and floating with us. On a walk-and-wade trip, a family of five pulled in more that 20 fish on a half-day outing.

Whenever wading, avoid bright colors and be as stealthy as possible when moving through water and stepping over rocks and fallen trees. One young angler did just that and landed a 25-inch rainbow on an articulated streamer!

Yesterday, we mixed things up and did some euro nymphing in the Bryson City section of the Tuck. In just under two hours we’d reeled in 20 bows and browns ranging 7 to 14 inches!

Despite low water levels and flow rates ranging from 580 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 480 cfs, a recent float trip yielded more than 50 fish using mostly nymphs, specifically the Rainbow Warrior (#20) and Prince Nymph (#18). On this outing, a Sicklefin Redhorse (pictured below) caught us by surprise, a rare treat given that this fish is limited to five North Carolina counties and was first stumbled upon in 1992.

When we’re not fishing, you’ll find us hunting geese in anticipation of our buddy Matt’s scrumptious, inimitable jerky. Also, mark your calendars—in less than two weeks, rifle season for deer will open on November 20.

We wish you all amazing adventures, fun and fellowship during the upcoming holiday season!
Your Friends at Katala Outdoors

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Now’s the Time!

Friends, we’ve got lots to look forward to in the coming months! Autumn is finally here, and at the moment, there’s excellent fishing in higher-elevation, hatchery-supported waters and in the lovely creeks of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)! Pull out your calendars and book a trip soon to join us on these adventures!

This past week, we fished elevations within the 2200- to 2500-foot range where the water was cold despite warm afternoon temperatures in the low-80s. In the GSMNP’s Bradley Fork, our trip yielded at least a dozen fish, all rainbows and browns, and we got just as many nibbles and nudges. The October Caddis (#16) and Prince Nymph (#18) were hot items on a journey that featured a pleasant balance of walking and wading.

In hatchery-supported waters, my buddy James and I reeled in enough fish for a meal and released just as many. That day, a Pink Squirmy Worm with a strike indicator provided all the action we could ask for as we targeted riffles, runs and the shady edges of rocks near the bank. When we arrived home, we debated about whether to fry or grill our catch and ultimately decided to use the smoker. Excellent choice!

On October 11, the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) will be stocked with rainbow and brown trout in the Bryson City area while the Sylva section will receive bows, browns and northern-strain brookies. And don’t forget that bow season for deer reopens in Western North Carolina on October 15; squirrel season begins the following day, October 16.

Now, here’s that smoked-trout recipe:

James Lambert’s Smoky Mountain Trout

Of course frying them is quicker, but smokin’ em is well worth the wait!

Preparation Time:  3 hours


Freshly caught trout
Pepper Palace Blackened Seasoning
2 tablespoons of butter per fish
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice per fish
Apple wood pellets, chips or chunks


Place each fish on its own square of aluminum foil

Cover both sides of the skin with blackened seasoning

Add butter and lemon juice

Wrap each fish in individual foil packets

Smoke fish on the grill at 200 degrees for 2 hours over apple wood

Open foil and smoke for an additional 30 minutes

Bon Appétit!
Patrick Ambrose

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When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

For some reason, anglers seem scarce these days in the Great Smoky Mountains which surprises us because there’s excellent fishing up here during these final weeks of summer. Out on the Little Tennessee River, we’ve caught scads of smallmouth bass with Rooster Tails and conventional spinning gear. Top-water plugs haven’t been as effective, most likely because of the heat.

But subsurface, the fish are biting!

For many of us, Labor Day weekend kicked off a much-anticipated college-football season, but that ain’t the only thing we’re excited about. On October 1, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) will begin stocking selected lakes and streams across the state. During this Delayed Harvest program, anglers must adhere to catch-and-release rules and stick with single-hook artificial lures until June 1, 2024. On October 11, the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) will receive its initial stock of rainbow and brown trout, and throughout Delayed Harvest, you’ll find us floating the Tuck where we’ll pursue the heftiest bows and browns available! Book a trip with us soon to get in on the action!

While you’re in downtown Bryson City, visit the Appalachian Rivers Aquarium and the neighboring Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. The aquarium contains an array of native game and non-game fish, along with two eastern hellbenders, the largest salamander in North America and a protected species. There’s also the mesmerizing tiger trout (pictured below), a rare, beautifully bizarre cross between a brown and brook trout. No admission fees are required at either site, but donations are accepted.

We’re now in the midst of the initial fall 2023 goose-hunting season which runs until the end of this month. Also, September 23 is Youth Deer Hunting Day! Youth under the age of 18 can use guns or any other legal equipment to hunt deer of either sex.

Be sure to keep an eye on our site because we’re planning to run float trips on Fontana Lake and walk-and-wade excursions through Forney Creek and Hazel Creek, two lovely, desolate streams off the lake’s north shore where the trout are aplenty!

Happy Fishing and Hunting!
Patrick Ambrose

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No Shortage of Options

Summer fishing is excellent in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)! The best in years, no less!

These days, we’ve been wading in Deep Creek and Straight Fork where the streams remain cool, especially at higher elevations. A couple miles up Deep Creek, we fished less-pressured water using a variety of dry-dropper rigs and caught monster browns measuring 17 to 19 inches, along with assorted brookies and an 18-inch rainbow—the Great Smokies’ Trinity! We also used conventional gear and single-hook Rooster Tails to land plenty of rainbows. Given Deep Creek’s popularity with tubers, this stream gets pretty crowded during afternoon hours; if you plan on fishing, hit the water early, wear neutral colors and keep moving!

In warmer waters, we’ve had a blast pursuing smallmouth bass! Floats on the Little Tennessee River yielded over fifty fish per trip that averaged 10 to 12 inches with occasional two- to three-pounders rounding out the catch. Top-water plugs worked best with spinning gear while streamers were most effective for fly rods. During the early-morning hours on Fingerlake, near Almond, we reeled in 6 largemouths with topwater spinning gear and caught over 30 bluegill on dry-droppers.

Mark your calendars! On August 26 and 27, the Qualla Country Trout Tournament takes place in Cherokee where $20,000 worth of tagged fish will be redeemable for cash prizes. A tournament spot requires a $15 entry fee and a $17 two-day fishing permit.

Be sure to check out Go Outdoors North Carolina, a brand-new app from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission! With this free application, you can use your phone to store your licenses and report big-game harvests, in addition to retrieving real-time hunting and fishing information.

Have amazing weekends!
Patrick Ambrose

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Hot Fun in the Summertime!

We’ve kicked off our summer with lucrative fishing in the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck), the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) and hatchery-supported waters in the Bryson City area where the lion’s share of rainbows and browns have measured a foot long while the brookies have averaged 7 to 8 inches. Most of our trips have yielded 30 to 40 fish, so book an outdoor adventure with us soon and get in on the summer fun!

In the Bryson City section of the Tuck, we’ve floated early mornings when the water’s coolest and had our best luck throwing small nymphs (#18) under indictors and staying close to the river bottom. Upstream near Sylva, we’ve fished the Tuck’s colder water, catching mostly rainbows and a few browns on pink Squirmy Worms and large Girdle Bugs.

Every stream in the GSMNP has its own uniqueness, but no place captures an angler’s imagination like Noland Creek whose tight, interwoven canopy allows only a smattering of light to bleed through. In some places, it’s barely enough to distinguish between the flies in the box, and that permanent shade keeps the water cool. It also provides anglers more freedom of movement without being seen. Thus far, the rainbows have hit every fly we’ve tried, including our trusty Parachute Adams, Yellow Sallies, Purple Hazes, and the Goddard Caddis.

Yesterday, at Straight Fork, we caught the holy trinity—brookies, browns and bows—on a dry-dropper rig with a Thunderhead on top and a Prince Nymph (#18) on the bottom. In the lower-elevation waters on the Tennessee side, we’ve caught beaucoup bows on top of the water with Stimulators.

In the park’s coolest, higher-elevation waters, the brook trout are biting Yellow Sallies, Mayflies and small Caddisflies (#14). A recent walk-and-wade trip yielded over 20 brookies.

The Fourth of July is upon us which means free fishing in North Carolina on Independence Day! Residents and out-of-state visitors at any age can fish public waters from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on July 4 without a license. Other regulations would still apply, specifically bait-and-tackle restrictions, along with daily-possession and length limits.

Come join us soon!
Patrick Ambrose

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From Fly Rod to Frying Pan

Outdoor excitement never wanes in the Great Smoky Mountains! Whether we’re floating the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck), fishing creeks in the park, or wading wild-trout or undesignated waters, we’re catching a mess of fish, and we’d love to share that joy with you! You’re just a few clicks away from joining us!

In the Bryson City area of the Tuck, where the river is fairly low and somewhat murky, we’ve had excellent luck dry dropping and Euro nymphing in pocket water. Now that the river’s warming up, we’re targeting faster runs, looking for rougher, more-oxygenated white water. Last Saturday, with temps in the mid-80s, we crept along at 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Grumpy Bear to Deep Creek, focusing on riffly spots and caught several rainbows on pink Squirmy Worms and Girdle Bugs. These days, we’d suggest getting started at dawn when the river’s coolest and exercising caution when water temperatures exceed 65 degrees. Trout become stressed under such conditions.

As we head into the warmer days of summer, your best bet for pursuing trout would be fishing the cooler streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), particularly Deep Creek, Straight Fork and the Oconaluftee River (the Luftee). In general, rainbows and brown trout inhabit the lower-elevation waters, but higher up you might score some native brook trout. Once the dog days are upon us, stick to higher-elevation waters, walk softly and wear neutral-colored clothes.

Summer is also the season for smallmouth bass, and nothing compares to fighting a smallie on a fly rod! Book a float down the Tuck or the Little Tennessee where trusty green and yellow poppers have proved irresistible to these fish. If spinning gear is your thing, then try blue-backed Rapalas and Rooster Tails. But be sure to use single-hook variants of these lures when fishing in the GSMNP.

To add to the summer fun, there’s a movie being filmed in our neck of the woods called Summer Camp, starring Alfre Woodard, Kathy Bates and Diane Keaton! We’ve had the pleasure of providing the crew with waders for the shoot and look forward to seeing these stellar actors on the big screen, enjoying one of our favorite pastimes!

We’re waiting for you,
Patrick Ambrose

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Castin’ and Blastin’

“If turkeys could smell as good as they see, they’d be impossible to hunt,” says my buddy James Lambert, a guide with Katala Outdoors. I ponder James’s statement as we trudge through mud and pouring rain along a tree line where acres of forest meet fallow farmland. We wear full camouflage—face coverings and all—in an attempt to hide ourselves from the prying eyes of nosy hens and gobblers.

A wild turkey’s vision is three times better than ours, and these remarkable birds can see eight times farther through monocular eyes mounted on the sides of their heads. The position of those peepers provides these birds with a miracle of evolution—a 270-degree field of view capable of reaching a full 360 with a bob of the head. Luring a turkey within shooting range requires exceptional patience and a willingness to remain silent and perfectly still for several hours. To bag a turkey, you need a friend who’s skilled at calling these birds.

James Lambert is one of those experts. He’s been hunting turkeys since childhood. When his striker scratches his slate call, he mimics the different sounds hens make to attract adult males (toms). Behind a web of vines and brambles, we sit in a blind—an igloo-shaped tent that’s sheltering us from the rain barrage. During the predawn hours of Easter Saturday, we sip coffee and listen out for turkey talk.

As dawn approaches, toms gobble from roosts in the woods behind us. Our blind offers a full view of the field—an ideal setup given that turkeys flock to open space during heavy rains to improve their visibility and more clearly identify predators. To boost our odds, James and I load our 12-gauge shotguns with Magnum Blend shells which pack a powerful punch, along with a combination of size 5, 6 and 7 shot. With full chokes in our barrels, these shells will unload more than 200 pellets within a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. They also cost ten bucks apiece.

We exude excitement and optimism. Who wouldn’t? Dozens of turkeys roamed the property throughout youth week when a nine-year-old fellow bagged a 22-pound gobbler while sitting in a nearby thicket.

Today, James’s magnificent calling brings plenty of turkeys into the open—gobblers and bearded hens—but my inexperience weighs heavy on us. When two toms come within shooting range—23 yards, at that—I miss them both. While lining up another shot, the butt of my gun slips into the crook of my arm; pulling the trigger delivers a mule kick to my bicep rendering my arm useless for the rest of the day. I’m still sporting remnants of that ten-dollar bruise.

But a buddy of ours recently bagged a gargantuan gobbler. The alluring photo of him and that turkey stokes my imagination, transmitting the vicarious pleasure of harvesting such a beautiful bird. Wild-turkey hunting season ends on May 6, so I’ve got nearly a year to improve my shooting before the 2024 opener. Lots of time to relive the awful split-second decisions I made on my first turkey hunt.

Though we’re nearly done with hunting until the fall, there’s still plenty of fishing to do. We’ve had excellent luck on the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) this past month. On April 10, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) stocked the river and timely flow releases have had us floating comfortably in the Bryson City area where we’ve reeled in hefty brown trout measuring 18 to 20 inches. Our floats from Cullowhee to Webster have yielded anywhere from 30 to 60 fish per trip, including the holy trinity of brookies, browns and bows. Up and down the Tuck, the fish are hitting Woolly Buggers, Girdle Bugs and Mop Flies.

The NCWRC is scheduled to stock the Tuck again on May 2. Get out on the river as soon as you can while the weather is pleasant, the water is still cool and the fish are hungry!

Best of Luck!
Patrick Ambrose

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Spring Has Sprung!

Come join us in the Great Smoky Mountains where you could land that lunker of a lifetime or catch beaucoup trout measuring 12 to 14 inches! These days, the perfect weather, ideal water temperatures and pleasant flow rates have anglers swarming the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) to pursue its trifecta of rainbows, browns and brookies.

Upstream, in the Sylva section, we recently caught 34 trout—an array of all three species—and got well over twice as many bites. Floating at 600 cubic feet per second (cfs), these fish struck everything we threw out, from pink eggs and girdle bugs to blue-wing olive emergers (#20). When we arrived at the launch around 9:00 AM, we counted 10 boats in the water and just as many anglers wading.

Downstream, in the Bryson City area, anglers on two of our boats reeled in over 100 fish on two separate days. These were mostly rainbows measuring 12 to 14 inches with the exception of a few within the 17- to 18-inch range. All of them were caught on eggs and girdle bugs while we enjoyed slow, comfortable floating at 1600 cfs. If you want a spot on the Tuck, get out there early though the bites don’t usually begin until around 10:00 AM.

Attention, Turkey Hunters! Get your shotguns cleaned and oiled because Wild Turkey hunting season starts this weekend! Youth-only week begins on Saturday, April 1 for young folks under 18 years old. Then, on April 8, the statewide season opens and runs to May 6. While gathering supplies, we came across an impressive Mossy Oak turkey vest at Walmart for $50—half the price of what you might pay at an outfitter’s store. One other thing—the current issue of Wildlife in North Carolina contains a story entitled “Calling All Turkey Hunters,” an intriguing overview about enticing gobblers. If you’re not a Wildlife in North Carolina subscriber, visit your local library and check out this wonderful article!

Friends, we have a promising month ahead of us! Happy hunting and fishing!

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Marching Into Spring

If you’re itchin’ to land that trophy trout, drop a fly into the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) soon. On the two-county stretch from Locust Creek to Bryson City, we’re catching rainbows and browns measuring over 20 inches! To target these lunkers, we’re throwing hefty articulated streamers, and although our strike counts are lower, we remain focused on landing the biggest trout possible. To keep these fish honest, we’ve switched to spinning gear on occasions, using single-hook rooster tails to chase rainbows. This precious mix of warm weather, cold water and ideal floating will be over once the summer heat is upon us, so make plans to hit the Tuck soon while delayed harvest is in full swing!

Last month, a desolate, Washington, Georgia deer camp offered us a rare outdoor experience. No one had hunted the land since deer season closed, and the air was so thick with squirrel scent that Thunder, our World Champion mountain cur, couldn’t get fifty yards without treeing several of these critters. This flat land of leafless hardwoods and pine trees found a special place in our hearts, and by the end of the day, we had bagged 27 squirrels and saw 35—not a bad way to close out squirrel season!

With goose season in the rearview mirror, we’re left with so many memories hunting these birds. For some of us, this was our first time pursuing waterfowl. When the fish weren’t biting, the geese kept us on the water and attentive with a new-found thirst for action. We fell in love with the rich, earthy taste of goose meat and discovered several different ways to prepare this delicacy. We already miss our buddy Matt’s scrumptious goose jerky—a unique treat that’ll sustain us on many future adventures in the woods and on the water. Now, it’s time to clean and oil our shotguns in preparation for turkey season in April!

At the moment, the Tuck is rolling at 6570 cubic feet per second (cfs), much too dangerous for floating, but we expect conditions to improve in the upcoming week. In the meantime, please book a fishing trip with us! And keep in mind that Katala Outdoors offers gift certificates, too!

Keep your oars and hooks in the water while the trout are still biting!

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Our 2023, So Far . . .

We’re only a month into the New Year, and Thunder, our prizewinning mountain cur, already earned second-place finishes in two squirrel-hunting tournaments. Faceoffs between top-notch talent often come down to the final seconds, and the Georgia Pro Hunt was no exception.

“We’re competing against the best squirrel dogs there ever was,” says Jim Lambert, Thunder’s owner and handler. “We’ve set down eight dogs in the past two weeks. That’s four dogs in each hunt to get to the finals.”

Jim and his son James, a guide at Katala Outdoors, have spent nearly every day in the woods with Thunder, and those training hours are paying off. On consecutive weekends in Georgia and South Carolina, Thunder challenged impeccably bred, top-tier competition.

“If you win, you fought for it,” Jim says. “But it’s also important to know the rules. And James knows them like a preacher knows the Bible.”

Squirrel hunters pay hefty fees to enter these tournaments. If for some reason, a handler’s dog can’t compete on the day of the hunt, the owner is still responsible for ponying up their share of the prize money unless they’re lucky enough to sell their spot to someone else.

“When you hunt for money, the competition is fierce,” Jim explains. “Ain’t nobody givin’ you nuthin’. You gotta get it all yourself.”

Looks like Jim, James and Thunder are off to a great start this year!

Here’s to more success!


I witness Thunder in action at Big Laurel, a desolate, wooded area choked with rhododendron where squirrels abound during the fall months. Today, these critters are hanging out in their dens, nursing newborns and avoiding the frosty drizzle raining down from the heavens. James and I proceed up a steep trail adjacent to a gushing brook, climbing for what seems like a mile or so. Our slog up the mountain reminds me of Pain Dance, an infamous hill in Blowing Rock’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Park where I ran cross country ages ago.

Gulping air, I stop at the brook for a drink of ice-cold, crystal-clear water. Once we cut Thunder loose, he suddenly disappears into the dense, barren hardwoods for several minutes only to resurface a quarter mile ahead where he crosses the trail and vanishes into thick foliage. When we trot to that spot, we find ourselves facing a tight, interwoven tapestry of branches and brambles—a vegetative fence with no gate, obscuring a landscape of fallen trees covered with slick luminous moss and leaf litter.

Off in the distance, Thunder barks.

James glances at the GPS display.

“He’s three hundred yards away,” he says, tilting his head at the web of vines and briars. “Welcome to the real Pain Dance.”

Thank goodness we’re traveling light—no guns, just a small knapsack between us. But we’re about to penetrate a resistant natural barrier that pushes back.

Thunder’s urgent barking applies deadline pressure. His rhythmic hollers create a haunting soundscape as icy drizzle soaks our hair and clothes. Thorns rip skin. Green branches slap faces and heads. When I’m not tripping over logs and runners, I’m sinking ankle-deep in mud. And despite the late-morning chill, rivulets of sweat roll over fresh cuts and scratches. My skin oozes pink, my lungs burn. Starving for air, I lean against a hardwood to catch my breath.

Twenty yards ahead, James consoles Thunder who wonders what took us so long.

“Kudos on your first tree,” James says with a grin. “Ready for another one?”


One unforgettable January pleasure was cruising down the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) in the bow of a Hyde hard shell—the drift-boat equivalent to a limousine. On that lovely day, our buddy Matt’s scrumptious goose jerky enlivened the mood even more. His unique seasoning blend put this tasty snack in the gourmet realm.

Up ahead in the sky, I spotted a gaggle of geese heading toward us.

James looked me in the eye. “I’ll tell you when to shoot. Go ahead and put that third shell in the tube.”

I inserted another round into the Winchester 12 gauge and shouldered the gun as the birds, in formation, dropped down several yards into what appeared to be shooting range. I pointed the barrel just in front of them and fired three shots. The birds, still in formation, headed upward. Echoes of the shotgun’s deafening blasts seemed to push them further into the sky. Moments later, two additional shots rang out from Matt’s boat.

James wore a befuddled expression. “Did you drop acid this morning?”

“No,” I muttered. “Why?”

He shook his head. “Those geese were seventy yards away. I doubt we’ll see another one today.”

An hour passed. No geese.

I grabbed a fishing rod and casted while we drifted toward the final bend. Nothing struck any of my spinning lures, so I was certain I scared the fish away, too—until Matt reeled in a shimmering 19-inch brown trout using a Double Gonga streamer.

For the third time in a row, I got skunked hunting and fishing. But salt entered the wound as we approached the take-out. On the riverbank, just across the Bryson City line, hundreds of Canadian geese stared at us amidst a backdrop of residential homes. Those geese had learned a thing or two. They outsmarted us.

“Me and Matt slayed ‘em last week,” James said with a wry smile. “I’ve got goose breasts in the freezer. We’ll smoke ‘em tomorrow, see how they turn out.”

James Lambert’s Smoked Goose Breasts

Who says waterfowl ain’t better than beef?

Preparation Time:  6 to 7 hours 


Goose breasts
Yellow mustard
Pepper Palace Nashville Hot-n-Spicy Chicken Rub
The Gourmet Collection’s Kickin’ Chicken Finger Lickin’ Spice Blend


Coat both sides of the goose breasts with yellow mustard.

Cover the mustard binder with the chicken rub and spice blend

Smoke breasts on the grill at 180 – 200 degrees for 5 to 6 hours until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 145 degrees

Wrap breasts in foil and allow them to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving

Note:  These goose breasts can also be enjoyed with horseradish sauce or stone-ground mustard and a side of Lambert Family Taters

Bon Appétit!
Patrick Ambrose

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Chasing Thunder

We all need a mental break once in a while. The accumulation of twenty-first-century deadline pressures, technological distractions and information overload is enough to compromise anyone’s neural circuitry. For therapy, I slip into the woods to restore my connection with the natural world, opening myself up to nature’s unexpected surprises. The reward is priceless whether I’m alone or with friends, but my buddy James Lambert, a guide with Katala Outdoors, convinced me that the ultimate outdoor experience is hunting squirrels with a dog.

We had plans to hunt with James’s father, Jim, but unfortunately Thunder, their mountain cur, was nursing an injury. So, James and I headed out to the lovely, picturesque community of Alarka, nestled in western North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, to talk hunting with Jim, an expert who’s won numerous squirrel-dog competitions with James.

On the front porch of Jim’s ranch-style home, shrouded in the mist that gave the Smokies its name, an adorable terrier with a white coat nudges my leg.

“That’s Cricket,” Jim says. “She’s a pet now, but she used to hunt with us.”

Cricket is a feist breed—a petite, athletic dog known for hunting squirrels, racoons and opossums. Feists pursue game by chasing their prey into trees and barking repeatedly to alert the hunter of their location. Jim recalls a crisp fall day roaming the woods with his grandfather and a feist who led them to a treed squirrel.

“I shot my first squirrel with my grandfather’s 12-gauge. It was the most exciting thing I had done. And I’ve still got that shotgun, so I can pass it down.”

The squirrels that Jim and his grandfather bagged usually wound up on the dinner table. The opossums and racoons they shot put money in the bank.

“You could get 3 to 5 dollars per possum hide,” Jim explains with a disarming smile. “Coon hides would bring 15 to 20 dollars. We’d skin ‘em, put ‘em in a bread bag and throw ‘em in the deep freezer. That’s how our buyer wanted them.”

The father-son duo entered their first squirrel-dog competition when James was sixteen years old. The rules for these tournaments are complex and detailed, but the objective is to determine which dog can tree squirrels the quickest. Competitors pay an entry fee, and the tournaments begin with the dogs and their handlers separating into groups of three (casts) who compete for ninety minutes. Points are assigned for first, second and third place for each treeing round. Through multiple hunts and a process of elimination, an overall winner is determined. The dogs wear GPS collars for tracking purposes, and it’s important to mark your truck on the map before the hunt in case you get turned around in the woods.

“Competitive hunting is like gambling,” James explains. “Things can change in the blink of an eye. You have an hour and a half. It’s your dog against two others.”

Despite the risks, the Lamberts have enjoyed huge tournament success. In 2018, they won the World Tree Dog Association’s (WTDA) World Championship with their dog Brandy. The following year, their dog Bubba placed second in the United Kennel Club (UKC) World Championship with Brandy coming in third. Brandy also won the World Bench Show at that tournament.

Jim bought Thunder when the dog was just a year old. At first, the young mountain cur wasn’t interested in squirrels. But the following year, Thunder treed the very first squirrel he encountered.

“A switch flipped on,” Jim recounts. “He became a squirrel dog then. He had the drive and some hum in him.”

Thunder went on to place second in the 2020 UKC World Championship, a nail-biter that came down to the final two seconds. According to Jim, keeping Thunder busy in the woods is critical to his success. He’s also a cold-weather dog who’s prone to heat exhaustion if he’s not adequately hydrated. During recreational and competitive hunts, his handlers must carry plenty of water to sustain him for several hours.

“Thunder’s got two modes about him—hunting for pleasure and competition,” Jim explains. “When you put him with other dogs, he wants to be the first one out. He wants to lead. He wears himself out because he’s so competitive. He’s the most consistent dog we’ve ever had. Once he throws us some locate barks, we head to him. When he’s certain where the squirrel is, he’ll slam the tree.”

Many of the hunting spots for squirrels are also excellent for pursuing deer. And given the overlap between both hunting seasons, it’s necessary to know who’s in the woods. Squirrel hunters generally use shotguns and shoot vertically into treetops. But deer hunters mostly rely on rifles which are often shot horizontally. The potential for an accident increases when hunters aren’t careful and don’t take notice of vehicles parked outside game lands.

“Everyone’s got a license to hunt,” Jim notes. “But you’ve gotta be polite and safe. If there’s vehicles parked outside a spot, but no dog boxes on the trucks, then there’s deer hunters in the area. When we find a safe spot with no deer hunters, we leave the tailgate down so the dog box is visible.”

With today’s squirrel hunt postponed, James and I figured we’d spend the day cooking the eighty hindquarters he had thawing in the fridge. Squirrel is among the tastiest wild game I’ve ever eaten. With a steady diet of acorns and hickory nuts, these critters have a flavor that’s distinct and delicious. The meat is also a lean, healthy alternative to beef and pork, as well as the primary ingredient to legendary Southern staples like Brunswick Stew and Gumbo. Today, our plan was to fry forty hindquarters as an appetizer and use the rest for Jim Lambert’s Squirrel Gumbo if he gave us his recipe.

Friends, if you need a break from the daily grind, please book a squirrel-hunting trip with us before the season closes at the end of February. And keep in mind that Katala Outdoors also offers gift certificates.

Here’s to a Happy New Year of hunting and fishing!
Patrick Ambrose 

James Lambert’s Fried Squirrel Hindquarters

A perfect appetizer, more flavorful than chicken wings!



Preparation Time:  4 to 5 hours


Twenty or more squirrel hindquarters
Pepper Palace Nashville Hot and Spicy Chicken Rub
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil


Place thawed squirrel in a pot and cover with water. Boil hindquarters for 3 to 4 hours until tender, adding water when necessary.

Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add vegetable oil. Dust both sides of each squirrel leg with Nashville Hot and Spicy Chicken Rub.

Fry hindquarters in vegetable oil five minutes per side until crispy.

Serve immediately.

Jim Lambert’s Squirrel Gumbo

A unique, delectable twist to a Cajun classic!

Preparation Time:  5 to 7 hours


Twenty or more squirrel hindquarters
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1 bag of frozen gumbo vegetables
1 Vidalia Sweet Onion cut into chunks
1 pound of grilled Conecuh sausage
1 pound of cooked shrimp
1 box of wild rice
2 to 4 cups of water


Place thawed squirrel in a pot and cover with water. Boil hindquarters for 3 to 4 hours until tender, adding water when necessary.

When hindquarters have cooled, strip the meat off the bones and set aside

Add cream of mushroom soup, two cups of water, frozen vegetables, onion, and squirrel meat to a slow cooker. Dust the mixture liberally with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Cook for 1 ½ hours on high.

Then add shrimp, wild rice and more water if needed. Cook for an additional ½ hour on high.

Add grilled Conecuh sausage. If necessary, add another cup of water. Cook until rice is done.

Serve in bowls. Top with hot sauce if desired.

Lambert Family Taters

A hearty side dish for wild game!



2 pounds of Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch square pieces
1 Vidalia Sweet Onion cut into chunks
Texas T Bone’s seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Add vegetable oil to a cast-iron skillet over medium heat

Add potatoes and onions. Dust with seasoning and black pepper

Fry until crispy.

Serve immediately.

Bon Appétit!

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Fishing and Hunting Report for December 22 to December 28

Multiple flow releases had us floating the Tuckasegee River (the Tuck) at 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) near Sylva where we fished with Squirmy Worms and peach-colored eggs. Our catch included an enormous northern-strain brook trout measuring 17 inches, along with over a dozen nice-sized rainbows.

Downstream, near Bryson City, cruising at a leisurely 2500 cfs, we threw peach eggs and reeled in a 21-inch brown trout. The rest were rainbows with a preference for white eggs and our buddy’s custom Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

In the woods, on U. S. Forest Service game lands, the squirrels led us on a wild chase. Thunder, our prizewinning Mountain Cur, logged a dozen miles, and we put in seven trying to keep up. In the end, Thunder treed 10 squirrels. We saw 7 of these critters and took 5 home.

We’re expecting a bitter-cold weekend. If you plan to hunt or fish, please dress appropriately. And if you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, Katala Outdoors offers fly-fishing gift cards!

Have wonderful holidays!

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