Mr. Vanderbilt’s bass

When George Washington Vanderbilt II was deciding how to spend his multi million dollar inheritance he apparently decided to go into real estate. He bought a plot of land in the western North Carolina mountains, eventually expanding his domain until it swallowed 125,000 acres. He built his house on a hill that afforded a nice view of the property. From his bedroom window he could see the French Broad River and beyond – far beyond. He owned everything as far as he could see.

By the time the four-story house was completed in 1895 it covered about four acres and had 250 rooms. It was a marvel then and a marvel now. Vanderbilt dubbed it “Biltmore.” He lived in the house for 19 years before  his death in 1914.

Biltmore, which is still owned by Vanderbilt’s descendants, was opened to the public in 1930. The estate now includes about 8,000 acres (most of the original property was sold to the federal government and is now part of the Pisgah National Forest). The house, gardens and grounds are a monument to a different time.  If you’re in the area it’s worth visiting. Just don’t forget your fly rod.

The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and remain as trim as a park like setting – from the Bass Pond and Lagoon to the path that follows the curve of the French Broad.

This is where Darren Moore (that’s him with the fish) works. A former Army Ranger, Moore is  now the head instructor for the Biltmore Fly-Fishing School. (He also teaches sporting clays and off road driving.)

He’ll teach you how to fly fish then take you fishing. Or you can skip the lesson and head straight for the water. A guided float down the French Broad is available. They also have access to some private trout water off the estate where four, five and six pound trout live.

The most fun, though, is probably had in the Lagoon, which is  just a few feet from where the fly-fishing classes are held. The Lagoon was actually designed and built as a reflecting pool for the house (that’s it in the photo). It’s one of the most photographed spots on the estate.

The fishing is easy. Bass and panfish prowl the Lagoon, which is dotted by couple of small islands and probably covers about 10 acres.

I doubt that Mr. Vanderbilt was a fisherman but he was apparently a gracious host. He’d probably be pleased to see a visitor land and release a few bass.

You have to pay to play. Prices are $125 each for a fly-fishing lesson and $225 each if you want the lesson and then fish. A wade or drift boat fishing trip is $350 for two anglers (six hours if you’re wading, four if you’re floating). If you want some quality time on a 7.5 mile stretch of private trout water it’s $450 for two. Lunch included; tackle, too, if you need it.

Everything you need to know is at www.biltmore.com or you can  e-mail Darren Moore at dmoore@biltmore.com.

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