What Are You Wading For?

03 Jun 2024

Derrell Brushaber takes his passion from the river to the canvas

By Brendon Voelker

Photos by Matt Canter

Marking 25 years in Cashiers, Derrell Brushaber is considered a legend amongst fellow fly-fishermen. His passion for the outdoors, however, doesn’t end there. A portfolio of unique, handcrafted paintings, sculptures and carvings stand out in the face of anyone who values art, and it has become a way for him to take his passion from the river to the canvas. With a unique palette of vibrant colors and rough brushstrokes, it’s likely you’ll be seeking out his work during your next visit to the plateau.

A jack-of-all-trades, Derrell boasts an incredible resume with opportunities and careers that have led him across the globe. An early life in the petroleum and mining industries eventually led the Ann Arbor native into an array of sailing ventures for a long chapter of his life. “Growing up in Ann Arbor shaped my path and passion in the arts because of its vibrant community, cultural activities and the exposure to the University of Michigan, which provided a great environment for a budding artist like myself,” he notes.

Living in Florida in the early 70s, he began guiding in the early 2000s and his latest ventures are built primarily around construction, guiding and art. His construction business focuses primarily on remodels and subcontracting around the plateau, and his wide skill set makes him an invaluable asset on any project, big or small.

When not painting, he’s running his guiding business, Let’s Tie One On. A USFS permit allows him to explore most of Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, as well as DuPont State Forest closer to Hendersonville. He enjoys stream wading for all three species of trout, brook, brown and rainbow, and frequents the delayed harvest waters. During that time, catch and release policies are implemented, leaving most of the pressure on the waterways to sport fishermen looking to hone their skills without feeling the pressure of those fishing with live bait. Some of his favorite areas include portions of the Davidson River around Brevard, Upper North Fork along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the headwaters of the Chattooga River near Cashiers. 

As an artist, Derrell works mostly with acrylic, a medium that he didn’t begin exploring until moving to Cashiers. He began painting as early as high school, but his unique style combining bright colors in an abstract way is a more recent development. He describes his style as “choppy,” noting how up close, you won’t notice as much fine detail as you would with other mediums. Take a step back, and things change. The brush strokes blend together to create a masterpiece that is unique to each and every piece. 

Cashiers has provided excellent backdrops for his inspiration, and he mostly began his fish paintings because of his time fly-fishing. “I am surrounded by rivers, mountains and some of the most beautiful vegetation, as well as an abundance of animal life,” he states. Cashiers and the greater area are also home to some of the best fly-fishing rivers in the country, including the Davidson, Nantahala and Chattooga.

“My process begins by finding a photo or image that interests me and then I decide how I want to portray it,” he explains. “I might see a black bear as a kaleidoscope of colors rather than simply black, brown, etc.,” and the average time per piece can take up to 30 hours from beginning to end. One of the largest challenges he faces is his medium, a palette knife style painting, yet the unique brush leads to many responses, and he enjoys the entire process from conception to canvas. He considers himself to have a very creative mind, and that’s more than evident in his work.

Derrell’s art ranges from paintings to carvings and outdoor art. He has painted pictures of brook, brown, rainbow and even tiger trout, often using his first-hand experiences with the species as his inspiration. Even so, his art doesn’t stop with fish. He’s used donkeys, bears and bobcats as his subjects, though there doesn’t seem to be an end to his creative ideas. I have no doubt that any unique request he would view as a worthy challenge, though as with most artists, his current workload will determine the timeline.

What better way to show your love for Cashiers and Highlands than with art inspired by the plateau itself. If you’re looking to find some of his work, you can find it locally in Brookings, Native Prime Provisions, and Mountain Mist Gallery. Brookings, in particular, is home to many of his trout paintings. If you’d like to commission him for a custom piece, you can contact him directly at (828) 200-4089. Those interested in hiring him for a guided fly-fishing trip can visit his website letstieoneonflyfishing.net to inquire about details, pricing and availability. His general rates are listed front and center, and he’s also noted that he occasionally offers hikes in Panthertown Valley.

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