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Davidson River Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing the Davidson River in North Carolina

The Davidson River is one of, if not the most, visited streams for fly fishing in North Carolina and the Southeastern United States. This traffic can be seen along the Pisgah Highway for miles and is due to the fisheries management, efforts of local anglers, and North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission. Different stretches of the Davidson are managed differently but all sections are managed with the common goal to keep the stream healthy and full of trout with Catch and Release Only Regulations. From the uppermost headwaters to its confluence with the French Broad River, you can find all three trout species of Appalachia. A larger portion of the river is located on public land, but a lower portion toward the French Broad River flows through private land. While this private section boasts some hefty sized trout, trophy sized fish are found in the upper public sections regularly. Whether you are looking to catch big trout, numbers of trout, or individual trout sipping flies on the surface, the Davidson River offers all these opportunities just about year round. While it's an extremely rare day when you can do all three of these things at once, knowing what water to look for and what techniques to use are essential to being productive on the Davidson.

Fly Fishing Nymphs on the Davidson River

Nymphing is certainly the most productive method to run across numbers of trout in the Davidson River. Know that your presentations will likely need to be top notch as these trout are heavily pressured throughout the year by accomplished anglers. Dialing down your tippet in the clear water is a must. 5X and 6X are nearly a must throughout much of the year, with brave anglers opting to go down as low as 7X. Patterns change with the season and pressure. Dense jig head style flies that can get down quickly will be the most productive throughout the year. Switching flies until you get dialed in on what they're looking for is key. Smaller patterns in the 16-20 range are typically better throughout the year, but don't discount the bigger bugs, such as a Pat's Rubber Legs, or other stonefly imitation, when the fish haven't seen pressure for a longer period. A tandem using bigger patterns as an anchor fly with a smaller dropper above can be incredibly effective, especially in winter time, when meals are few and far between. Larger trout have trouble passing on high calorie meals during that time of the year. Nymphing can be done on every water type in the Davidson River. You'll find many anglers opt for the deep, slow pools, as they can typically spot trout hovering above the bottom. These trout are often lethargic and less willing to eat. Finding better current seams, undercut banks, channel bends, tail-outs, or riffles with faster water will put you around the trout that are hungry and lead to a more productive day on the water.  

Dry Fly Fishing the Davidson River

While anglers visiting the Davidson strictly targeting rising trout are in the minority, the feat is still very possible and can even be quite productive during certain periods of the year. The headwaters of the Davidson upstream of the Daniel Ridge Falls trailhead sees the best dry fly action for the wild rainbows and brook trout in the feeder streams. However, trout can still be fooled in the lower sections of the river throughout the year as hatches come and go. 

Winter Dry Fly Fishing the Davidson

Black Stones, midges, and BWO patterns will be the best imitations during the winter months. The best hatches will occur on overcast day for midges and stones, while unseasonably warm days see more BWO emergences. Keep fly patterns in the size 18-22 range but be sure to have some smaller midge patterns on hand. The days where the trout wont look at midge patterns larger than a size 26 can be painfully frustrating in the winter and late summer evenings when the surface comes alive with activity. This is also the time to downsize your tippet for less intrusive presentations. 

Spring Dry Fly Fishing the Davidson

Spring offers a large amount of insect diversity on the Davidson River. The insects will start out smaller in the early spring with BWOs, sulphurs, march browns and smaller caddis being the most prominent, patterns in the size 16 to 20 range will produce best. As the spring transitions around May, bigger insects will begin to appear. stoneflies, drakes, quills, isonychia, and larger caddis will be hatching. These weeks leading into the heat of summer will require anglers to carry a larger assortment of fly patterns and sizes. Be sure to brush up on your emerger fishing as many of the rising trout will be keying in on emergences far more than spent spinners and flies.

Summer and Fall Dry Fly Fishing the Davidson

Aside from the occasional Fall caddis hatch, most insect hatches during the Summer and Fall will occur during the lowlight hours just before sun down. This leaves a small window for anglers to target trout on a dry fly in the lower and middle section of the Davidson. Smaller patterns will again be the ticket with Tricos, and once again, midges, being the most common hatches during this time of year. While the bite can be excellent it is typically short lived so be ready when the dinner bell rings.

Streamer Fishing the Davidson River

There is no better way to run across the trout of a lifetime than to throw a streamer. Though streamer fishing can be feast or famine, especially on a river that receives as much pressure as the Davidson. There are times of the year when you can improve your odds. The first being the high water periods in the Spring. On low light days where the water is higher and possibly stained, streamers can be an excellent choice. Brown trout and aggressive rainbows will move from their normal haunts and hideouts and position along pinch points and seams where they have an advantage on unsuspecting food items struggling with the increased current. The next period occurs around the transition period before and after their spawning runs. Rains will trigger these big trout to get on the move come late Summer and into Fall. Trout will stage in areas, typically around some heavier cover as they move upstream to do their yearly business. Stalking these spots will put you in front of a different size class of trout you typically don't see. This pattern will hold up throughout winter as both rainbows and browns move up and down from their spawning areas. At these times they have trouble passing on a big meal when conditions are right.

For more information about America's best trout streams and others in North Carolina, our Fly Fishing North Carolina, Fly Fishing the Tuckasegee River, Fly Fishing the Nantahala River, and Fly Fishing the Chattooga River articles will give you other ideas for places to visit in the area.

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