Fly Fishing North Carolina
Where to Go North Carolina Fly Fishing
North Carolina offers the best fly fishing opportunities in the Southeastern U.S. The management of trout streams throughout the western part of the state is second to none in the area. The diversity of streams and the balance of management practices is how North Carolina has achieved this. From large tailwaters to small brook trout filled freestone streams, fly fisherman can find exactly what they are looking for somewhere in the state. All three species of trout found in Appalachia (brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout) can be caught in many of the small creeks as well as the larger rivers. North Carolina's trout streams fall into different categories based on management strategies. These are Catch and Release trout streams, Wild Trout streams, Delayed Harvest streams, and Hatchery Supported Streams. Each of these have different regulations, so be sure to double check before hitting the water.
Fly Fishing North Carolina's Catch and Release Trout Streams
These streams offer an excellent opportunity for new anglers looking to get into fly fishing. The trout populations are healthy and
fish are quite active from late spring through fall. Dry flies and dry dropper setups are the go-to setups for these streams. When possible, heavier 3X and 4X tippet is preferred as it offers additional comfort when casting in the tight areas around rhododendrons and mountain laurel. When waters get low and clear or the trout get spooky, 5X and 6X may be necessary to fool these pressured trout. The most popular pieces of water that fall into this category are the Davidson River, Avery Creek, Looking Glass Creek, the South Toe headwaters, Big Horse Creek, and Flat Creek. Several other small streams and small sections of bigger water fall into this category You can check out more Catch and Release streams on the NC WRC website.
Rules and Regulations
Anglers can not be in possession of or keep any trout from the Catch and Release streams. Lures are limited to single hook artificials. Natural baits are also banned from possession on these streams.
Fly Fishing the South Toe Headwaters
Fed by runoff from Mount Mitchell in the Pisgah National Forest above Black Mountain Campground, the South Toe River headwater offers excellent fishing for wild trout. The headwaters hold all three species of Appalachian Trout. The brown trout are transient throughout the river and move seasonally. Rainbow trout are evenly spread throughout the river and are the most common catch until you reach the tributaries. Higher elevations are the home of the brook trout. The smallest of the three species can also be the most numerous once you reach the smallest tributaries. Use stealth when targeting any of these wild trout as the river can be busy during the summer months leaving the trout spooky.
Fly Fishing Looking Glass Creek
Looking Glass Creek is often overlooked when Fly Fishing the Davidson River and its tributaries. The creek is frequented by many visitors due to its scenic falls, but few visitors know it also stands as a productive trout stream. Wild rainbow trout are the most common target in the creek, but look for brown trout to use the creek as a cool water refuge in the late summer and fall. The fishing in Avery Creek will set up very similar to Looking Glass Creek.
Fly Fishing Flat Creek
Flat Creek above Bear Creek Lake is managed as a catch and release only streams. Like several of the other wild trout streams in the area. Brook trout and rainbows are the main target here. The water is skinny and brush is dense so move slowly and you'll be rewarded with better than average sized trout.
Fly Fishing the Wild Trout Streams in North Carolina
North Carolina's Wild Trout Streams offer the best fly fishing on the most scenic creeks and rivers in the state. Some of these pieces of water have large populations of hungry trout while others may have sparse populations of larger sized trout. Each can fish very differently and experience different hatches and conditions throughout the year. These streams fish similar to the catch and release streams, and are typically found just downstream of several of them. Some of the best Wild Trout Streams in the state include Squally Creek, Tanasee Creek, Wolf Creek, Chattooga River, Upper Fires Creek, Rockhouse Creek, Upper Snowbird Creek, Upper Nantahala River, Deep Creek in GSMNP, Hazel Creek, and South Mills River. Other sections of rivers also fall into this category, so check regulations before hitting the stream if you plan on harvesting any trout.
Rules and Regulations
Single hook artificials are the only lures available for anglers on wild trout waters. Only 4 trout can be kept and they must be larger than 7".
Fly Fishing Deep Creek
Likely the most popular destination for anglers looking to go fly fishing in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Deep Creek has a very healthy population of wild trout who always seem willing to rise to a dry fly in the warmer months. When visiting it is helpful to know that some of the best anglers in the region visit this stream, so use a methodical approach when moving upstream as these fish have been fooled by and learned from the best. Deep Creek also sees some of the best insect hatches of any piece of water in the state, so be sure to know what bugs are emerging during your visit or keep a hatch chart handy. If you're targeting the Appalachian Slam, Deep creek may be the best destination for you as all three species will be present within close proximity.
Fly Fishing the Chattooga River
The Chattooga River flows through miles of undisturbed forest land to the Georgia/South Carolina border. The river is well known for its notorious landscape in the movie Deliverance and its heavily stocked stretch that lies between GA and SC. The portion of the Chattooga River above the Old Iron Bridge just east of Highlands, NC offers an excellent challenge for even the most experienced anglers, along with one of the most scenic backdrops in the area. Wild brown trout are the most abundant species in the river and they demand near perfection from anglers. The large cascades and pools provide excellent cover for the trout and allow the occasional survivor to reach a very healthy size. Streamers, euronymphing, dry flies will all work on the Chattooga, but be prepared to be versatile if you're looking to land more trout. Summer and fall are the best times to visit the river. the water is much more wadable at this time. High waters in the winter and spring can be dangerous when boulder hopping around the cascades and plunges while making your way through the canyon.
Fly Fishing the South Mills River
Running parallel to the Davidson River just northwest of Brevard, the South Mills River is a great destination for anglers looking to find some solitude on the water. Brown trout and rainbow trout are the main targets on the South Mills. The water here can be swift in sections. Carefully targeting the bends and troughs of the river will put you in front of the most trout during the day. Be prepared to do some serious hiking or bushwhacking on your visit as the river/creek runs in and out of some narrow places with dense cover. Access from Turkey Pen Gap will put you in a good position to fish upstream. Accessing from the Wolf Ford Campground will put you on smaller water upstream where trout likely see less pressure.
Fly Fishing Snowbird Creek
The Upper section of Snowbird Creek sets up very similar to the upper sections of the Nantahala River and Fires Creek. All three pieces of water sit above Delayed Harvest Sections where survivors can escape to the less pressured sections above. So don't be surprised if a seasoned stocked trout shows up amidst the smaller wild trout during your visit. Snowbird is again home to all three species of trout found in the state with rainbows and brook trout being the most common. These trout do share some of the same water but the brook trout are much more likely to be found in the higher elevation sections of the creek.
Fly Fishing Hazel Creek
Hazel Creek is found on the North Side of Lake Fontana in Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The trout are plentiful here but the fishing comes with a caveat. Access can only be made from a LONG hike or a boat ride across the lake. Once you've reached Hazel Creek the rest seems simple. All three species are found in the creek with brook trout being more present in the feeder creeks. Browns offer a numerous but challenging target as they can be quite fickle. this problem is mitigated by the aggressive wild rainbows that will provide anglers plenty of action throughout the day.
Fly Fishing North Carolina's Delayed Harvest
From late fall through mid spring, there are few trout streams that fish better and none that are more consistent than the North Carolina Delayed Harvest Streams. This not only applies for the state, but all across the southeastern U.S. Over two dozen sections of river fall into this classification. Beginning in October the delayed harvest sections are stocked heavily with all three species of trout. Some will hang around, while others will wander to neighboring sections of their creek or river. Early in the season these trout will act similar to most stockers, preferring junk flies and flashier patterns. After several weeks these trout will become acclimated to the natural insects and food items in the river and become more selective. Smaller, natural patterns will work best at these times. The most popular DH sections for visitors to the state are the Fires Creek, Helton Creek, Jacobs Fork Creek below South Mountains State Park, Big Snowbird Creek, North Mills River, and both sections on Elk Creek. Larger rivers also have notable DH sections such as the Tuckasegee River, Nantahala River, Watauga River, French Broad River, North Toe River, and Catawba River. We will discuss some of these in our articles on Tuckasegee River Fly Fishing, Nantahala River Fly Fishing, and Watauga River Fly Fishing.
Rules and Regulations
Single hook artificials are the only lures available for anglers from October 1st until the beginning of June. All trout are catch and release only during this period. Following the close of the season, the DH water are only open to anglers under Supported Trout Stream guidelines.
Fly Fishing Fires Creek Delayed Harvest
The Fires Creek Delayed harvest is located just Northwest of Hayesville. The stream is very popular among locals, as well as the Georgia neighbors just across the state line. Fires creek is easier to read in its DH section as the stream is at a more gradual gradient in the lower section compared to the series of plunges and pools located above on the wild trout waters. the winter months see good hatches of midges with BWOs beginning to emerge around the first week of February. Look for overcast days to see the most prolific hatches.
Fly Fishing Helton Creek Delayed Harvest
Helton Creek is locating on the North part of WNC close to the Virginia border. This DH sections is one of the longest in the state giving anglers plenty of water to themselves. Early in the season, look for trout to hold in sections of the creek similar to the raceways they lived un at the hatchery. Thigh deep and a slow walking paced hole, trough, or run is a likely place these trout will set up. After being caught or seeing enough pressure, trout will move closer to cover and/or current seams for more protection and more steady food source. As the weather warms in spring, don't overlook oversized dry flies as trout will get greedy and begin looking to the surface for meals.
Fly Fishing the North Mills River Delayed Harvest
From the biggest to the smallest, the North Mills River Delayed Harvest is the smallest DH section in North Carolina. Despite its smaller size, the DH and the North Mill River in general possess excellent trout fisheries. The smaller creek offers a unique opportunity to target bigger trout in close/tight quarters. The plunge pools and pocket water offer cover to these trout and a fairly easy target to their pursuing anglers. getting down quickly with natural patterns is the key to success here for most of the season. You should have a shot at the Appalachian slam during every visit within season.
Fly Fishing North Carolina's Supported Trout Streams
The Supported Trout Streams can be an excellent choice if they have recently been stocked. However, if your timing is off, you might be left spinning your wheels and wasting valuable time on the water. This holds especially true on the smaller supported streams. Where fly anglers have the best odds on these sections of streams is on the larger streams and rivers. Trout here can get away from the angling pressure and reach larger sizes with their better chance at survival. Junk flies will still be the ticket on these pieces of water as you really want to grab the trout's eye quickly. This is also where trophy trout hunters can find their big brown trout feeding up on the regular diet of stocked trout. During the heavy stocking season look for these bruisers to hang around the stocking locations. During late summer and fall, big browns can be a bit harder to keep up with as the seek refuge in cooler water tributaries and look for their seasonal spawning grounds. Overall, each of the other classifications will offer more to visiting fly anglers throughout the year than the supported trout streams which mainly serve put and take anglers.
Fly Fishing the Raven Fork in Cherokee North Carolina
Another unique trout fishing destination in North Carolina is the Raven Fork in Cherokee which runs through the Cherokee Indian Nation land. This stretch of stream is managed solely by the Cherokee Indian Nation. 30 miles of trout stream run through the reservation. No fishing license is required to fish these trout streams, but a permit through the Nation Reservation is required. The real pull to fly anglers is the two miles of fly fishing only, catch and release section of the Raven Fork. Here you can locate trophy size trout finding cover around the many boulders, undercuts, and log jams. These trout do see a good amount of angling pressure, so a stealthy approach and some finesse are crucial to getting bit. Another option is to wait for some inclement weather to pass and raise the stream levels. Trout will drop their guard and begin feeding more at these times, exposing these trophy trout that are out of reach under normal conditions. The Raven Fork and Oconoluftee are stocked every two weeks by the private hatchery on the reservation. The Raven Fork may be the best bet for visitors to North Carolina to land a Palomino trout as they are regularly stocked in all sections of creek on the reservation.
Best Flies for Fly Fishing North Carolina
Unlike their neighbors to the south in Georgia, who seldom get consistent hatches on any of their trout waters, North Carolina sees modest hatches year round. In early mid to late winter expect to see plenty of black stoneflies and BWO appearances. Come early spring, your quills will begin appearing and transition into more caddis come May. May sees a cornucopia of flies with sulphurs, golden stones, and the occasional drake and cahill appearing. Summer sees more nocturnal hatches with isonychia being the most common appearance next to the many terrestrials buzzing around. Fall brings slower activity with some caddis hatches with a gradual transition back to BWO and midges as the weather cools. Though you don't need imitation patterns for every single one of these insects ready to go at a moments notice, it is a good idea to be seasonally prepared, especially on wild or brown trout streams where trout can get very selective. Besides the larger stonefly, caddis, and mid spring mayflies, most insects will be in the size 16-22 range. Going smaller, especially in the winter months is critical. With nymph patterns, natural is better but be sure to change it up if you don't see success within a reasonable time. Adding some flash with a rainbow warrior, flashback pheasant tail, or disco midge can work excellent for pressured trout that have seen every other common fly in your box. For wild trout in the headwater streams, you can go wrong with high floating dries in the warmer months. Hopper patterns, stimulators, and foams body mayflies or caddis imitations will keep you floating high in turbulent water as well as induce strikes from greedy trout. These flies will also better help you float small droppers on days when the bite is tougher. To really become more efficient on the water, simplify your nymph patterns and focus more on smaller, more dense flies that will allow you to get down to the trout quicker. For stocked trout, nothing beats the old faithful junk flies. Squirmy worms, mops, and eggs work excellent any time of the year for trout looking for a high calorie meal.
For more information about America's best trout streams and others in North Carolina, our Fly Fishing Georgia, Fly Fishing Tennessee, Fly Fishing South Carolina, Fly Fishing The Davidson River, 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.