In the southwestern corner of North Carolina, hundreds of trout-packed streams wind their way through the thick canopy of the Nantahala National Forest and the rugged hills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s here that anglers and fly fishing enthusiasts flock to catch rainbow, brook, brown, and even golden and Donaldson trout on the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail.
There’s not a bad spot to fish on the trail – the nation’s first of its kind – but there are 15 prime spots to reel in some trout. Because the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission annually stocks the waters of Jackson County with around 100,000 trout, beginner and expert anglers will have no problem finding the location, water and fish that match their skill level.
For Expert Anglers
Those serious about fly fishing will want to try smaller, lesser-known spots like Panthertown Creek (3 miles of stream to fish), known for the distinct craggy rock formations that surround it. There’s a 2-mile hike to the creek, but it’s worth it. Other spots experts will want to fish include the Chattooga River (approximately 6 miles of waters to fish), Whitewater River (2 to 3 miles of fishing) and Tanasee Creek (2 to 3 miles of fishing). You’ll find stockers and wild trout in these streams, and you can catch brown, brook and rainbow here.
For the First-Time Fly Fisher
If it’s your first time holding a fly rod, you may like fishing any of the five spots along the Tuckasegee River (more than 20 miles of waters to fish). While you’re there, try to complete the Tuckasegee Slam by catching brook, brown and rainbow trout all in the same spot. Your best chance of completing the Slam is a beautiful stretch near Dillsboro.
Panthertown Creek offers a more solitary, wilderness experience for anglers, and the numerous feeder streams – Moses Creek, Mull Creek, Rough Butt Creek, Chastine Creek and Piney Mountain Creek (20-plus miles to fish in total) – give you a good shot at catching beautiful wild brook and rainbow trout. The mountainous terrain here opens up occasionally to stunning waterfalls, so bring your camera along with your fly rod.
Caney Fork, Scott Creek, Greens Creek and Savannah Creek all offer beautiful scenery and more than 30 miles of waters to fish, and with easier access and larger numbers of fish, your chances of catching a keeper are higher here.
For the Big Catch
Everyone wants to catch a big fish, and if that’s what you’re looking for, head to Raven Fork. Also known as Cherokee Trophy Water, it requires a special permit from the Cherokee Indian Tribe to fish these waters. Fortunately, a Cherokee permit is easy to come by, and you can pay online and print your permit before you leave the house. On Raven Fork, it’s not uncommon to catch 20- to 30-inch fish, so come prepared for a fight. And bring your camera; it’s catch and release only.
If you’re introducing kids to fly fishing, one spot leaps to the front as the best place to start them out. The Tuckasegee River along East Laporte Park near Cullowhee has picnic tables, public restrooms, easy access and well-stocked waters.
Maps of the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail are available online or through the Jackson County Travel & Tourism Authority website or visitors center. The map provides detailed information on access points, waterway designations and regulations, as well as the species of fish available and other information relevant to anglers. For a full list of mountain trout fishing regulations, visit the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.