When you mention fishing in North Carolina, people think ocean. And while it’s true our 300 miles of Atlantic coastline offer some great fishing, look west for your next fishing trip. In the mountains of western North Carolina, more than 3,000 miles of streams, rivers and lakes are open to the public for trout fishing. Thanks to the management strategy of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, a number of destinations offer memorable experiences for anglers.
The Nantahala and French Broad rivers get all the headlines, but hundreds of other streams and even a river or two stock streams open to a variety of fishing styles. Whether fishing from the shore, wading or using a drift boat, you’ll find the trout biting all across a 26-county spread that includes some of the most beautiful scenery in our state. The Wildlife Commission maintains an interactive trout fishing map that allows you to select the county where you plan to fish and look at a map that details the streams and their fishing designations. In Jackson County, you’ll find the nation’s first and only fly fishing trail, which features 15 spots where you can catch brown, brook and rainbow trout. You’ll find maps, fishing reports, GPS coordinates and more online.
Each year, the Wildlife Commission closes approximately 1,000 miles of trout streams for restocking. These designated waters open for fishing at 7 a.m. the first Saturday in April and close 30 minutes past sunset the last day of February each year. Anglers can harvest up to seven trout per day with no minimum size or bait restrictions, making fishing these waters a dream for beginners and trout lovers alike.
Delayed Harvest Waters are stocked with trout from the fall through the spring with high densities of fish, making for an easy day for anglers. From the first of October through the end of May, these waters, designated by a black and white sign, are catch-and-release only, and anglers may only use a single-hook, artificial lure. From noon June 1 through the end of August, these waters open to all licensed anglers under Hatchery Supported regulations, meaning there are no bait or minimum length restrictions and a seven trout per day limit. From 6 a.m. to noon June 1, these waters are open only to youth under 16 years old, giving the youngest anglers a chance at landing a big one. Public Mountain Trout Waters are managed by different classifications and can be confusing to anglers unfamiliar with North Carolina’s regulations, so please familiarize yourself with the regulations before casting a line.
In streams where natural baits can be used, minnows, insects and worms are all good choices. You’ll even catch some of the “stockers” (those freshly stocked, new-to-the-wild fish) on corn at certain spots. To keep your fly rod bent, try using traditional patterns in dry, wet and nymph flies, as well as terrestrial imitators of worms, crickets and ants. If you’re a spinning rod angler, you’ll find consistent action using small spoons, spinners and minnow-imitating crankbaits.
About half of North Carolina’s designated public trout waters are set aside for wild, self-sustaining trout populations; the other half are stocked with nearly 1 million fish each year. Approximately 80 percent of the stockings are brook and rainbow trout, with brown trout making up the remainder. The average stocker is between 8 to 10 inches long, with a few more – somewhere around 4 percent – 14 inches or longer.
All waters are clearly marked with diamond-shaped signs designating each as a Hatchery Supported, Wild Trout, Catch and Release/Artificial Lures Only, Catch and Release/Artificial Flies Only, Delayed Harvest, Wild Trout/Natural Bait or Special Regulation water. With each classification comes a different set of regulations, so be sure to check with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission for specifics, including the types of lures and live baits allowed, the number of hook points you may use, seasons and creel limits.