Your Complete Guide to Fly Fishing in the NC Smokies
There is no end to the adventures you will have fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains of NC! Whether you are a first-timer or seasoned pro, angling in our crystalline mountain rivers and streams will become an experience that you will repeat as often as possible. Did you know you can fly fish year-round in these parts – yes, including in winter!
With your choice of Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout, fished from open waters or rocky torrents, either by wading or floating, and either caught and released or served for dinner, no two trips are identical.
Great Smoky Mountains Fly Fishing Trail
How seriously do we take Smoky Mountain Fly Fishing? In Jackson County, NC, you’ll find the nation’s first and only WNC 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. Find out why Jackson County is the Official Trout Capital of North Carolina!
What are your preferences? Below we break down the information based on your angling interests and passions. Note: Numbers in parentheses below refer to fishing spots along the WNC Fly Fishing Trail map.
Trout Size Matters
If big trout is your goal, you’ll want to drop your fly where the Scotsman and Fowlers Creeks meet the Chattooga River (8). Also target the Tuckasegee River in Dillsboro (14) or the Lower Tuckasegee River from Barker’s Creek to Whittier, NC (15) to catch a real bruiser.
The More Trout the Merrier
If you’re angling for more trout, there are plenty of fishing spots where you can rack them up (keeping in mind the regulations for time of year and limits.)
The tributaries of Scotsman and Fowlers Creeks (8) are both flush with fish farther up the streams. The West Fork Tuckasegee River (9), Savannah Creek (11), Scott Creek (1), Greens Creek (13), and Tuckasegee River from East LaPorte Park to NC 107 Bridge (10) are all hatchery supported and chock full of trout.
A cluster of Small Streams (Moses Creek, Mull Creek, Rough Butt Creek, Chastine Creek, and Piney Mountain Creek) (2) also makes the ranks for big digits.
If you’re dreaming of wild trout (including in undesignated water), you can still get your big numbers at Whitewater River (7) and Caney Fork (6).
Big Trout in Big Numbers
In the NC Great Smoky Mountains, you always have options. The Tuckasegee River from NC 107 Bridge to Dillsboro Park (12) and Raven Fork – Cherokee Trophy Water (6) are well known angling hot spots for both trout size and quantity.
Focus on Cherokee and Competitions
Some of the best Smoky Mountain fly fishing can be found in Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Come to Cherokee and you’ll find 30 miles of pristine streams stocked with Brook, Rainbow, and Brown Trout. Insider Tip: for trophy fly fishing locations, try Cherokee’s Raven Fork – a haven for catch-and-release fly fishing.
Check out all the best trout-fishing spots in Cherokee at FishCherokee.com, including information about their popular competitions. Whether you are an amateur- or a professional-level angler, there is a Cherokee Fishing Tournament-Lineup competition right for you in Cherokee!
Cherokee Brook Trout
There are two significant locations for Brook Trout Fly fishing in Cherokee. Panthertown Creek (5), known as the “Yosemite of the East” because of its bowl shape and rocky bluffs, is rich with Brook Trout, although anglers do have to walk about 2 miles to the creek. And, as mentioned above, Raven Fork (6) is considered “Cherokee Trophy Water” and noteworthy for both the size (20- 30-inch trout are common) and the quantity of fish it offers. Both areas are catch & release only, and both a Cherokee annual permit and daily permit are required. (Insider Tip: In addition to Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout, you can also catch Golden and Donaldson Trout at Raven Fork.)
Especially Scenic Fishing Spots
The beautiful Smoky Mountains are made up of pristine, heart-stopping views, lush valleys, waterfalls, rocky bluffs and more to enjoy while you fish. Tanasee Creek (4) has an incredibly scenic stretch in the Nantahala National Forest, and the cluster of Small Streams (2) and WhiteWater River (7) fishing locations feature gorgeous waterfalls. Tuckasegee River from East Laporte Park to NC 107 Bridge (10) has picnic tables to enjoy the surrounding beauty (and restrooms.)
Insider Tip: Don’t miss Jackson County’s Hook, Line, and Drinker Fly Fishing Festival with live music, food and beer, family activities and everything fly fishing!
More Fly-Fishing Hot Spots in WNC
In addition to the Tuckasegee, Nantahala, and Oconaluftee (in Cherokee) Rivers, there are several other considerable fly-fishing rivers in Western North Carolina, including the Hiwassee and Little Tennessee Rivers. WNC Fly Fishing Trail Hot Spots and FishCherokee.com are fantastic resources when you’re planning your trip, but also check out a comprehensive map to all WNC Smoky Mountain Trout Fishing areas at NC Fishing Areas and Trout Waters.
To Hire a Guide or Not? That is the question.
Fly fishing in Western North Carolina is a business teeming with the most knowledgeable outfitters and experienced guides. As a beginner, you will need these professionals to help you select the best equipment for your goals, show you which flies to tie and rigs to use, demonstrate casting techniques for specific situations, and show you where to find the fish.
For those flush with fly-fishing experience, the answer to the question is still a yes. These guides are familiar with specific regulations for each fishing spot. For instance, do you know the difference amongst “Delayed Harvest,” “Wild Trout with Natural Bait,” and “Hatchery-Supported” waters and what they require? They do.
Guides also know somewhat mundane-but-critical matters, such as the safest point of river entry. And they have their thumb on the pulse of the rivers; guides are on the water daily and know where to go to give you the experience you want. Smoky Mountain fishing guides are also somewhat of local legends with lifetimes of jokes and fish stories, but they also value your serenity and will follow your lead.
For guide suggestions, visit Fly Fishing the Smokies or WNC Fly Fishing Trail Team. There are plenty of experts to choose from! At AB’s Fly Fishing, they offer 30 years of education and flexible scheduling to fit your vacation needs. Owner/guide Alex Bell, along with Bobby Kilby and trail founder, Julie Spiro Donaldson, spearheaded the Jackson County fly-fish trail project.
Fish Tales Outfitters offer a full-service fly shop and guide shop while Carolina Trout Guides are an excellent choice for newbies and furnish all your equipment. Dream Catcher Fishing Supply and Guides puts you in the hands of pro anglers like Austin Neary while reeling in your dream catch. Blue Chip Fly Fishing expert Eddie Hudon in Whittier, NC and Brooking Anglers in Cashiers are also excellent choices for knowledgeable guide services. Solace Fly Fishing offers full outfitting and your choice of 4 to 8 hours of wade or float trips of premium fly fishing, and Tuckasegee Fly Shop is knowledgeable and convenient with locations in both downtown Bryson City and Sylva, NC.
Of special note, Rivers Edge Outfitters, located in the heart of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, offers guides who are intimately familiar with thousands of miles of waterways. Hightrout Guides in Cullowhee, NC are well known for their hands-on, highly personalized instruction. They are experienced teaching all levels of anglers with patience and encouragement.
Andy’s Trout Farm is a popular family-owned destination where you can stay in rental cabins right on the stream and Scaly Mountain Trout Farm, also a family business, features Rainbow Trout catching with no license or limit. Sunburst Trout Farms is a local favorite and you’ll find their fish being served at restaurants across the east coast. They have a farm market you can visit to purchase fish, and sometimes offer tours.
Catch-and-Release – Please Do No Harm
Of course, your guide is also crucial to overseeing the health of the fish and their sustainability. The article Catch-and-Release: Best Practices to Release Your Fish Unharmed by Ross Purnell on FlyFisherman.com is an invaluable resource for how to catch and release with as little injury as possible to the fish. Learn priceless information, such as:
- How to release a fish without touching it.
- Why you want to use a net with soft rubber mesh instead of abrasive cotton or nylon.
- Why it’s important to remove the hook with a clamps or hemostats and not regular pliers.
- Why you should never touch a fish with dry hands or lay your catch in the grass or snow.
We know how seriously you take your responsibility to fish responsibly and with compassion, and we applaud you!
Rules and Regulations
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is a reliable source of information about the rules and regulations you’ll need to follow on your Smoky Mountain fly-fishing vacation. You can also purchase your license directly from them.
- For North Carolina residents: Whether you plan a quick weekend getaway or a long vacation of Smoky Mountain fly fishing, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your license.
- Short-term, annual, lifetime licenses, as well as special licenses for seniors and the disabled are available.
- For non-residents: Be a prepared angler. Get your license before you arrive for your Smoky Mountain fly-fishing vacation. Short-term, annual and lifetime fishing licenses are all available for purchase from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission .
Note about Cherokee: A separate license is required to fish on the waters owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. You can order your license online at Cherokee Permit Information or at one of many stores in Cherokee.
At the unique Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, located in Bryson City near the visitor Center and Heritage Museum, visitors can discover the history of Southern Fly Fishing, learn the fly knots and types of fish, and hear some of the outrageous legends that always come with fishing! Great fun for even the non-anglers.
Plan a Great Smoky Mountain Fly Fishing Getaway!
While you are here, take part in some of the other outdoor adventures available in the Smoky Mountains: mountain biking, whitewater rafting, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, waterfalls, motorcycling The Dragon at Deal’s Gap, canoeing, ziplining and so much more. Many visitors have been known to come for the Smoky Mountain fly fishing, and then stay, so they can keep enjoying all the amazing beauty and fun of this area. Come for a weeklong vacation, a weekend getaway or quit your job and move here, but whatever you do, don’t miss out on NC Smoky Mountain fly fishing.
There is so much fun to be had in the North Carolina Smokies that you should do your research before arriving so you don’t miss a thing. Order our free travel guide, and you can begin planning right away. Download a digital copy or call 1-800-432-4678 to order.