There are plenty of trout fly fishing opportunities in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. For more information contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238. If you book a trip, use the JRW discount code. Some of the best trout fly fishing streams in the Great Smoky Mountains area include Snowbird Creek, the Nantahala River, the Davidson River, the French Broad River, Newberry Creek and the North Mills River. All of these rivers and streams are full of brown, brook and rainbow trout.
Social media has greatly changed the outdoor industry. Some of you may know that I grew up on a whitewater rafting river in the mountains of North Carolina. More on those years here. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s white water rafting, fly fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking and general sight seeing were at their peak. Then 9/11 happened. I think more importantly, Apple and advanced smartphones happened. I am a firm believer that children no longer want to take a vacation to the mountains because they will not have wifi or Internet access. Their iPhones and iPads won’t work as well as they do in the city.
When I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s it was often the case that the only entertainment opportunities were to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I remember taking an hour every evening just to mountain bike around the countryside. I have three nephews and one niece between the ages of 8 and 16. While one of my nephews loves to be outdoors and remain active, the other three are perfectly content playing on their iPad. So much so that they cannot go anywhere without them. This has changed the entire outdoor travel industry. Camping is almost non existent. Families want cabins that have built in wifi or computers readily available. Unplugging for 24 hours is nearly impossible for most.
All that said, there are still a large number of hard working Americans that would love the opportunity to get away and enjoy some of the best trout fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. This resource will help illustrate ways you get find the best trout streams in the western part of North Carolina and eastern part of Tennessee. If you have never visited the mountains of North Carolina you are missing out. Here are what the leaves look like in the fall:
Photo by Colby Brown
- First Bridge to Powerhouse
- Second Bridge to Third Bridge
- Third Bridge to Fourth Bridge Behind Private Property Fence
- Fourth Bridge to Piercy Creek
- The Piercy Creek Hole
- Piercy Creek to Fifth Bridge
- Fifth Bridge to Sixth Bridge – Waterfall Hole
- Sixth Bridge to Cascades
- The Cascades to Nantahala High School
Upper Nantahala River Fly Fishing
If there is any river in which I have experience it is the Upper Nantahala River. This section of the Nantahala is known for its trout fishing. In recent years there have been talks to open up the upper section to rafters. There were a few select weekends in 2013 in which the US Forest Service did this. I am not certain what will happen in 2014 and beyond but I cannot see any of the whitewater rafting outfitters on the river taking the chance of putting tourists on the upper section of the Nantahala River.
When I was younger my older brother would take a duckie or funyak down the upper when it rained quite a bit. Trust me when I tell you hit had to rain for several days for rafts or funyaks to make it safely down this section of the river. My brother was a very experienced raft guide. Even with that being the case it was quite difficult for him to navigate the upper section of the Nantahala without falling out. In fact, there were a few times he did fall out and he could not get back in the boat for several miles. This is not something that will be acceptable for tourists that are paying money to raft down this section of the river. If you want to raft or camp on the Nantahala River make sure to contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238 and use the code JRW for a discount.
I will add an entire section to this resource explaining how I feel about the US Forest Service opening up the Upper Nantahala for rafting. In the meantime, let us discuss some of the great fly fishing opportunities that are now available. I won’t go over all of my “secret” spots but I will point out the reasons the Upper Nantahala is one of the best fly fishing rivers east of the Mississippi.
When visiting the Nantahala Gorge area people will come in from Bryson City to the east or Murphy and Andrews to the west. When approaching the gorge on US Hwy 19/74 tourists will enter Macon County. When you see Brookside Campground and Rafting on the left hand side of the road coming from Murphy you will know you are in the gorge area. When you see NOC or the Nantahala River on the right hand side of the road coming from Bryson City you know you are in the gorge area. When approaching from Murphy the Upper Nantahala is only about one mile from Brookside Campground and Rafting. When driving in from Bryson City the Upper Nantahala is about eight miles from the takeout area and NOC.
The best way to find the Upper Nantahala is look for the “Nantahala Put In” signs. This will be on Wayah Rd. When coming from Murphy Wayah Rd will be on the right. When coming from NOC and Bryson City Wayah Rd. will be on the left. When you turn on Wayah Rd. you will drive less than a mile and you will see the Nantahala Powerhouse and the dam that releases water into the whitewater rafting section of the Nantahala River. This will be the first bridge on Upper Nantahala. When giving driving directions on Upper Nantahala I always use the bridges as landmarks.
First Bridge to the Powerhouse
After crossing over the first bridge tourists and fly fishers will notice a huge parking lot on the left hand side of the road. There is a severe right hand turn and the upper put in, which is gravel, is on the left hand side. Some fly fisherman will use this parking lot to test the waters to see what type of trout fishing is ahead of them. You can park anywhere along the edge of the forest but remember whitewater rafting companies such as Wildwater and NOC will be using this area to drop off rafters. If you want to raft down the Nantahala River make sure to contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238. They will give you a discount if you use the promo code JRW.
I would not suggest fishing on the left hand side of the parking lot. This is where the water comes from the damn to feed into the rafting part of the Nantahala River. When the water is not running it is a great place to fish but they usually run the water from 9:00 am until 5:00 or 6:00 pm depending on the time of year. When the water is running there is no point in trying to fight a losing battle. It is just too fast to even attempt to fly fish. On the right hand side of the parking lot is where the Upper Nantahala feeds into the lower Nantahala.
I have had much success in this area but it gets fished quite a bit. It is the first pull off area on the Upper and most people that come to fish the Nantahala will start here. These fish have seen plenty of fisherman over the last several days so do not feel as if you are the first person to find this spot. It is not a bad place to scope out the scene and see if there are any fish rising but I would not sink too much time fishing in this particular part of upper.
Second Bridge to Third Bridge
After crossing over the first bridge you will not drive more than half a mile until you cross over the second bridge. This will be a curve to the right. On each side of this bridge you will find pull off areas. The area to pull off before the bridge is right at the base of the Nantahala Powerhouse. Accessing the river from here can be difficult. It is a steep decline to the river but there are some great dry fly fishing holes in this section of the river. When the North Carolina Wildlife Department stocks the Upper Nantahala with trout they do it from the bridges. As you can imagine there are plenty of trout around the bridges if you happen to stumble upon the river just after a day of stocking.
If you cross over the second bridge you will find a place to park on both sides of the road. It is a little bit easier to access the river from this location. I have had some great days fishing just below the second bridge. There is a deep hole that is often full of brown, rainbow and brook trout. You may also want to try to fly fish right under the bridge. I hooked a very large rainbow trout under the middle section of the bridge. You will have to wade out into the river if you hope to fish this part of the stream. If you do not have good waders or river shoes you are going to find it very difficult to wade in these waters.
From the second bridge to the third bridge you are going to find plenty of great fly fishing and trout water. This isn’t more than a mile in distance which makes it plentiful just after the Wildlife Department stocks the river. If you park at the powerhouse and walk up I would suggest walking or wading on the left hand side of the river. About 200 yards up from the second bridge you will notice a long, deep hole that is perfect for fly fishing. At different times of the year you will likely find beaver ponds in this particular area. If you are dry fly fishing I would suggest fishing at the low end of this hole. If you are nymph, wet fly or streamer fishing I would hit the top end of the hole where it is deepest. You may want to set your strike indicator a little bit higher so you can get your nymph deep enough for the trout to see it.
Above that particular long, deep hole you will find some choppy water which is great for swinging nymphs. You will also find a few spots to throw some dry flies behind rocks or in eddies. This type of choppy water also serves as a way to stay out of the vision of the trout. A quite pro tip is to swing a nymph through the water where the bubbles start. This is where trout get their oxygen and it tends to be a place they are willing to feed underwater.
As you approached the third bridge you will notice a long calm area of the river. I would be especially careful approaching this hole because it is not very deep and you will spook the fish if you aren’t quiet. This is one of the best places on the Upper to do some dry fly fishing. You have about 150 yards of calm water that is amazing in terms of mayflies and caddis patterns. As always, try to fish upstream and mend your line as much as possible. This will help make the float of the fly look much more natural. If you happen to fish this section of the upper just after they stock it you can pull out 50 to 100 fish without a problem. Timing it just right can be nearly impossible though.
Third Bridge to Fourth Bridge Behind Private Property Fence
After crossing over the third bridge the river will then be on the left hand side of the road. From the third bridge all the way to the fourth bridge there is a fence. Inside this fence is private property and there are signs posted everywhere that you should not enter. It is important to understand that the property only extends to the water. If you are wading in the river you are not on private property. Any water in the Nantahala River is not owned by an individual; it is owned by the state.
Recently, a lodge has been built on this piece of property. Interestingly enough, it is very difficult to find this particular cabin when looking on Google. They obviously need my help, but that is another article for another time. I have always wondered what it would be like to stay in this cabin, get up and immediately hit the Upper Nantahala early in the morning. The cabin is rather large as I am almost certain it holds up to eight people. Do not think you are going to be able to stay in this particular cabin for under $100 a night. In fact, most of the nicer cabins in the area are going to cost between $150 and $400 a night depending on where you stay and what services you desire.
After doing some lengthy research and calling my parents I found out the cabin is named the Nantahala River Lodge. You can access the website here. It looks like you are going to pay between $300 and $375 a night. It might be a better idea to book the cabin for a week. A week long rental is between $1925 and $2275 per week depending on the time of year you plan on traveling to the area. I would call ahead or make sure to contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238. Use the JRW discount code to save up to 10% or more.
The trout fishing behind the private property fence can actually be pretty good. The fact that most tourists do not know you can go behind the fence means it is often full of trout. You can park at the third bridge and wade up the river. Something I suggest doing is parking just below the fourth bridge and fishing around that area. When I was younger I caught over 100 fish under the fourth bridge as it is a hotbed the few weeks after the river is stocked with trout.
The private property fence ends about 100 yards before the fourth bridge. If you are getting down to the river at the fourth bridge please be very careful. It is a steep decline and you can slip rather easily. Once you get down to the water there are plenty of rocks to stand on to cast your fly into this perfect fly fishing water. I have had great luck with dry flies in this area. During one fly fishing experience my friends actually stood on the bridge and caught one fish after another. They were throwing bare hooks in the water and pulling out trout. I think it is safe to say that those fish were a little bit hungry. Do not expect this to happen when you go trout fly fishing on the Nantahala River in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Fourth Bridge to Piercy Creek
The longest stretch of the Upper Nantahala River without the road crossing over the river is between the fourth bridge and the fifth bridge. I will split this into two different sections because there is so much amazing trout fly fishing water available. It is all right beside the road as well. As you drive over the fourth bridge the river will go to the right hand side of the road. There is a dirt pull off not more than 30 yards after you cross the bridge. You absolutely must get this spot if it is available. From this spot there is a wonderful stretch of water that is almost always full of rainbow and brown trout.
I would start by walking down to the bridge and entering the river right above the bridge. Fish up the river and you are sure to hook several fish. There are small holes and there are large holes. The best day of fly fishing I ever had on the Nantahala River was in the long hole on the right hand side of the river right beside the pull off. I stood at the bottom of the hole and threw nymphs patterns into the bubbly water. Even single time I did my strike indicator bounced. I kid you not. It went all the way under the water because the trout were hitting the nymphs so hard.
What made this day all the more special was the fact that I was catching fish on nymphs I had tied myself. If you hit this section of the Upper Nantahala at the right time I can promise you will catch dozens of big trout. On that particular afternoon my forearms were literally tired from reeling in one 15 inch trout after another. Not only were they long but they were thick as well. I have never had this experience again but it was something I will never forget. In that hole alone I pulled out well over 50 good sized trout off nymphs.
If this hole does not work out for you continue to walk upstream. There is a very deep hole on the far right hand side of the river. You will have to wade across the river to get to it. This is not the most ideal hole for dry fly fishing but it is perfect for nymph, wet fly or streamer fishing. It is a rather long hole as well as it is about 75 yards. You could fish this hole for several hours if the trout fishing is good on that particular day. I wouldn’t hang out in this hole long if you hope to catch trout that are rising for dry flies.
If your goal is to catch trout on dry flies I would suggest moving up stream about 100 yards from the deep hole. There is a much more shallow area of the river that is absolutely perfect for dry fly fishing. It is about 50 yards long by 25 yards wide. This is a hole in which I have seen 18 inch trout rising for dry flies. Some of the best patterns on the Upper Nantahala are the Elk Hair Caddis, the Royal Coachman and the Light Cahill. Any type of yellow mayfly pattern will work as well. In this hole you can start at the bottom and cast upstream. If you are good at double hauling or single hauling you will be able to cast as far as you so desire. Remember to keep the line tight as it works its way back to where you are standing.
If you are driving I would suggest going back to your truck or SUV at this point. There are a few more pull offs available so you won’t have to walk several miles to and from your car. If you are hoping to get exercise you can keep walking or wading but it is not necessary. The next half mile up from the long flat hole is choppy water as the river is split in half. I have had friends that have had great success in this part of the river but I have never found it plentiful. You may want to give it a try.
After hoping back in the vehicle you will see a pull off to the right. That is where the river is split and it is choppy water. If you go up to the next pull off you will find a long deep hole that looks juicy. I would park here and check out some of the options. There are two pretty deep holes right off the side of the road. If you walk down, to the right, from the pull off you will find some very deep water. There are some huge boulders that you will have to climb over to access the river. I have caught my fair share of rainbow and brook trout in this section of the river but nothing amazing.
The hole that is right off the road looks amazing but it has been fished by everyone that has ever been on the Upper Nantahala. There are times when I have caught dozens of fish in this hole and other times when I can’t even move a fish. Interestingly enough, when I first started fly fishing I caught a rock bass in this hole. I have no idea how a bass got into the Nantahala River but it did. If you are really good at hook casting I would suggest trying dry flies all the way across the current to see if you can catch some of the fish that are hiding out under the trees and beside the rock bed.
It is nearly impossible to wade across and get to the other side of the river at this hole. This is why casting is essential. If you have perfected some of the more difficult casts you may be able to land some nice sized rainbow, brown or brook trout on dry flies. Try a caddis pattern that bounces off the rocks. You’ll be shocked at how many fish love the brown or green caddis patterns.
From this particular hole I would hop in my vehicle and drive up to the next pull off. When driving up from here you will go into a very long curve that works its way to the right. There is an extremely long, flat hole that looks absolutely wonderful. In fact, it is a picture out of a magazine or book. Unfortunately, every Tom, Dick and Harry that drives on Wayah Rd sees this hole and tries their luck. There is not a pull off right at that particular hole. You will have to drive up about 200 yards from the hole and pull over. Most of the time this parking spot is taken because of the long, beautiful hole.
Unless you see fish rising in that particular hole I wouldn’t even worry about it. If you are getting there later in the day I can promise there have been 20 other fly fisherman in the hole trying to catch a trout or two. Instead, I would walk up the stream from that pull off area. There are a few great eddies and patches of slow water that can be plentiful. Nobody fishes them because they are in awe of the hole that is just down the stream and visible from the road.
From this pull off upstream there will be two more pull offs. The second will be where Piercy Creek comes off the side of the mountain. This is one of the best places to fish on the entire Upper Nantahala. Most people do not realize how much trout love tributaries coming into a larger body of water. The water is a little bit colder and there is plenty of oxygen. Pull over at the Piercy Creek sign and you will be glad you did. You will really have to keep your eyes open to make sure you see the Piercy Creek sign. It is a small wooden sign that is nailed to a tree. If you are going faster than 30 mph you will probably miss it. Drive slow and look for the small stream coming off the side of the mountain.
The Piercy Creek Fishing Hole
As mentioned above, you will know the Piercy Creek hole because there will be a stream coming off the side of the mountain. There is also a long pull off about 30 yards up the road from where this particular spot is. If you are comfortable wading in swift water I would suggest crossing the river at the pull off. As you walk down you will notice the creek feeding into the Upper Nantahala River. This is a perfect spot to catch trout. Here is my story…
When I was younger I was fishing with dry flies at this particular spot. The current caught my fly and took it underwater. I lifted my rod tip trying to get the fly back to the surface. A huge rainbow trout, about 23 inches, came up and grabbed the fly. I was with my best friend at the time and he immediately started going crazy. I did everything I could to keep the monster on the line. He grabbed his net and started chasing it all over the fishing hole. As soon as he was about to net it it snapped my line and swam off. At that time, it was the biggest fish I had every hooked. To this day I still wonder how much that trout would have weighed.
If you are not comfortable wading across the river there are plenty of places to stand on the road side of the river. Casting is a cause for concern for those fishing this hole. You will need to use an S cast or a tuck cast to get your dry fly in the right spot to catch the big fish. That said, even if your casting is not great you can still catch fish in this hole as there are plenty of little pockets to drop your fly. If you are good at nymph fishing you could stand in this hole and pull out fish all day. This has been a great spot for many years. If you get there at the right time of day you will not want to leave.
Piercy Creek to the Fifth Bridge
Once you have passed Piercy Creek there are two more pull off areas on the right hand side of the road to access the river. I would not suggest either of these as the trout water is not that amazing. There are some pockets here and there but the better trout water is coming up. Something else all fly fisherman will notice is the long deep hole right before the fifth bridge. This is the juiciest looking hole on the entire river. That said, I have never caught a single fish in this hole. It is either completely fished out or too good to be true.
I have never tried to fish the hole to great depths. It is obvious it is deeper than 10 or 15 feet which makes it nearly impossible to fly fish. If you are a bait caster or a spinner fisher you might have luck on this hole. In my opinion, it is a waste of time. You may want to walk up from that hole to a better hole right under the fifth bridge. Remember when the Wildlife Department stocks the river they do it from the bridges.
Under the fifth bridge there is a long flat hole that is perfect for fly fishing. I have seen hundreds of fish in this particular hole. It is crystal clear and flat water in this part of the river so you will need to proceed with caution. I would suggest starting at the bottom and casting up stream. The bridge is about 25 feet above the water at this location so do not feel as if you will be able to fish from the bridge. When looking for a place to stay near Piercy Creek or any part of the Upper Nantahala make sure to contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238. Use the promo code JRW for a discount.
Fifth Bridge to the Sixth Bridge – The Waterfall Hole
When driving across the fifth bridge it will put the Upper Nantahala back on the left hand side of the road. There are two pull off areas shortly after you cross the bridge. Some of the water that is available is attractive but I have not had a ton of luck in this particular area. The next pull off area on the left is a different story. The third pull off area above the fifth bridge will allow you to access the “Waterfall Hole”. If nothing else, you should stop here to get some photographs. When I head back to the mountains I will be sure to get some HDR photos of this particular location. It is truly marvelous.
When pulling off you will be able to access some choppy water right beside the road. I would start here and work my way up. Throw some dry flies in the eddies and see what happens. As you work your way up and around the right hand corner you will see a gorgeous long, flat hole. Take your time with this hole. Start from the bottom and gradually work your way up. As you start to make your way to the top of this hole you will see the bottom of the waterfall. This is a waterfall that is well over 200 feet tall. While standing at the bottom of the hole you will not be able to see the entire waterfall; you will only be able to see the bottom where it feeds into the Upper Nantahala.
Remember when I mentioned a tributary coming into a bigger river like at Piercy Creek? This is very similar. You will want to take your time and cast some dry and wet flies into the area where the waterfall enters the Upper. You are sure to catch a few fish in this location. This is also a place where you can sit and watch the fish rising for dry flies. Something I absolutely love to do is watch the fish react to the dry flies on top of the water.
After you have reached the waterfall hole it is a good idea to make your way back up to the road and proceed about 50 to 75 yards up the river. When you look back you will be able to see the entire waterfall coming off the side of the mountain. If it is the middle of the summer you may not get to see it all because of the vegetation in the area. If you are at this location in the fall, winter or spring you should be able to capture the waterfall in its entirety.
Before proceeding from this location you may want to head back to your car. There are a few long, flat holes that look great but they have been fished a million times over. Bypass the next two gravel pull offs. As you start to ascend up a hill there is a very large pull off on the left. It will be the largest pull off of the entire river. Trust me when I tell you that you can’t miss it. I would pull off here and check out some of the opportunities.
It is a little bit difficult to access the river from this pull off but that makes for better fishing. As I have always told my nephew, the harder it is to access a particular fishing spot the more likely the fish have not seen many fly fishers or fishermen in general. You will have to go through some briars, trees and other shrubbery to get to the river. It is also quite difficult to cast when getting to the river. There will be a lot of roll casts and short casts. If you are not very athletic it might be best to pass up some of these fishing opportunities.
The rocks are steep and slick. The water is fast moving and you could really hurt yourself if you happen to fall in around this area. You do not want to break your fly rod and your leg trying to get a few extra casts in. That said, if you are athletic and you like a challenge this is one of the more interesting parts of the river. It is not right next to the road so you will have to put forth quite a bit of effort if you hope to catch some fish.
There is one more large pull off area just before the sixth bridge. This pull off area is about 100 feet above the river. If you hope to access the river you are going to have to scale down the side of the mountain. If you are not comfortable doing this I would say you shouldn’t even try. If you are young and athletic this is some of the best fishing on the entire river. Once again, because most people are not even going to try to scale the side of the mountain.
Sixth Bridge to the Cascades
The final bridge you will cross over on the Upper Nantahala is the sixth bridge. When you cross over the sixth bridge the river will be on your right. From this point to the cascades it will be very difficult to access the river. There are two or three pull off areas but you will have to scale down the side of a mountain for about 75 feet. You are also going to have to go down a steep slope that is about 75 and sometimes 80 degrees. If you are not in great shape and very coordinated I would not even suggest trying to get down to the river at this section of the trout waters.
If you are athletic and you want a challenge this is some of the best trout water on upper just because it does not get fished all that often. There are many long deep holes that are great for nymph or wet fly fishing. There are also a couple of long flat holes that will allow you to catch some fish on dry flies. Once you scale the mountain and get down to the river you will want to walk up stream. You might as well walk up stream all the way to the cascades because it is not worth it to keep going up and down the mountain.
This will give you about 500 to 600 yards of quality fly fishing. Before you decide to go down to the river I would suggest making certain you have everything you need in your fly vest. If you forget something you will have to climb the 80 feet back up to your car or truck. Also, recognize that wading is very dangerous in this part of the river. I would suggest trying to stay on the bank as much as possible.
The Cascades to Nantahala High School
The cascades are very recognizable. There is a half mile stretch that is one waterfall after another. This would be an amazing spot to pull over and take some videos or photographs. It is also a section of the river that kayakers love to boat when it has rained quite a bit. After a few days of rain you will see 20 or 30 kayakers trying to go over these waterfalls and playing around in the eddies at the bottom of the drops.
This is not the best fly fishing water on the upper. The waterfalls drop into deep pools in which it is nearly impossible to get fish to rise. I have seen some huge rainbow and brown trout in this section of the river it is just difficult to catch them on a fly rod. If you are fishing with worms, crickets, corn or bread you will be able to pull out some lunkers. That said, I have never been a bait caster. It is important to note that fishing with live bait is illegal at certain times of the year on the upper.
Just above the cascades there are some long flat holes that are great for fly fishing. I would suggest parking at the top pull off above the cascades and working your way up the river. This will give you about 200 yards of quality fly fishing. The road will be on the right hand side of the river. As you make your way up the river you will notice that it comes to a fork. The left fork of the river goes to a very large waterfall. This is great for photographs but not so great for fly fishing. The right side of the fork goes towards the Nantahala Dam and it is flat water.
Some of my friends have had great success going up the right hand side of the fork. The water is barely moving and it is not my favorite type of fly fishing. It is comparable to fly fishing on a lake or pond. This is basically where the fly fishing stops. If you want to go up to Nantahala High School there are a few little streams but rarely do they stock this section of the river. If you are not having any luck on the lower section of the Upper Nantahala I would give it a try but don’t waste your time if you are catching fish in below the cascades and high school.
How to Read the Water When Trout Fly Fishing
One of the biggest issues people have when trying to fly fish is reading the water. Something I like to do, even before getting my gear out of the trunk, is to take the time to observe the river. One of the best things about fly fishing is it gets you away from the busy lifestyle. Embrace the fact that you have plenty of time. Be patient and wait for the right time to approach the river.
On many rivers and streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you will be able to sit and observe the water. I always suggest going fly fishing during the week so you don’t have to deal with a crowd. Fly fishing on a Monday or Tuesday evening is a lot better than fly fishing on a Friday or Saturday evening. The best way to observe the water is to get a view from well above the river or stream. This will allow you to see below the surface. You may not realize it but this is very important. Much of the action happens below the surface.
By observing the water you will be able to see if trout are on the bottom feeding on nymphs or rising for dry flies. I absolutely love dry fly fishing. There is no better feeling than seeing a trout rise for your fly and properly setting the hook. If you see several trout rise over a 10 or 15 minute period you might be in for an amazing morning or evening. If you observe the water for 10 or 15 minutes and you do not see any movement, fish are likely not feeding. This means you will have to adjust your fishing strategy.
One of the most difficult things to do in fly fishing is to make a fish rise when it is not hungry. If you see flies on the water and the trout are not rising it is likely the case that they will not rise for your fly either. Even if you present it perfectly trout are smart enough to realize there are better options. Also realize that bigger trout have been around the block a time or two. They are not going to be fooled by a bad fly pattern or a poorly casted fly. This is especially true on rivers that are full of native trout that are picky.
If you are hoping to catch fish on nymphs there is a good chance you will see flashes under the water. Observe the long deep holes and try to catch a flash here and there. If you see a few flashes you know trout are actively swimming to catch and eat nymphs. This means it will be easier for you to catch some beautiful brown, rainbow and brook trout on nymphs.
What is Speckled Trout Fly Fishing?
Something that is common in the Great Smoky Mountains is speckled trout fishing. Speckled trout are native brook trout. Below is a photo of a speckled trout:
You may have also heard of speckled trout that are caught in the ocean. There is a difference in the slang term “speckled” trout used for native brook trout and the speckled trout in the ocean. The only speckled trout you are going to catch in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina or Tennessee are native brook trout.
Something unique about speckled brook trout is their size. To catch a speckled trout that is over 8 inches is special. In fact, some of my friends from back home have mounted speckled trout that were over 10 inches. Most of the time these trout will remain between 3 and 7 inches. The great thing about speckled trout fly fishing is you can catch a fish on every single cast. There have been times when I hooked over 100 fish in a single day.
Do not expect to catch large fish but you will catch a lot. Most of the time you will have to hike in several miles if you hope to find speckled trout waters. Some very good speckled trout waters are on Snowbird above the first and second falls. Some people will ride four wheelers into this area because it takes awhile to get back to where the fishing is good. You may also want to think about camping because it will take several hours to hike in and hike out. If you would like to stay near speckled trout waters make sure to contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238. Use the promo code JRW to get a discount on your stay or rafting trip.
Why a Fly Fishing Guide is Important
When heading into the mountains of North Carolina or Tennessee to go fly fishing it might be a good decision to seek a fly fishing guide. There are hundreds of rivers, streams and tributaries throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. Unfortunately, it is not the case that all of these trout waters are full of fish. If you have ever gone fishing in an unfamiliar area you have probably experienced a few days of not being able to find fish. There is nothing more depressing than driving five or more hours only to spend a few days getting your fly wet and catching nothing.
There are plenty of amazing fly fishing guides that grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. If you are looking to get the most out of your experience when it comes to trout fishing in the North Carolina mountains it never hurts to contact someone that grew up in Graham, Macon, Cherokee, Swain or Clay county. This is not the most populated area of the North Carolina mountains which makes it even more important to find a reputable guide that will be willing to help you land those thick rainbow, brook and brown trout.
Something I would encourage all trout or fly fishers to do is to prepare for your trip. There are a few guide services and fly shops in the area but if you are looking for something specific do not expect to find it early on a Saturday morning. One of my more recent trips to the North Carolina mountains helped me to realize how important it is to plan ahead. The trout were not rising for dry flies so I had to adjust my fly fishing strategy. I could either use wet flies, streamers or nymphs. I will admit that I am not the best fisher when it comes to underwater flies.
When I have had success with nymphs it has been with a strike indicator assisting me. I have absolutely no ability to use nymphs without some type of indicator on top of the water. I was fly fishing on both the Upper and lower Nantahala River sections hoping to enjoy some amazing trout fishing. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to fish with anything but dry flies. I had some great nymph patterns including beadhead pheasant tails, tunghead princes, bead head hare’s ears and a few other popular patterns. I even had some caddis larvae type nymphs that have worked wonders in the past.
If I had a few strike indicators or any type of cotton balls I would have been able to have a somewhat successful trip to the mountains. Unfortunately, my lack of preparation caused me to have a miserable trip. I drove five hours to catch trout and all I did was waste time. There are no local fly shops on the Nantahala River that have everything you need when it comes to fly fishing. They might have a few of the basics but they definitely do not have strike indicators or different sized sinkers or weights. For more information on fly fishing or fly fishing guides in the Great Smoky Mountains make sure to contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238. Use the promo code JRW for a discount.
Nymph Fly Fishing with a Strike Indicator
As I mentioned earlier in this resource, it can be very difficult to fly fish when your fly is underwater. I do not have the best vision. In fact, I have worn glasses since I was five years old. This makes it very difficult for me to see underwater. Even when I can see underwater it is not well enough to determine when fish are moving for my streamer, nymph or wet fly. On most Great Smoky Mountain rivers and streams fly fishers will find that nymph fishing can be very fruitful at different times of the year. If you are fishing in the winter months it is especially useful to nymph fly fish.
For those that may not know, nymph fly fishing is fly fishing that is meant to imitate a nymph before it turns into a fly. Nymph patters are generally tied with a bead head or some type of weight to make them sink to the bottom of the river. Even with a bead head, some fly fishers will still add a sinker or a weight to the end of their line to make 100% certain the nymph gets to the bottom of the river as quickly as possible. Here is a bead head pheasant tail nymph pattern:
As you can see, most of this pattern was created to not only imitate a nymph but to sink very quickly. The majority of fly fishers will use a strike indicator so they can better determine when a trout has hit their nymph. Unfortunately, strike indicators are not always the best method to determine when a trout has hit your fly. There have been many times when I am closely watching my strike indicator yet I never saw it move. When I raise my rod tip there is a fish on the end of the line.
One of the best things about a strike indicator is it will tell you how the nymph is floating underwater. If the strike indicator gets stuck in an eddie or is floating too fast there is a good chance the nymph does not look natural to the brown, rainbow and brook trout underwater. For the most part, I use a strike indicator to tell me where my nymph is and how it is floating along under the water.
If you are very good at nymph fly fishing you may not have to use a strike indicator at all. I can honestly say I do not have this skill set. Unfortunately, my vision and my lack of understanding as to what is going on under the water makes it nearly impossible for me to fly fish without a strike indicator. When fish are extremely hungry they may hammer your nymph as soon as it hits the water but that is usually not that often. If you are looking for the best nymph patterns it may be best to call ahead to a fly shop in the local area to see what they suggest. Always contact Brookside Campground at 1-800-848-7238 to get the best fly fishing conditions in the Great Smoky Mountains. Use the promo code JRW for a discount.