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6 Best Spots for Trout Fishing in Western NC

Fly Fishing is a pastime with deep roots throughout Western North Carolina. The cold waters flow off the mountains, shaded by thick forests, providing the perfect habitat for coldblooded fish, most importantly, Trout. Jackson County is the Trout Capital of North Carolina. Many of these waters are stocked and hatchery supported by the state, allowing for prime trout fishing for everyone in Western NC. Whether you are a beginner hoping to practice your roll cast or an expert angler looking to nab a few trophy fish, Western North Carolina is the perfect place to hone your skills or simply to relieve stress. Here are 6 of our favorite fly fishing spots in Western North Carolina. 

1. Tuckasegee River

Coming from the Cherokee word meaning “turtle place”, possibly because of its slow-moving waters, the Tuckasegee River flows for 60 miles and is the heartbeat of many rivers and creeks, even a few on this list! Beginning just above Cullowhee, the Tuckasegee River runs through Jackson County and Swain County, where it eventually meets with Fontana Lake in the Nantahala National Forest. The river is sectioned to help anglers specify its location and the type of trout common in the area. The section of the Tuckasegee that runs through Dillsboro holds mostly Rainbow and Brown Trout. If you continue towards the NC 107 Bridge or further to East Laporte Park near Old Cullowhee Road, you can also hook a few Brook Trout that are known to be in the area. Learn more about the Tuck in our Guide to Fishing the Tuckasegee River

2. Nantahala River 

Loaded with Rainbow and Brown Trout, this heavily stocked, nearly 50-mile river is a staple for Western North Carolina anglers. One of the most famous trout rivers in the country, Nantahala has always been a hot spot for anglers. The river location in the Nantahala National Forest and proximity to Bryson City, make for a number of public access spots. The lower hatchery supported sections of the river, downstream from Duke Energy Gates, tend to be more popular for anglers. This is a great river to Trophy Fish, in fact, the State Record for Brown Trout has been held by Western North Carolinian Robert Dyer since 1998 when he caught a 24 lb 10 oz Brown Trout in this very river!

3. Oconaluftee River

This river is a treat for any angler, not only because of its home on the Cherokee Indian Reservation but the crystal clear waters that allow you to see fish swim right by you. With so many things to do in Cherokee, North Carolina, it is no surprise that anglers and their families love to visit every year. Spanning 30 miles, the elevation provides a consistent cool water supply to the river and allows cold-water fish to find a home within its banks. The river is stocked with Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Golden Trout and because it is closely kept by the Cherokee Nation, the surrounding nature is fairly untouched and breathtaking. 

4. Raven Fork

Part of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail and an offshoot of the Tuckasegee, this catch and release only stream runs for just over 2 miles on the reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and is the perfect fishing spot for serious anglers. Due to its status as a Cherokee Tribal Waters stream and catch and release laws, it is common to catch rather large trophy fish in these waters. Also, there tends to be less traffic from beginners and more from serious fishermen, which can appeal to those seeking a quiet retreat. Anglers can catch not only Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout, but Golden and Donaldson Trout as well. Please be aware this is sovereign Cherokee Land and requires a separate Cherokee Fishing Permit, that can be picked up on the reservation. 

5. Panthertown Creek 

Another stop marked on the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, Panthertown Creek is a 3 mile stretch of cold inviting water for any angler. It is fairly open, allowing anglers to test out various casts and as they wade in. Unlike some of the other nearby streams, Panthertown tends to be free of large rock creek beds and the sandy bottom allows you to traverse fairly easily. These are catch and release, single, artificial lures only waters. Anglers enjoy “roughing it” by the rivers, starting the day with a line in the water. Because this is a headwater for the Tuckasegee, it tends to hold some rather large trout. 

6. WNC Fly Fishing Trail

Jackson County is home to the country’s first fly fishing trail, the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. With 15 spots popular with Fly Fisherman from across the country for years, the trail helps you plan the perfect fishing trip to Western North Carolina. The WNC Fly Fishing Trail is excellent for locals because it encourages tourism and for visitors, all the trip information including maps, lodging, tackle shops, etc. is in one convenient location. Download a WNC Fly Fishing Trail Map now!

A Few Things to Remember

  • Follow the Rules. When fishing, please be aware and observe all local laws and regulations. It can cost you dearly in fines and penalties should you choose to break them. 
  • Fishing Permit. Always fish with a permit. A NC Mountain Heritage Permit will allow you to purchase a 3-day pass for $5, giving you access to streams in Sylva, Dillsboro, and Webster NC. If fishing outside mountain heritage waters, you will need an NC Fishing Permit. Any streams on the Cherokee Reservation require a Cherokee Fishing Permit.
  • Trout Stamp. If you are Fishing for Trout, you will also need a trout stamp with your fishing permit. They can add this to your permit at the time of purchase. 
  • Fly Fishing Guides. There is equipment involved with fly fishing. So if you are just learning, a fishing guide is a great way to learn without having to commit to purchasing all of your equipment. 
  • Tackle Shops. There are a number of tackle shops in WNC that offer equipment, flies, waders, maps, nets, etc. You can also purchase a fishing permit at most tackle shops as well. One of the most popular tackle spots is Tuckaseegee Fly Shop. 

Fly Fishing can be stressful when you are a beginner, but once you have your casts down, it is one of the most calming things to do on a river. The tranquil waters, not to mention the health benefits of trout themselves, is one of the many ways living by a river can help to improve your health and mindset. Listening to the sound of the river and watching the water flow through creek beds and the occasional trout pop the surface, you may never want to leave. And finding a home in Cullowhee means you are never far from casting a fly.