An Expert Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in North Carolina

Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith breaks down all the types of fishing found in North Carolina and lists some of the best locations to get some bites around the state!

A fishing reel and rod sitting in water.

Fishing Near Boone, NC. Photo by Samuel Cruz

When people think of southern states, fly fishing destinations often do not come to mind. I am here to tell you, though, that North Carolina is a hidden gem in the world of fly fishing. With miles of scenic Blue Ridge Mountains streams that hold trout and over 300 miles of coastline for saltwater anglers and countless warm water opportunities in between, North Carolina should be on every fly fisher’s bucket list. As regulations and rules change, please make sure to check for updated regulations before any trip.

Trout Fly Fishing Opportunities

A hand holding a trout above water.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Trout fly fishing is predominantly based on Appalachian streams. From small streams you would fish with your ultralight fly rod to larger rivers that you float, North Carolina has some stunning opportunities. Here are some of the better ones:

Davidson River

Located in the Pisgah National Forest, this river is one of the more popular trout fishing streams. This freestone river is full of brook trout, rainbow trout, and large brown trout. Below the Pisgah Fish Hatchery is a section of the river known as the “Big D.” Although not stocked, this section is known to hold large trout. Above Avery Creek is a wild trout stream management area. Below Avery Creek, the stream is stocked with plenty of public access. As this is a freestone stream, aquatic life is plentiful, and you can fish dry flies, nymphs, and streamers equally effectively.

The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail

Located in Jackson County, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this first-in-the-nation fly fishing trail is based around the Tuckasegee River system. Over 4,600 miles of stream host both wild and stocked brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. With over 31 public access points, anglers of all skill levels from beginners to experts will enjoy this treat.

  • Raven Fork: Within this fly fishing trail is Raven Fork, which is managed by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. You will need to buy a special tribal permit to fish this, but you are not required to have a North Carolina fishing license. There is a 2.2-mile stretch that is managed as trophy trout waters and 20-inch fish are considered boring. In fact, the state brook trout record of seven pounds was caught here.

Nantahala River

The Nantahala River.

Photo by Vee Drummer

This is perhaps the most famous North Carolina stream. Beginning in the Nantahala National Forest, the upper reaches are a hike to get into, but anglers are rewarded with native wild brook trout. Below White Oak Creek, the fishing is more popular and more accessible. Stocked rainbows and brown trout are the predominant fish here. Lower sections of the river are often floated; once you get past Powerhouse Falls, the water flow often makes wading difficult.

Oconaluftee River

Situated in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, this is another river that is on the Qualla Boundary and is managed by the tribe. The river is stocked twice a week and rainbow trout average around 20 inches with brown trout being larger. Palomino and brook trout are also stocked for added color. Compared to other trout streams in the area, this river sees less fishing pressure.

Watauga River

This is a great river for anglers of all skill levels. Some sections have large waters that are easy casting for beginners, and other sections more experienced anglers will find challenging. The river is wadeable but is also deep enough to fish from a drift boat. With plenty of public access, this is a river with something for everyone.

South Mills River

Per Trout Unlimited this river is one of the top 100 rivers in the United States. Located in Pisgah National Forest, this is a stream to hike into. For anglers who take the South Mills or Turkey Pen Gap trails, this remote stream will reward them with wild rainbow and brown trout and a scenic landscape.

South Toe River

The South Toe River in autumn.

Cleo Camp on the South Toe River. Photo courtesy of Bob is Traveling

This river flows off Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina’s highest peak, and enters the Pisgah National Forest. The upper section is designated a wild trout stream with rainbows, brown, and brook trout that is not frequently fished. The lower sections are more easily accessed and are stocked. Crystal clear water with abundant aquatic insect life makes this a great trout stream.

Wilson Creek

This is another beautiful trout stream that flows through the Pisgah National Forest. Located near the Blue Ridge Parkway, anglers of this stream are treated to breathtaking landscapes as they chase stocked and wild trout. This creek is essentially divided up into two different sections, the Gorge and the Headwaters. The Gorge section is heavily stocked and is a mixture of public and private land, so be sure to check for posted land signs. The Headwaters section has more difficult access but is a typical Smoky Mountain stream of riffles, runs, and short deep pools with fish. If you get bored fishing, plenty of people visit this creek just to lounge in the water.

Mitchell River

With lush foliage surrounding the water, brush up on your roll casting as you fish the deep pocket water pools. This stream is surrounded by pristine Blue Ridge Mountains landscapes. With tight fishing quarters, presentation often outweighs the fly pattern. Dead drift nymphs through the deep pools and make sure to have enough weight to reach the bottom.

Linville River

The Linville River.

Photo by T. Simmons

This is a mid-sized river that has quite a bit of water flow at the higher elevations. Rainbow, brook, and brown trout inhabit this stream. The popular Linville Gorge section can be accessed via the Linville Gorge Trail. In the warmer water sections, smallmouth bass can be caught as well.

Helton Creek

This creek is one of the largest in Ashe County. This creek is an 11-mile opportunity to chase brook, brown, and rainbow trout. With one of the largest delayed harvest sections, this creek offers anglers opportunities to fish in near solitude.

Green River

Located in Polk County, this tailwater river is located between two dams. Most of the river is managed as a wild trout river, but some sections receive hatchery support. Public access makes this an easy stream to fish.

Rocky Broad River

This river near Asheville is a little warmer than other streams in the area. Despite this, rainbow, brook, and brown trout swim in the pools of this river. Smallmouth bass can also be targeted.

Warm Water Species

In addition to having great trout fishing, North Carolina also has an excellent warm-water fishery. Huge largemouth bass are common and other species can be caught.

Lake Fontana

This 10,000-acre lake has over 400 miles of shoreline to fish. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and even musky can be caught here. Although this can be fished from the shoreline (and do not forget to fish some of the feeder streams for trout), this lake is best fished from a boat.

Nolichucky River

The Nolichucky River.

Photo by Brian Stansberry

The “Chucky” is a warm water river formed by the confluence of the Toe and Cane rivers. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and musky can be caught in these waters. In the winter, fat rainbow trout are stocked by the North Carolina Department of Fisheries.

Shearon Harris Lake

This lake is known for its big largemouth bass. Cast baitfish imitations along the shore to hook up with these large fish.

Falls of Neuse Lake

This is another lake that is known for monster hog largemouth bass. Fish Clouser Minnows deep and slow to catch these pigs. Do not forget the Neuse River, which feeds this lake and fishes well for warm water species.

Saltwater Opportunities

With wonderful beaches and coastline, there are opportunities to catch saltwater species as well. Next time you are headed to the Outer Banks, make sure to bring a rod.

Dare County Bridges

The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge in North Carolina.

Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, North Carolina Highway 12, Outer Banks, North Carolina. Photo by Ken Lund

Striped bass are found in the areas around Dare County. The numerous bridges create the structure to attract them and the access to fish for them. Grab your saltwater rod and fish baitfish imitations on a brisk retrieve around the bridges.

Oregon Inlet

The sandbars and marshes around this area create water flows like rivers. Fish these “rips,” as the locals refer to them, with a crosscurrent cast, swing, and retrieve. Striper action here is also phenomenal.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article inspires you to try your hand at fishing in the waters of this state. As you can see, great opportunities await anglers of every kind. If you have any questions or need help picking out gear, please reach out to me or a fellow Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated. We would love to help you plan your next adventure. Tight lines!

Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith
Fly Fishing Expert
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Written By
I am an avid fly fisherman. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard exactly two minutes from my fly tying bench. If there is open water, I will fish just about every day. Although I grew up fishing the fabled streams of Pennsylvania, I love to travel and fly fish for diverse species both fresh and sa...

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