DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Cullasaja River in North Carolina

Fly fishing offers a relaxing way to enjoy the great outdoors. Perhaps you’ve been looking to plan your own little getaway, but you’re not sure where to start. The professionals aren’t the only ones with all the tips and tricks, though.

In this guide, we’ll help you learn everything that you need to know to plan the perfect fly fishing excursion to the Cullasaja River in North Carolina. We’ll cover where to go, what to take, when to visit, and what you can expect along the way. In no time, you’ll have your trip planned and be able to hit the road knowing that you will surely have a good time.

Fly fishing the Cullasaja River in North Carolina

The Cullasaja River is a freestone stream, like many of the ones in the state are. It is home to several species of wild and stocked trout, including brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout that run from small to medium in size. This stream, located in northwest North Carolina, features a beautiful setting and plenty of waterfalls and cascades that create pools ideal for fishing.

This river offers miles of fishing access, with a total span of 13 miles in length. Some areas are harder to access than others, and there are tributaries that offer better fishing in certain areas to consider, as well. When you reach the creek, you’ll also notice the gorge that runs along the highway and other features that make access a bit more difficult.

The gorge itself is on parkland, while the river below is actually mostly on private property. The middle area of the gorge is the prime fishing spot, offering easy highway access without a lot of difficult terrain. Like many of the creeks in the state, this is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention, despite offering some great fishing opportunities.

For you, that means there will be less pressure and competition, no matter when you travel. There have been some issues with the river that are related to development over the years, but it has been mostly settled and the creek has returned to a popular fishing spot, even for those who have never heard of it until now.

While some areas are harder to access, most people report that they’re catching more wild trout than anything, so it’s probably worth a visit. After all, with a beautiful setting and some easy catches throughout, there’s something for everyone to love in the Cullasaja River.

Cullasaja River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access points on the Cullasaja River in North Carolina

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the Cullasaja River

The Cullasaja River, as mentioned, runs along with Highway #64 for most of its length. From here, there are several access points where you can get to the river from the bridges and other locations. There is even one spot near Bridal Veil Falls where you can drive behind and underneath the falls on the way to the water-- we absolutely recommend this. 

The river starts at Lake Sequoyah, flowing through the gorge into Franklin and offering access from a Forest Service Campground in addition to the other options. Look for access that doesn’t require a lot of climbing if you want the best trip. If you’re looking for a workout, of course, feel free to hike away and hunt for the best-hidden spots in the creek. 

The great thing about creeks like this is that some of the stream isn’t fished regularly, so you don’t have to work as hard to find the perfect spot. Fish are biting just about everywhere and with both shoreline and wade-in access, you’ll trust that casting a line just about anywhere in this creek will yield a good return. 

Make sure that you check for any access regulations near the private property that the river flows through so that you don’t wind up trespassing and upsetting the locals.

Best Time to Fish the Cullasaja River

You can find year-round fishing at this river, except during the month of March. Like many streams in the state, the river closes for hatchery operations during this time. Spring is the ideal time for fishing though, because of the stocking as well as the many aquatic insect hatches that provide plenty of good food for the fish.

When the midges and mayflies start hatching, the trout in the river start biting. You’ll be able to enjoy good fishing throughout the summer on cooler days, although the water can tend to get a bit warm from time to time. Like most of the fly waters in the state, you’ll also find better catches during the fall once things cool down again.

The trout here, again, are less fickle about seasons and food because they aren’t fished regularly. Therefore, you will avoid a lot of the issues that you find at heavier populated streams or more pressured fishing areas, including seasonal concerns for the most part.

Fly Box - What You'll Need

As mentioned, the fish here are less particular than those in other areas that are more heavily fished. You can target specific hatches, including a variety of mayflies, caddisflies, and midges, but can also do quite well with simple attractor dry fly patterns. Keep streamers and nymphs on hand as well in case the fish are not biting on top.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Cullasaja River:

Dry Flies

  • Yellow Sally (#12 - 16)
  • Yellow Humpy (#10 - 18)
  • Parachute Sulphur (#14 - 18)
  • Parachute Adams (#12 - 22)
  • Light Cahill (#10 - 18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#8 - 16)
  • Yellows Stimulator (#8 - 14)
  • Chernobyl Ant (#8 - 12)
  • Griffith's Gnat (#16 - 24)

Nymphs

  • Pheasant Tail (#12 - 20)
  • BH Hare's Ear (#12 - 20)
  • Rainbow Warrior (#14 - 22)
  • Pat's Rubber Legs (#4 - 12)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6 - 10)
  • Tellico Nymph (#12 - 18)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 - 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)
  • Y2K Egg (#12 - 16)

Streamers

  • BH Wooly Bugger (#2 - 6)
  • Sculpzilla (#4)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 4-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Cullasaja River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Cullasaja River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Cullasaja River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of North Carolina requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a North Carolina state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Trip Planning Tips

This stream is located just outside of Highlands, running to Franklin into the Little Tennessee River, providing easy access via Highway 64. Nearby towns offer accommodations and dining options. You will want a car to access this and other streams in North Carolina, as most are in more remote locations. 

Consider booking a campsite or cabin in the wilderness along the way to the creek for a more rustic experience. If you are coming from out of town, Asheville Regional Airport is about 60-70 miles away. Weather issues shouldn’t affect travel, thanks to the temperate regional climate.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in North Carolina

Feature image by Timothy Wildey

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