DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Davidson River in North Carolina

The Davidson River in western North Carolina is notorious for large, selective brown trout and is a popular destination for fly fisherman.  Are you up for the challenge?

Are you looking for a new hobby, or even just a new way to enjoy your old one? Fly fishing is a great sport and it can be an enjoyable time. What if you plan your own excursion and create the trip you’ve always wanted? 

Whether you’ve done this before, or you’re just looking to save some cash, we’ve got all the insight you need to plan the best DIY fly fishing trip to the Davidson River. We’ll help you learn when to go, where to go, and how to plan for the best getaway, no matter what you have in mind.

Fly fishing the Davidson River in North Carolina

The Davidson River flowing through the Pisgah National Forest is considered as one of the best trout streams in North Carolina, by experts and small-time anglers alike. The river is under wild trout regulations from the headwaters to the confluence with Avery Creek, where fly fishing is allowed year-round, but only catch-and-release with artificial lures only. Below the creek, the river is stocked and managed by the state. 

The flyfishing only section is one of the most popular destinations for fly fishing in the state. It can be a real experience but depending on when you go, there may be more pressure due to heavy traffic. The spring and fall, especially, see big crowds and the convenient proximity to Asheville makes this a weekend getaway for many locals. The takeaway? Try to plan during less popular times, such as during the week if you come during peak seasons. 

The Davidson River is a freestone mountain stream that has plenty of trophy-size trout in addition to standard-size fish. It offers a large population of trout, including browns, brook trout, and rainbows. You can find plenty of good fishing throughout the season, including in the often-overlooked headwaters area. 

There are several different access points for this stream, which offers year-round fishing with the exception of the hatchery-supported waters (closed in March). The section below Avery Creek is heavily stocked on a monthly basis, so catches are rewarding and fun with less struggle.

Davidson River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the Davidson River in North Carolina

Download the DIY Fly Fishing app to get directions to the fishing access points shown above, and all our DIY Guides to the Best Places to Fly Fish in America.

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Best Places to Fish the Davidson River

The portion of the the catch-and-release area upstream of the hatchery offers some great fishing for small wild trout and a bit more solitude.  The river here is paralleled by FR 475 that provides easy road-side access.  The Daniel Ridge Trail provides access by foot to the headwaters.

Downstream of the hatchery is where you will find the the large wily brown trout the Davidson is known for.  Nutrient laden water from the fish hatchery is discharged to river and provides a food source for aquatic insects which flourish here.  The amble bug life in turn fuels the growth of the resident wild brown trout that routinely will exceed 20-inches in length.

Easy access and the large wild trout in the catch-and-release, flyfishing only area downstream of the hatchery means you won't be fishing alone.  This area receives extremely heavy angling pressure.  Try to fish during the week and plan to arrive early to get a good spot.

The hatchery-supported area offers plenty of fun angling right below the confluence with Avery Creek, and you’ll even find some small wild trout in Looking Glass Creek, which is located just above the falls of the Davidson River. 

Best Time to Fish the Davidson River

You can find great fishing in the spring when the insect hatches are kicking since the midges, mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies keep these trout fat and happy. The spring is also less busy, for the most part, and may require less effort. Those who are in for a challenge or like the bustle of a busy creek will enjoy a summer trip to the Davidson River. 

Summer is when the weekenders and tourists flock to the area, though, so you’ll want to plan carefully. If you want an escape, come during a less busy time. The fall brings back the cooler water and as some of the bigger wild trout move around to spawn, they will provide plenty of potential catches. 

Midges provide a year-round food source so fishing during the winter can be quite productive, in particular on warmer days. 

Also, you’ll want to go early or late in the day, and during the week when you can, to avoid the crowds.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Davidson River. The USGS stream gauge near Brevard, NC provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

DAVIDSON RIVER NEAR BREVARD, NC

  • Flow: 206 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 1.49 ft
.
USGS

Fly Box - What You'll Need

Bug life downstream of the hatchery is prolific and includes your typical winter and spring mayflies including Hendricksons, Quills, blue-winged olives, and March Browns.  Later in the season brings a plethora of caddis, as well as yellow and golden stoneflies.

How the Davidson differs from other western North Carolina fisheries, though, are the midges!  In short, it's a midge factory.  Many a fisherman has left the river shaking their head after many hours of unsuccessfully trying to temp a large brown trout to take a size 28 midge pupae - good luck!

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Davidson 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 Davidson River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Davidson River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Davidson 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 in close proximity to Asheville, North Carolina with easy interstate access. This is part of the reason that the creek is popular, in addition to its plentiful and sizable fish. You’ll find plenty of places to stay along the way, along with campgrounds galore. 

If you come during the late spring and summer, you’re going to deal with a lot of tourists and other anglers. Families flock to the area for tubing, canoeing, picnicking, swimming, and more. You can fly into Asheville Regional Airport if you’re flying in from out of town, but you will want to make sure that you rent a car to get to the river.

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

Feature image by Stuart Borrett

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