North Carolina Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the East Fork Pigeon River in North Carolina

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

May 21, 2024

East Fork of the Pigeon River in western North Carolina

The East Fork of the Pigeon River is arguably one of the most beautiful mountain wild trout streams you’ll find in North Carolina.

Looking for a good fly fishing getaway but not sure where to start? Maybe you’re traveling on a budget and don’t want to hire a professional guide. Either way, you can still plan a great getaway with the right information, which is all right here.

Fly fishing is a great hobby and sport, and it’s one that so many different people can enjoy. It offers a chance to relax with nature and enjoy some good fishing, and when you plan your own trip, you can do it your way. Read on to get the scoop on fly fishing the East Fork of the Pigeon River.

About East Fork Pigeon River

Fly Fishing the East Fork Pigeon River in western North Carolina

The Pigeon River is generally too warm to keep trout, but its many tributaries that run upstream to higher elevations are home to plenty of wild trout, along with some stocked trout and holdovers in various streams. That includes the East Fork of the Pigeon River, which is what we’re going to discuss in this guide. Here, you’ll find plenty of browns, rainbows, and brook trout in what is known as one of the most productive tributaries. 

The majority of fishable waters can be found inside the Shining Rock Wilderness Area, just above Bethel, North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, the stream also flows along the Big East Fork Trail above Highway 276, offering some fishable waters there. Most of the good spots on the East Fork require a strenuous a hike to reach, but hey, the scenery is beautiful and so are the fish! 

The East Fork is a freestone stream that is managed as Wild Trout Waters and offers year-round fishing.  You can fish at any time of the year and enjoy fair odds of a good catch. The water in this fork is deep enough to stay cool for the trout, but shallow enough for easy wading.

You’ll find plenty of runs and deep pools, and tributaries such as Dark Prong and Yellowstone Prong that you can explore while you’re here. This is a wider creek that offers plenty of room for making a great cast, and with the wild trout, that’s sometimes more important than the fly you are using in the first place. 

Read on to learn all about where to go, when to go, and what to take along if you want to have a great experience fly fishing the East Fork Pigeon River.

East Fork Pigeon River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the East Fork Pigeon River in North Carolina

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the East Fork Pigeon River

The East Fork can be found in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. You will find the best fishing in the six miles that run above highway 276, which has a great population of wild rainbows and browns. You’ll have to hike to get here, but it is fairly accessible from Big East Fork Trail, which starts right near the bridge on 276. There are several other small streams in the area, but East Fork is well-signed and easy to find. 

You will see a section of the river that flows directly along highway 276, but that area doesn’t offer much in the way of trout– whether the water’s too warm or the proximity to the road has caused it to get fished out, we don’t know. 

As you hike up the six miles of headwaters, you will find various areas with deep pools and good tree cover that will make the trout a little less wary and easier to catch. Of course, the great thing about this under fished stream is that the lack of attention means good results almost every time.

Best Time to Fish the East Fork Pigeon River

North Carolina’s trout season is only applicable in select waters throughout the state. The majority of wild trout streams, including this one, are accessible and open for fishing year-round.

Spring is always a good time for trout fishing in North Carolina since this is when all of the aquatic insects start to hatch.  Unlike many other lower elevation trout streams in the area, the East Fork, however, stays cool and fishes well all summer.

With the onset of the fall months fishing for those larger wild brown trout picks up as they prepare to spawn. Plus, the changing seasons make for a beautiful setting. During the winter months, your catches will be hit-or-miss depending on the day.

Although it’s in the mountains, the East Fork is relatively accessible, so you shouldn’t have travel concerns in regard to when you travel to the area. The main focus is on when the best angling can be found. We like the spring for the hatches and the fall for the scenery.

Best Flies for East Fork Pigeon River

The smaller wild trout in the East Fork will take a well presented dry fly without too much fuss.  The larger wild brown trout are known to be hard to catch.  You may have better luck enticing the older, wiser fish to take a large nymph or streamer fished deep.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the East Fork Pigeon 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)


  • 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)


  • 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 East Fork Pigeon River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

East Fork Pigeon River Fishing Report

There aren’t any area fly shops or guides that regularly publish an East Fork Pigeon River fly fishing report.  Barring a heavy rain event or cold front, the fishing is pretty predictable – just go fish!

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

The East Fork is located between Brevard and Waynesville in the Shining Rock Wilderness area, so access isn’t a concern. You’ll also be near major highways, which offer access to food and lodging nearby.

There is camping available throughout the region, thanks to the vast expanse of parkland, if you want to get back to nature for real or just want an even cheaper way to stay. 

You’ll be able to drive in from Raleigh-Durham if you’re flying to the region, but there may also be smaller local airports with limited flights.

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

Feature image by Brenda Wiley