North Carolina Fly Fishing 7 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in North Carolina

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 8, 2015

north carolina fishing map

North Carolina is a state that is just brimming with fly fishing opportunities in both saltwater and freshwater. Here you’ve got mountain trout streams galore. In fact, there are over 3,000 miles worth of streams, lakes, and rivers. This is a great place for those who are serious about the sport, and for those who enjoy it more as a relaxing hobby. There are streams ideal for beginners, and those that are better suited to the more experienced anglers.

When taking a look at the trout streams in particular, some are stocked, while others are wild trout. It gives anglers the freedom to choose their style and skill level. You’ll find no shortage of public places, but be warned a few areas are private. Of course, we can’t talk about North Carolina without referencing the Fly Fishing Trail. This is the first of its kind in the country, and is actually the only one. Often, people plan their adventures based on this well-known trail. Along the route are 15 different locations that are prime spots for various trout.

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics of this beautiful state, it’s time to take a look at the top spots for fly fishing.

Featured Destinations

Most of the best places to fish for trout in North Carolina are located in the western part of the state. Links to our DIY Guides to the best fly fishing destinations in North Carolina are provided below.  

Each of our DIY Guides provide an overview of the fishery, a map of fishing access points, tips on the best time to fish, fly and gear recommendations, and links to fishing reports and current stream conditions (if available).

Fires Creek Tuckasegee River Catawba River
Nantahala River Deep Creek (GSMNP) Linville River
Big Snowbird Creek Oconaluftee River (GSMNP) Wilson Creek
Santeetlah Creek Raven Fork North Toe River
Slickrock Creek Straight Fork (GSMNP) South Toe River
Cullasaja River Davidson River Horsepasture River
Hazel Creek (GSMNP) South Mills River Whitewater River
Thompson River
Eagle Creek (GSMNP) North Mills River Lost Cove Creek
Forney Creek (GSMNP) East Fork Pigeon River Jacobs Fork Creek
Noland Creek (GSMNP) Cataloochee Creek (GSMNP) Boone Fork Creek
Twentymile Creek (GSMNP) Big Creek (GSMNP) Green River

North Carolina Fly Fishing Map

Of course before you head out on your quest to find the best trout fishing in North Carolina you’ll need a map.  We’ve got you covered!

The DIY Fly Fishing Map and companion mobile app details how to access all of North Carolina’s Public Mountain Trout Waters including over 1,800 streams designated as Wild Trout Waters (purple points shown on map below).  That’s a lot of trout streams to explore!

map of places to fish in North Carolina

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

Best Places to Fly Fish in North Carolina

The big question is where to go? Well, this isn’t exactly a simple question to answer, thanks to the vast amount of options. In this guide, we will try our best to highlight some of the top spots, and at least give you a starting point of sorts. Even though you can find fishing all through the state, much of the focus is on the Fly Fishing Trail. This unique trail is what draws visitors from all around the country, and even from outside the United States.

Due to space limits, we’ll focus primarily on freshwater fly fishing locations. North Carolina’s coastal waters shouldn’t be forgotten though. This is also a mecca for fly fishers from the state and around the country.

So let’s get started in helping you plan your visit.

The Fly Fishing Trail

The Fly Fishing Trail isn’t one specific spot; rather, it is a collection of 15 fabulous locations in the western part of the state. Obviously you won’t be able to visit all these spots in one trip. The trail itself is found in Jackson County, and as mentioned this is the country’s first and only trail like this. What makes this trail even more spectacular is that it is located within the Great Smoky Mountains.

The idea is that you can visit these locations over time, and find your favorites. Along this trail the fish you’ll be catching are rainbow, brook, and brown trout. The trail offers a nice amount of variety so you can head to open waters, large waters, or small streams if you prefer. While we can’t name off all 15 spots, here are just a few:

Scott Creek – This particular stream features hatchery rainbow and brown trout. It’s known for its scenic beauty, and the fact it is highly accessible.

Whitewater River – Here’s a great spot for wild trout. You will find rainbow, brown, and brook trout. The river is very accessible, and it flows right to Whitewater Falls.

Savannah Creek – This is another hatchery supported creek, with brown and rainbow trout. The creek is about 10 miles in length, which is more than enough for great fishing.

The Davidson River

The Davidson River offers a number of different streams that branch off of it. Many of these are excellent for fly fishing, and are highly accessible. The river itself is found in Transylvania County, and is described as “backcountry” conditions. Typically you will find rainbow and trophy brown trout in this river.

Forney Creek

Forney Creek may not be as popular as some of the bigger streams, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. The creek empties into Fontana’s north shore, and you can reach it by a hike or by boat. What anglers appreciate about this creek is that it’s more remote. Therefore, it gets much less crowded even in peak season. If you’re the type of angler who appreciates the peace and quiet while fishing, then you will love this location. This creek is known for brown and rainbow trout.

Delayed Harvest Trout Waters

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) manages trout streams in North Carolina under a number of programs including:

  • Delayed Harvest
  • Catch and Release
  • Hatchery Supported
  • Wild Trout
  • Wild Natural Bait
  • Special Trout Regulation

Streams managed under the delayed harvest program in particular are popular with fly fisherman who enjoy catch-and-release trout fishing.  

Under Delayed Harvest Trout Waters regulations, no trout can be harvested or possessed from these waters between Oct. 1 and June 4. No natural bait may be possessed, and anglers can fish only with artificial lures with one single hook. 

Currently, the NCWRC manages 36 waters under delayed harvest regulations, including:

County Delayed Harvest Water
Alleghany Little River
Ashe Helton Creek
Trout Lake
Big Horse Creek
South Fork New River
Burke Jacob Fork
Caldwell Wilson Creek
Clay Fires Creek
Graham Big Snowbird Creek
Hayward West Fork Pigeon River
Henderson North Fork Mills River
Jackson Tuckasegee River
Macon Nantahala River
Madison Big Laurel Creek
Shelton Laurel Creek
Spring Creek
McDowell Curtis Creek
Mill Creek
Catawba River
Mitchell Cane Creek
North Toe River
Polk Green River
Surry Ararat River
Mitchell River
Swain Tuckasegee River
Transylvania East Fork French Broad River
Little River
Watauga Watauga River
Coffee Lake
Wilkes East Prong Roaring River
Stone Mountain Creek
Reddies River
Elk Creek
Yancey Cane River

Best Time to Fly Fish in North Carolina

It’s not commonplace to say the best time of year for fly fishing is all year-round, but that’s the case with North Carolina. You can literally fish throughout the state any month of the year. Along the Fly Fishing Trail this is especially true. Go ahead and book your adventure for winter, fall, spring, or summer. If you were to ask the experts, they would typically choose the tail end of fall and the beginning of spring as the “best” times. The reason for this has to do with the bug hatches.

There is also the fact that summer is peak season, so you will be dealing not just with anglers, but also those using the waterways for boating and canoeing. This can make casting a bit of an issue as you’ll need to be well aware of who and what is around you at all times. If you like solitude when fishing, summer doesn’t always guarantee it.

In North Carolina the hatches never stop, it’s just a matter of what is hatching, and when. It can change as you move across the state, but here’s a general look at the hatches. In January you’ll find midges and stone flies. The months of February and March bring about more stone flies and baetis. April is black caddis time. In May you’re into more caddis, midges, and baetis. June sees terrestrials and stone flies, as does August. From September until the end of November there are terrestrials, flying ants, and midges. Obviously you’ll want to keep these in mind as a rough idea when picking your flies.

When it comes to the weather in North Carolina, again, it’s tolerable all year-round. Fall and spring may be considered the most comfortable temperatures, as you aren’t too hot or too cold. It’s very common to see snow in the winter in some of the mountain regions, but again this doesn’t mean the fishing grinds to a stop. Winter is usually a good time for wading (in the proper waders) or floating.

One thing that North Carolina is known for is the change in temperatures during the day. If you are fishing in the mountain regions you can expect temperatures as cool as 40 degrees when you start your day. By lunch it may be as warm as 80 degrees. That’s quite a variance, so dressing in layers is the best way to deal with it. As well rain is very common in spring, summer, and fall. Packing rain gear and an extra pair of dry clothes is usually a wise idea.

Gear Recommendations

As with any state, the equipment needed isn’t dependent on the state you are fishing in, rather the size of the water, the weather, and the size of the fish. Typically a rod that is between seven and nine feet should do just fine in the majority of lakes, streams, creeks, and rivers. You can use a five or six weight.

Choosing your flies is based on the hatches taking place in that region, and at that time of year. If you aren’t an avid angler, or you aren’t a resident of the state you may be unsure of what hatches are happening. This is a great opportunity to visit a local fly fishing shop and get some advice. Not only can they suggest the best flies, but you’ll also be able to pick up flies that work perfect in that region. Taking these extra steps just help to ensure you have the best experience possible when you reach the water.

North Carolina offers a variety of ways to fish. Anglers can fish by drift boat, wading, or from the shore. It’s totally dependent on where you are, and what style you prefer. Keeping this variety in mind, as you pack your gear, a good quality pair of waders is always a wise idea. At least this way you are prepared should you decide to wade.

North Carolina Fishing Regulations

If you are planning to enjoy the fly fishing opportunities in North Carolina, then you will need a valid fishing license. This license is required for all people who are 16 years of age and older. This requirement is true for freshwater and saltwater fishing.

There are a few different license options for both residents, and non-residents. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the regulations in the state before doing any fishing. These regulations can change yearly.

All of this information, and more, can be found through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Division.

Few states offer such incredible fly fishing opportunities as North Carolina does. Whether you are here for the unique Fly Fishing Trail, or to adventure out on your own and discover your own spots, you’re sure to have a successful trip.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.