North Carolina Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Santeetlah Creek in North Carolina

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

May 22, 2024

Map of Santeetlah Creek in North Carolina

Fly fishing is a great excursion, but it’s more fun when you’re able to figure it out yourself and not have to rely on a guide. Fortunately, we’ve got the guide for you. This DIY guide will give you all the insight you need to plan your perfect trip to Santeetlah Creek in North Carolina.

Are you new to the hobby and looking for a cheaper option than hiring a guide? Maybe you just enjoy the solace of fly fishing alone. Regardless, you’re sure to have a great time when you choose the great creeks of North Carolina.

About Santeetlah Creek

Fishing Santeetlah Creek near Robbinsville, North Carolina

Fly Fishing Santeetlah Creek for Big Brown Trout

Santeetlah Creek is located in Western North Carolina, within a short distance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This creek is known for big wild brown trout that are notoriously hard to catch.  You will find plenty of stocked rainbows and wild brookies if you are exploring the entire creek and its tributaries during your visit.

There are plenty of opportunities for angling here, which is also known as Big Santeetlah Creek because there is a small one that isn’t as prime for fishing and anglers want to be clear about where to go. Little Santeetlah is located over by Big Snowbird Creek in the Joyce Kilmer – Slickrock Wilderness Area and offers plenty of access via service roads and trails. 

The creek is stocked from John’s Branch on downstream, and there are plenty of wild and holdover fish available, too. There are areas that offer direct access from the road, as well as some areas that require a short hike to get to, but all of them offer great trout fishing. 

Santeetlah Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of the best fishing spots on Santeetlah Creek in North Carolina

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

For those who are into camping, there are several campsites along the river that will allow you to have the true “rough” experience if you want it. Of course, almost the entire creek also has road access, so camping is not at all required. While there is some to check out in the upper creek, the best fishing takes place downstream. 

The easy access makes this a good choice for those who want something that’s not hard to get to, but still more remote than some rivers and creeks. It’s miles out of town and amid the Nantahala National Forest preserve, but still has road access and wade-in fishing at almost all points along the creek. It’s also not as busy as some creeks in the region during peak seasons.

Best Places to Fish Santeetlah Creek

You will find the best fishing downstream of John’s Branch where the waters are relatively calm and the fish are stocked. The wild trout waters don’t have a lot of pressure, though, so you’ll also have some luck there. Wild trout are just harder to catch and won’t be as likely to take “whatever you toss their way”. 

If you head down Forest Service Road 81, you’ll find a bridge that provides access and you can hike down to find about a mile of stocked waters that are great for fishing. There are more wild browns than rainbows in the lower river nearer to the Lake, but the browns are pickier when it comes to their food. Plus, the larger browns spook easily making them hard to catch. 

This creek is located in a prime fly fishing area and even though it’s not the first choice of the locals, you’ll find plenty of great opportunities. Plus, the lack of crowds means better fishing. It’s a fun trip, no matter where you set up, and you’ll be sure to find plenty of favorite spots with a little exploring. 

The area above Santeetlah Lake connects to some popular campgrounds, which are accessible from Kilmer road. Fish stocked in this area tend to get fished out pretty quickly given the ease of access from the campgrounds.

Best Time to Fish Santeetlah Creek

The best time to fly fish in this creek, as with most in the state, is during the spring months when the hatches are getting the attention of the stocked and wild trout. Summer means that waters are warmer and shallower, so there might not be as much volume in the creek during these months. 

Fall and winter offer some good fishing for rainbow and brown trout on Santeetlah Creek, but there may be days when the water gets too cold or when there just isn’t enough water flowing to keep the fish happy and moving. If you can, try to plan a trip during April, or in the mid-to-late fall (November), to get the best possible odds.

Best Flies for Santeetlah Creek

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Santeetlah Creek:

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 Santeetlah Creek. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Santeetlah Creek Fishing Report

There currently are not any area fly shops, guides and websites that regularly provide a Santeetlah Creek fly fishing report and update on current conditions.

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

Those coming from out of state or out of the region will fly into McGhee Tyson Airport, which is about 30 miles away. Asheville Regional is the next major airport, which is about 75 miles away. You may find small flights into Western Carolina Regional Airport, as well. 

Although it’s mostly remote, the creek is convenient to Route 68 and 143, as well as Robbinsville and the rest of the Nantahala National Forest. You’ll find plenty of lodging accommodations besides camping, dining, and more. If you’re not driving, you’ll want to rent a car so that you can get to the area and get around during your stay.

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