North Carolina Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Whitewater River in North Carolina

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

March 18, 2021

Whitewater River falls in western North Carolina

The Whitewater River in western North Carolina is better known for waterfalls than trout but wild brown and rainbow trout can be found here if you are willing to work for them.

Have you been trying to find a new way to enjoy fly fishing? Maybe you want to go on a new adventure, but don’t have the money or desire to hire a guide. Fortunately, you can have a lot of fun without one if you know how. 

Fly fishing can be relaxing, and if you plan ahead you can ensure maximum enjoyment. Use our handy DIY guide to learn everything that you need to know about fly fishing the Whitewater River in North Carolina, from where to go, when to go, and what to take in the fly box, and more.

About Whitewater River

Fly fishing the Whitewater River in western North Carolina

The Whitewater River is far better known for its waterfalls and rapids than its fly fishing, but there is some good angling to be found in various spots throughout the stream. This medium freestone stream is located near Cashiers, North Carolina, and offers year-round fly fishing. 

There is either good access or no access to this river, depending on which section you visit. The Upper Whitewater Falls are more than 400 feet high, making them among the highest in the eastern part of the country. Because it’s maintained as a wild trout stream, it offers a good population of brown and rainbow trout. 

State Highway 281 crosses the river, offering access from the road to Overlook Trail, but there is a lot of hiking involved in many of the best locations. The river has access in South Carolina, as well, This river flows more moderately in some areas, and that’s where you’ll find the best trout selection.

The great thing is that even though you have to hike, you’ll get to enjoy some beautiful waterfalls and scenery along the way. There are a couple of easier spots to access but they don’t come with as much natural beauty or the rugged escape from the world. All in all, this river is worth a trip when you want a different fly fishing experience. 

If you’re heading to the Whitewater River, make sure that you avoid popular tourist times. Many hikers and tourists come to the area to explore and could disturb the fish.

Whitewater River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the Whitewater River near Cashiers, North Carolina

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

Best Places to Fish the Whitewater River

As mentioned, you can find relatively easy access to the river from Highway 281, although you’ll have to hike Overlook Trail to get to the water. If you want, you can hike downstream into the gorge and find some great fishing if you’re willing to take a slightly more challenging hike. Otherwise, hike upstream to find the easier trails and plenty of good fishing. 

The Duke Power Company access in South Carolina only takes about a half-mile hike from the parking lot, and you’ll find about a mile of fishing here. It could be worth a look if you want something calmer and less challenging. 

You’ll also find access to the river from Highway 107, which sits south of Cashiers. This road has plenty of easy access, but there is some private land. Anglers should be careful about where they pull off and walk in so that they’re not trespassing. 

Best Time to Fish the Whitewater River

This is a shallower river that is only about 30 feet wide, so it tends to get too warm to fish during the summer months. The fall offers great brown trout fishing, thanks to the aggressive nature of spawning brown trout and the cooling waters. Plus, it’s even more beautiful when the fall foliage sets in. 

You will find the best fishing here in the spring, as with most trout streams in the state. The trout enjoy the aquatic hatches and you’ll have an easy time catching just about anything as long as you’re using the right imitations. Plus, the water temperatures are perfect. 

In the winter, you may be able to find some good trout fishing. However, it will depend on the day because if it’s too cold, the trout won’t be too active. Warmer days will bring them in search of food, but avoid days with too much sun because that will spook them right back into hiding. 

Bear in mind that some of the hikes may become more challenging in the winter months so exercise caution. However, for the road access and other easy-access areas, there should be few issues. Ultimately, you’ll be sure to have a good time trout fishing here as long as it’s not too hot.

Whitewater River Hatches and Best Flies Use

The hatches on the Whitewater River are pretty sparse as the river bottom is solid rock in may places as. That said you will find stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies throughout different times of the year. Even when nothing else is hatching, there are usually some midges around, so you can use those imitations too if that’s your thing. 

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

Whitewater River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Whitewater 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

Those visiting the Whitewater River will be just outside of Cashiers, North Carolina, and close to plenty of lodging and dining along the major freeways and highways in the area. You will need a car to get to the river, so if you fly in, make sure that a rental is lined up. 

Highway 64 runs from Cashiers through Hendersonville, where you can then head north into Asheville, which is about a 90-minute drive. It’s a good choice to fly into if you’re coming to the area for a short drive. There will be some camping available in the wilderness areas around the river, depending on seasonal availability and weather.

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

Feature image by Timothy Wildey