The 4,000 miles of cool, clear mountain streams and the many lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains offer anglers more fishing opportunities than can be found in any other state in the Southeast. The region supports one of the most diverse fishing habitats in the world. In these ancient southern Appalachian mountains you’ll find:
Fly fishing enthusiasts come for the native brook trout and for the brown and rainbow trout that thrive in the many stocked streams. North Carolina’s mountain trout streams are considered to be the finest in the eastern United States.
Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail
The first and only fly fishing trail in the United States, the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, is situated in Jackson County and features some of the best trout waters in the Great Smoky Mountains. The trail marks 15 excellent spots for catching brook, brown and rainbow trout. Catch the spirit of catching the fish on this YouTube Video, produced by the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority. Graham County, in the far west, is also a magnet for fly fisherfolk. Download a Graham County Fishing Trails map here.
Trout is King in North Carolina Mountain Streams
It is the trout that reigns supreme, however, and many streams are stocked from three state trout hatcheries in the region which raise more than half a million brook, brown, and rainbow trout annually. The largest of these is the Bobby N. Setzer State Fish Hatchery near Brevard. Visitors can see the hatchery and the neighboring Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, which features a hatchery raceway exhibit that describes the trout production process in detail.
Visit this museum in Bryson City with exhibits showcasing the history of the sport in the Southeast, as well as types of gear, gamefish, regional fishing waters and more.
Still-Water Fishing in Mountain Lakes and Ponds
For those who prefer still-water fishing, largemouth bass, whitefish, catfish, pike, and bluegills abound in the region’s myriad lakes and ponds in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains. In deepwater lakes such as Fontana Lake, northern fish such as walleye, muskie, and smallmouth bass are also favorites.
Excellent deep water fishing can be had on the Fontana Reservoir adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A Visitor Center offers interpretive exhibits on the creation and history of the historic Fontana Dam.
Other easily accessible lakes with good fishing include:
Lake James State Park (between Morganton and Marion, NC)
Lake Lure (Lake Lure, NC)
Julian Price Memorial Park Lake (near Boone, NC)
W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir (near Wilkesboro, NC)
Lake Chatuge (near Hayesville, NC)
Santeetlah, Cheoah & Calderwood lakes (near Robbinsville)
Fishing in Cherokee Waters
On the Qualla Boundary, the Cherokee Fish and Game Management agency regularly stocks the nearly 30 miles of streams and six acres of ponds that are operated as a tribal business, adding nearly 400,000 rainbow, brook, and brown trout to the existing population of native fish.
Trout season opens the last Saturday of March and continues through February 28 of the following year. Fishing is permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.
Although no state license is needed anglers must obtain a Tribal Fishing Permit available at nearly two dozen Cherokee businesses. The daily creel limit is 10 per permit holder.
Fishing Opportunities for Children
A number of fishing events for children are sponsored by the US Forest Service, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and local businesses to help kids learn fishing basics such as casting, knot tying, tackle selection, catch-and-release, and boating safety. These events offer kids an opportunity to fish for a number of stocked game fish, including mountain trout. The events are free and prizes are awarded, including lifetime fishing licenses, rods, reels, tackle, and fish identification guides.
Every August, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sponsors the annual Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby at the Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds. More than 1,000 children participate annually in this free event, which includes fly-tying exhibitions, fish-cleaning stations, food, music, door prizes, and trophies.
Troutacular! is the state’s newest mountain heritage trout festival, held in June in the communities of Bakersville and Spruce Pine, both of which have been named Mountain Heritage Trout Waters Cities in North Carolina.
Commercial Trout Fishing
Commercial fee-fishing trout ponds offer non-sport fishing for those those who like to fish but who are physically unable to manage the wilder waters of streams and rivers. They are great places to take kids as well. Most fee-fishing trout ponds require anglers to keep and pay for all of the fish they catch. The ponds are usually stocked with rainbow trout and prices generally range from $2.50 to $3.50 per pound. Anglers do not need fishing licenses or trout stamps to fish in these fee-fishing ponds, nor do they have to adhere to size or creel limits when fishing in fee-fishing ponds.
Licensed by the NC Department of Agriculture, operators of these commercial enterprises usually supply the poles, bait, and the cleaning of the fish that are caught. The NC Wildlife Resource Commission can provide more information on fee-fishing trout ponds, as well as other types of fishing in Western North Carolina.
Western North Carolina Fishing Facts
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina offer abundant fishing opportunities for anglers of every skill. Literally hundreds of miles of mountain streams, rivers, lakes and ponds provide excellent fly fishing and still-water fishing.
Fishing in National Parks
There are more than 300 miles of streams in the North Carolina region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many are in wilderness areas inaccessible by road. A valid North Carolina or Tennessee fishing license is required to fish anywhere in the park.
Seventy-five miles of streams and 66 acres of ponds are located within the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor in North Carolina. A valid North Carolina fishing license is required, and because in some places special regulations apply, persons wishing to fish in these waters should read the rules printed on signs posted at lake shorelines and along stream banks.
Fishing in State Parks
Two State Parks offer more than 26 miles of trout waters: Stone Mountain State Park near Wilkesboro and South Mountains State Park near Morganton. The basic state fishing license and the special trout license are required to fish these water, and special procedures and fees may be required on certain streams.
Fishing in Cherokee Waters
Approximately 30 miles of streams and six acres of ponds are open to public fishing on the 57,000-acre Qualla Boundary (Cherokee Indian Reservation), adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Bryson City. A tribal permit is required.
Prime Time for Mountain Fishing
May and June are the prime months for trout fishing in the North Carolina mountains. Water temperatures in the streams rise to 50 to 55 degrees, and the fish become more active and plentiful. Insects on the surface of the water also come to life, which in turn stimulates the fish to bite.
Where to Find ‘Em
An excellent resource for finding places to fish (and boat) is the Take Me Fishing website of the nonprofit Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation.
While some prime fishing spots are well-kept local secrets, there are plenty of excellent opportunities to experience the solitude and privacy of a deep woods fishing experience in the Nantahala National Forest, the Pisgah National Forest, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many spots are inaccessible by vehicle, and to reach some of these places, one might have to make a long hike or difficult climb. The reward may be not only a truly unique fishing experience but also great views, peace and quiet, and a trout sizzling over a campfire.
Less adventuresome anglers can enjoy quality trout fishing in many of the lower elevation streams and rivers. Experienced guides and outfitters are available to help lead visitors to the best fishing holes around.
NC State Fishing Licenses
Licenses are required to fish the waters of the North Carolina mountains. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission issues a variety of licenses, based on residency and frequency of use. Short-term, annual and lifetime licenses are available. Detailed information on types of licenses and fees can be found on the Commission’s website. Licenses can be purchased online.
Resources and Information
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fish & Game Management
PO Box 302
Cherokee, NC 27819
Bobby N. Setzer State Fish Hatchery
PO Box 728
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
(The Bobby N. Setzer Hatchery and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education are located one mile off US 276 in the Pisgah National Forest near the town of Pisgah Forest.)
Check out the North Carolina’s interactive fishing map.