With 300 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline and 3,000 miles of mountain streams, rivers, and lakes, North Carolina is one of the greatest fly-fishing destinations in the South. Whether you’re looking for small stream fishing for native brook trout in the Appalachian’s or fishing bull redfish in the marshes off the coast, you’ll have a bend in your rod and a grin on your face whenever you get a chance to fly fish in the Tarheel State.
The options are so vast, though, that many fly fishermen find themselves unable to choose where to wet a line. So to help you out, we’ve made a list of the 16 best places to fish in North Carolina.
If you get the chance to come fly fish here, here are 16 places you have to go.
Best Places to Fly Fish in North Carolina
1. The Davidson River
The Davidson River, located in the Pisgah National Forrest in Brevard, NC is one of the most popular fly fishing destinations in the state. And if you got there for yourself, you’ll quickly discover why.
The beautiful freestone stream’s crystal clear waters are full of feisty rainbow and brook trout, with the occasional lunker brown hiding under cover. Fly fishermen will spend all day bringing in 12-14 inch fish, only to be blindsided with a 20 inch buck nasty brown trout.
This river holds an especially dear place in my heart, as it was where I first learned how to fly fish for trout. I’ll never forget watching my indicator sink under the water and quickly setting the hook so hard I almost ripped the fish out of the water.
Where to Fly Fish on The Davidson River
But the river is quite large, with miles and miles of river holding trout, so sometimes people are paralyzed with opportunity. You’re not gonna let that happen to you.
Below the Pisgah Fish Hatchery is a section of the river referred to by locals as the Big D. It is not stocked with fish, but nutrients and oxygenated water escape the hatchery producing a significant population of large fish in the area. Follow the stream below the hatchery by staying on National Forest rd. 475, and fish at any pull off that isn’t occupied.
If you decide to fish on the Davidson, but don’t want to figure it out for yourself, there are plenty of guides in the area that will take you out. I highly recommend this, as many shops also have access to private water that will let you get away from the crows.
Recommended Flies for The Davidson River
The Davidson River gets fished hard, but if you choose the right gear, flies, and tactics, you’ll slay these picky fish. Fish 6x or 7x tippet, 9.5 foot leaders, and high stick as much as you can. Effective flies include:
- Red, olive, and cream midges size 20-28. The smaller, the better, usually.
- Tan San Juan worms and glo bugs can work as good attractor flies.
- If the water is dirty, strip zonkers, buggers, and other small streamer patterns slowly and with a lot of action.
2. Raven Fork
North Carolina is home to the Cherokee Indian Tribe, whom owns several large reservations in the state. One of which contain the famous Raven Fork- one of the best places in the state to catch trophy trout.
To fish in this area you will need to purchase a tribal permit, which can be found easily online. This investment will easily be worth he price, and if you decide to fish here you won’t even need a North Carolina Fishing license.
Where to Fish on the Raven Fork
From where the Blue Ridge parkway crosses the Raven Fork and north, there is a 2.2-mile long stretch of specially designated trophy water. This area is catch and release and fly fishing only, making the fish both eager to eat as well as significantly larger than other areas in the state. Seeing 20-inch fish here is common- it’s the 30-incheres that get the people excited.
In fact, the state record brook trout was caught on the Raven Fork. It weighed over 7 pounds- talk about a football!
Recommended Flies for Raven Fork
- Zebra and blood midges size 20-28
- San Juan worms and other flies with natural movement
- In the summer months, throw hoppers, ants, beetles, and other terrestrial patterns.
3. The Oconaluftee River
Another River located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation is the Oconaluftee. This river is stocked TWICE A WEEK with rainbow, brown, brook, and palomino trout. The Cheokee Indians take great pride in managing their natural resources, and the Oconaluftee’s excellence as a fishery demonstrates that fact.
This water holds some of the biggest trout in the state, with rainbows approaching 30 inches, and browns surpassing that mark. Fish in the Oconaluftee River average nearly 20 inches.
Where To Fish on the Oconaluftee River
The Oconaluftee doesn’t get as much fishing pressure compared to other trout streams in the area. Luckily for you, that means there’s an abundance of productive fishing spots. They do stock over 300,000 fish per year.
Park in the pullouts located off of highway 441, and work your way up stream. Hit any hole you think might hold fish, and every hole you don’t think will, hit twice. There are trophies to be found.
Recommended Flies for the Oconaluftee River
- BWOs are the most consistent hatch on the Oconaluftee. Fish size 14 dries, with an emerger beneath.
- Midges, stoneflies, and caddis are plentiful, especially during the summer.
If you need help selecting flies for The Oconaluftee River or anywhere else, checkout this FREE Downloadable Hatch Chart.
4. Lake Fontana
Lake Fontana changes the pace a little bit, compared to the three destinations we just discussed. It’s a 10,000 acre lake with over 400 miles of shoreline, making it a much larger fishery. And the fishing here is some of the best in the state.
The lake holds warm water species such as large and smallmouth bass, as well as walleye, lake trout, and even Muskeye. Now that would be a surprising catch in the south.
To truly experience Fontana, you’ll probably need access to a boat. But shore fishing can still be productive. And while you’re working your way around the lake, hit the small feeder streams for some more trout action.
5. The Watauga River
The Watauga River is the perfect fly fishing spot for groups of fly fishermen of different skill levels. The beginners will enjoy the large river with plenty of room for casting, and the eager, plentiful fish. More experienced fly fishermen will find the Watauga to also contain its share of more difficult water, as well as larger, more educated fish.
One of the best parts of the Watauga, though is the easy access. Fishermen can easily get to the river from Valle Crucis Community Park and the Watauga River Gorge Access area. And the nearby town of Banner Elk is used to catering for trout enthusiasts.
Fishing the Watauga River will have you thinking you’re fishing in the Rockies, not the Smokies. The river is large and deep enough to fish effectively from a drift boat, but shallow enough to wade.
And when you’re done fishing the Watauga, head on over to the nearby town of Boone and enjoy one of the most adventure friendly towns in the country. Sip craft beer, lie about fishing, and enjoy yourself- you’re on vacation.
6. The Nantahala River
This maybe the most famous trout river in the state, but it’s better known for its white water rafting than for its trout fishing. With fly fishing, a lack of notoriety makes a river the perfect place to fish for me.
The Nantahala River begins in the Nantahala National Forest, of course. In the upper reaches, around Standing Indian Mountain, there are small streams with native brook trout. This area is very difficult to get to, requiring hiking a significant distance and elevation change. But for a small stream enthusiast, it’s a gold mine. This whole area is not stocked, and especially managed for wild trout.
Further down the river, below White Oak Creek, is where the fishing is more popular. This section is stocked with rainbow and brown trout, with wild brook trout occasionally turning up. Around Powerhouse Falls, the river gets a boost in flows, increasing the fishing opportunities. When the water is really flowing, you won’t be able to wade this section.
7. South Mills River
The South Mills River is one of the top 100 trout streams in the country according to Trout Unlimited. But to get to the wild brown, brook, and rainbow trout in its waters, you’re going to have to work for it.
The hardest part of fishing the South Mills River is the hike to get there, unless you happen to have a horse. And the second hardest part is the actual fishing of the river. These wild fish aren’t as eager to take a fly as the hatchery fish in other areas of the state, but that’s what makes the fishing more fun.
Aquatic Insect populations are diverse in the South Mills, but they aren’t as plentiful as the fish would like. So they tend to key in on terrestrials, especially during the warmer months.
Focus on fishing for these hard to find fish during low light, early in the morning and late in the evening. And be stealthy with your approach- on the South Mills, you never know where the big fish are hiding.
8. Wilson Creek
The Pisgah National Forrest delivers another awesome fly fishing destination with Wilson Creek. Its gin clear water flows in Caldwell County, and is filled with rainbow, brown, and brook trout.
Wilson Creek is effectively divided into two sections: the Gorge and the Headwaters.
The Gorge is about two miles long, with a mixture of private and public waters. So if you’re fishing here, be careful where you access the river and remember to respect posted signs. This part of the river is heavily stocked and features large water with deep pools.
The Headwaters of Wilson Creek are more like the typical streams found in the Smokies- riffles, runs, short deep pools. This part is more difficult to access, but the fishing is rewarding. Here you will find a variety of water that will test the breadth of your casting arsenal.
Wilson Creek won’t blow you away with huge fish, but since this river gets less pressure than others in the area, the fish are eager to take a fly.
9. South Toe River
The South Toe River flows off of Mt. Mitchell, the tallest point in North Carolina, and runs into the Pisgah National Forrest. With its convenient location just north of Asheville, the South Toe is a great river to hit on a quick day trip.
Its upper portions are designated as a wild trout stream filled with naturally reproducing rainbows, brown trout, and brook trout, and its lower portions are heavily stocked. The river receives flows from three creeks- Lower Creek, Upper Creek and Rock Creek- all of which are also designated as wild trout streams.
The lower portions of the river are easily accessible form the road, and offer medium sized river fishing through public access points.
Insects on the river include giant stoneflies, caddis, and mayflies, and that dinner menu combined with crystal clear water makes this a fantastic dry fly fishery.
10. The Mitchell River
Fly fishing on the Mitchell River transports you into a dreamlike rainforest that’s full of trout. The plush ferns and foliage that line the banks are unlike any trout streams you’ll find out west, but the fishing here is just as good.
The river is known for it’s shallow banks and deep, pocket water. With so much plant life on the banks, you’ll be putting your roll casting abilities to the test.
Here you’ll be more worried about the presentation than the fly choice. Get your flies down to the bottom to where the fish are feeding and fish every hole. Most fish in this river will be browns and rainbows around 9-15 inches.
11. The Bridges of Dare County
This is going to be a dramatic change of pace, but North Carolina has some of the best striped bass fishing in the country, so if you’ve got the tackle, going after them in the Outer Banks will be well worth your time.
Striped bass are hard fighting, beautiful, and downright stupid at times- the perfect fish to target with a fly rod. And in Dare County, there are plenty of bridges that provide with the chance to get close enough to drop a fly on them.
Tie a clouser minnow onto an 8 or 9 weight rod and head to Memorial Bridge, Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge, or Herbert Bonner Bridge. Throw it around the structure and strip at a brisk pace. Then just wait for the tug- you’ll know what to do.
12. Oregon Inlet
For a little more saltwater action, head to the waters and marshes around Oregon Inlet. Fish the moving water around the sandbars, “rips” as the locals call them, and fish them almost like they’re a river. Cross current casts work the best.
The fish in this area will be around 20 to 27 inches, so be ready for a fight. But since there’s less structure here, you can get away with using a 7 or an 8 weight rod. Fish 400-500 grain sinking lines with shooting heads for long casts, and bring a fly box full of chartreuse clousers.
13. Nolichucky River
Alright, back to our regularly scheduled freshwater fisheries.
The Nolichucky River, or “Chucky” as the locals call it, is formed by the merging of the Toe and Cane Rivers. Located in Huntsdale, this confluence goes on for 115 miles until it pours into Douglas Lake. Chucky is a warm water fishery most of the year, filled with incredible smallmouth, largemouth, and even Musky fishing.
But during the winter months, the North Carolina Department of Fisheries stocks the river full of fat rainbows. It’s best fished from a boat, but wading and shore opportunities do exist.
14. Rocky Broad River
Another quality fishing spot located near Asheville is the Rocky Broad River. At an elevation of just over 1,000 feet, this water is a bit warmer than most other trout streams in the state. So while providing trout, it also has great smallmouth bass fishing, and even an occasional largemouth near where the river runs into Lake Lure.
The beautiful scenery around the river is only outmatched by the gorgeous pools and runs that hide the rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Water levels on Rocky Broad are subject to change depending on the weather, so be careful while you’re out there.
15. Shearon Harris Lake
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a few of North Carolina’s world class largemouth bass fisheries.
One of which is Shearon Harris Lake. At just over 4,000 acres, this isn’t a massive body of water by any means, but the size of its fish makes up for that. Located 20 miles southwest of Raleigh, the small lake is owned by a nuclear power plant (that allows fishing).
The habitat of this lake is unlike any other in the state. Upon quick inspection, you’d imagine Shearon Harris being located in South Florida, not North Carolina. Aquatic vegetation strangles the shore and the baitfish swarm.
In 2016, a tournament was won on Harris by a man who caught 42 pounds of bass- with just 5 fish. You do the math, the fish out here are huge.
While most fishermen use conventional tackle on Shearon Harris, the fly fishing can be even more productive, with top water poppers, plugs, and sub-surface streamers getting plenty of bites.
16. Falls of Neuse Lake
Falls of Neuse Lake is about 12,00 acres- a more typical size for a bass lake. Formed by the Neuse River and numerous creeks and streams, this lake is also full of fish. Local trophy bass fishermen go to Shearon Harris first looking for hogs, then Falls of Neuse if they aren’t successful.
White and chartreuse streamers seem to work the best, fished deep and slow. If you think you’re fishing too slow, slow down.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in North Carolina
The diversity of waters in North Carolina requires a diversity of tackle to fully utilize them all.
For the small mountain streams in the Smokies, a tiny 3 weight fly rod will be the best bet. It will allow you to make the short, accurate casts you need to catch these spooky fish in the tight cover they’re found.
The rivers of North Carolina are the what my favorite fly rod – The TFO DRIFT was made for. The drift is a 9 foot 3 wt that can convert into a 11 foot high sticking MACHINE. Read more about this fly rod in my article BEST Nymphing Rod Reel and Line.
In the larger waters, such as the Davidson, Oconaluftee, and Watauga, a 5 or 6 weight fly rod will be your go to. You’ll want to be able to quickly switch from nymphing, to dry flies, and even throw a few streamers all in the same day. If I had to pick just one rod for the state, it’d be a 9 foot 5 weight.
Read more about the Fly Rods I recommend in this article – Recommended Fly Rods
And for the saltwater enthusiasts, we’re talking some serious tackle. Casting for stripers on the surf will require a 10 weight fly rod to get your flies to the fish. Fishing around the marshes and shores won’t necessitate so much fire power, so an 8 weight will work. If I’m picking just one saltwater fly rod for the state, it’s going to be a 10 foot 9 weight.
Official References for Fly Fishing in North Carolina
If you’d like to check the stocking schedule the state of North Carolina post here. https://www.ncwildlife.org/Fishing/Hatcheries-Stocking
If you’d like to learn from the BEST I highly recommend talking to Cade Buchanan at Mountain Troutfitters.