Three rivers full of trout with the best scenery in Southern Appalachia.
[by Beau Beasley]
“YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WALKING AROUND HERE,” said well-respected, fulltime fishing guide Eugene Shuler as I followed him toward the river. “Most guys think to watch their steps as they wade, but fishing in Western North Carolina means being mindful of rattlesnakes. This time of year they sometimes lie near the river’s edge,” continued Shuler nonchalantly. Now, I have what I consider to be a manly, reasonable, and healthy fear of snakes, so Shuler’s offhanded comment had me eagerly closing the distance between us.
I know many diehard anglers who travel to the West each season to plumb such storied trout waters as the Madison, Big Horn, and South Fork of the Snake. Yes, Western rivers are typically larger than their Eastern cousins and hold excellent trout populations, and fishing them via a drift boat is every fly angler’s dream. But I’m a native of the Old Dominion, so it is certainly possible that I’m coastally biased. The truth is, however, that many Eastern rivers are just flat-out undervalued, and no state better exemplifies this oversight than North Carolina.
Saltwater anglers have the edge here as far as reputations go, ranging from large Neuse River red drum to beefy stripers and speckled trout along the state’s famed Outer Banks. Not to be outdone, Western North Carolina offers excellent trout fishingand nowhere is the fishing better than what I fondly refer to as Carolina’s trout trifecta: the Oconaluftee, Tuckasegee, and Nantahala rivers.
The Oconaluftee River
Oconaluftee is Cherokee for “riverside,” though it ought to mean “chock full o’ trout.” Known to the locals simply as “the Lufty,” this river actually begins in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park, and boasts a healthy population of native brook trout. Although the cover around the water can be tight in spots, good access exists all along U.S. 441. The river eventually connects with the Raven Fork, and here the Lufty threads through Cherokee Indian Reservation property. Excellent access for visiting anglers begins near Cove Landing Road and continues all the way to the Tuckasegee. But what draws the most attention from fly anglers is the 2.2 miles of catch-and-release, fly-fishing only water that stretches from Governor’s Island Bridge to the Slope Street Bridge.
The Lufty is relatively small but provides plenty of water for the trout that call it home. Wading is quite easy, and the flow really isn’t much of a problem even when the river is running a bit high, but you should still use caution when wading here just as you would in any other river.
“These fish stack up in places at times,” says Shuler, “so once you find a good pool, you might be surprised at how many trout will respond to your pattern.” Lufty trout are like all trout and can be unforgiving, so you’ll need to practice stealth and good casting to be successful.
Late last year, Shuler and I had a pretty good day on the Oconaluftee. His Carolina Midge really seemed to do the trick, though he was quick to point out that standard patterns with a dropper can be just as effective. The key to success is finding the right depth to fish your dropper, and that requires a lot of trial and error, so be prepared to move your pattern up or down the water column accordingly.