This river is open to fishing all year long, and the fish don’t seem to mind the cold weather. If you’re willing to brave the chilly winds of January and February, you just might have the water all to yourself. Still, a few words of caution are in order. Along with the fish, a small, local herd of elk also calls the basin home. They are relatively accustomed to people, albeit fairly unenthusiastic, to the extent the local high school near the river had to build a special fence to keep the animals from grazing there. Unexpectedly walking up on an elk can be frightening for both parties, so keep your eyes open.
Moreover, when on tribal land, consider yourself a guest and act accordingly. The Cherokee Nation is a sovereign authority, and as such, it has its own tribal law enforcement officers and game wardens. Purchasing a fishing license from the Cherokee Nation ensures you can also legally fish on the Raven Fork. This section is not only picturesque, but it is also stocked almost weekly. I have seen some real bruisers come out of this section, so it’s definitely worth a look.
In the town of Cherokee itself, the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, which opens in the summer of 2015, features exhibits from surroundings states. Do yourself a favor and stop by to educate yourself on the rich history of Southern Appalachian fly fishing.
The Tuckasegee River
The Tuckasegee River is one of the best-known trout rivers in the entire Southeast, and it comes by that reputation honestly. Its name means “place of turtles” in Cherokeea fairly inauspicious moniker for a grand dame of a water big enough to be at home in the American West. “The Tuck,” which runs just outside the borders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has a long and colorful history that still binds local residents to the water. The Cherokee, for example, believe the ancient earthwork mound and settlement of Kituwah on the Tuckasegee near Bryson City is the original birthplace of the Cherokee Nation, and it served as their spiritual center many ages ago.
The Tuck is a tailwater fishery that begins at the outflow of Cedar Cliff Reservoir and eventually empties into Fontana Lake. Between the two, anglers can find many miles of unsurpassed water. Just south of the town of Sylva, anglers can launch their boats from an access off South River Road, a few hundred yards downstream of the state route 107 bridge. This is good water and the beginning of the delayed-harvest section. Anglers will find plenty of rainbow and brook trout, but the bulk of the fish in the river are browns.
Brown trout positively thrive in the Tuckasegee, and since the state puts over 20,000 trout in the delayed-harvest section each year, it’s not hard to see why it is so popular with anglers.As a matter of fact, in the early spring you may find dozens of cars parked along the river’s neighboring roads.
The river is catch-and-release only from the first of October until the first Saturday in June, when the delayed-harvest section turns into an all-tackle section. The pressure remains intense until the last day of September, but then subsides. During the popular summer period, anglers can harvest up to seven trout, all of which must be at least seven inches long. In many cases, these are not dumb stockers. Plenty of fish summer over and become naturalized.
The next good access point is about two miles downstream near Webster’s Bridge, and from there anglers floating downstream will be happy to hear that a major impediment to their travels has recently been removed. The old Dillsboro Dam has been taken down, and all that remains are rock structures below the waterline and along the banks to reduce bank erosion. Local fish use the Tuck’s many rock structures, easily seen during low-water periods, as ambush points. Another boat landing is available where Scott Creek intersects the river just below the old dam site.
Anglers will find top notch trout fishing in the Tuck, but that’s not all. The river warms as it winds its way downstream, and eventually, bass reign supreme. Smallmouth appear in decent numbers below Barker’s Creek and their numbers are strong all the way to Fontana Lake.
The town of Dillsboro offers a good base of operations if you’re fishing this stretch of the Tuck. I recommend the Dillsboro Inn; it’s my favorite place to stay when visiting the area. Once you’re in town, visit Hookers Fly Shop in nearby Sylva for any last minute items, a fishing report, and an inside scoop on the Tuck from some guys who know it best.
Eventually the Tuck runs right through the middle of Bryson City, which is quickly becoming a booming fly-fishing destination, as the town’s recently opened Tuckasegee Fly Shop attests. A great source of information and local patterns, the shop is beside Mountain Perks, a family-owned coffee shop, so you can kill two birds with one stop in the morning before hitting the water.