Photo by Jim Casada
When talk turns to trout fishing, most of us think of getting back of beyond where the only sound pollution you’ll hear comes from a distant airplane and where chances are pretty good you won’t see more than two or three other people in the course of an entire day. There’s plenty to be said for the solace of solitude and getting back of beyond, but similarly there’s undeniable appeal to being just a few minutes from a fine meal in a restaurant, a hot shower, and the comforts of a nice motel room. For those of the latter persuasion, devotees of fine angling but also individuals who like their amenities, there’s good news in the North Carolina high country. A bunch of small towns in the southwestern part of the Tar Heel State offer streams that literally flow through them or else are situated just a mile or two away, and in every instance they provide first-rate fishing.
I feel perfectly comfortable in saying this, because as a son of the Smokies who has devoted appreciable portions of all but the first six years of my life to marvelously misspent times astream, these are waters I have fished. Indeed, in a couple of cases they rank quite high on my overall list of places to go if my primary concern is catching a mess of fish for what my late mother liked to describe as “release to grease.” Equally interesting is the fact that in a couple of cases you won’t even find them on the list of designated mountain trout waters or part of the list of streams that receive periodic stockings of hatchery fish.
Aesthetically, the five streams covered below (or at least the urban portions of them) won’t win any awards, but otherwise, they just might offer you some real surprises. If you visit on opening day in the early spring on those that are stocked, there will be so much competition, you just might, as a friend of mine says, want to “carry your own rock to stand on.” Moreover, if you are counting on hatchery-raised fish to fill your creel, most of what that same confirmed curmudgeon variously describes as “dough bellies,” “soap heads,” and “finless wonders” (i.e., stocked trout) tend to be caught out pretty quickly. The good news, though, is that all these streams have solid populations of wild fish.
These stream-bred trout are anything but pushovers, and they will place as much or even more demand on your technical and tactical finesse as their brethren in more remote locations. Yet one of the streams (Deep Creek) produced the biggest wild rainbow I’ve ever caught in the southern Appalachians and another (Jonathan Creek) gave me a true rarity: a 100-trout day. Add to such considerations the possibility that in any of these waters you just might, should Dame Fortune see fit to select you as her favored stepson on a given day, tangle with a true bruiser of a brown trout. Enough of this whetting of the angling appetite though. Let’s get down to the real skinny with a close look at five “citified” trout streams.
JONATHAN CREEK — MAGGIE VALLEY, HAYWOOD COUNTY
It was actually a visit to Maggie Valley for its annual Trout & Heritage Festival this past year that suggested this story to me, never mind the fact that I had been fishing urban streams for decades. I arrived a day before other writers who had been invited to the event and spent a full and wonderful day working the waters of Jonathan Creek. Never more than a couple 100 yards from a road (usually much less), I nonetheless caught dozens of trout, almost all of them stream-bred, and never saw another angler other than two small boys dunking worms.
Tumbling down from its headwaters under Soco Gap, Jonathan Creek enters Maggie Valley as a brawling little mountain creek and then slows appreciably as the land flattens out in the area of this mountain town where tourism is king. From the parking area for Ghost Town downstream through the town, past the Maggie Valley Country Club and beyond, Jonathan Creek stays fairly close to U.S. Highway 19, and there are plenty of spots, often in parking lots, where you can gain ready access to the stream. In the above-mentioned trip, I caught a mixture of browns and rainbows, with the latter predominating. It’s pretty tight quarters for the most part, and I found the areas of the stream with plenty of fly-grabbing canopy to be the most productive. For details on food, lodging, and other information, visit www.maggievalley. org.
DEEP CREEK — BRYSON CITY, SWAIN COUNTY
Most of Deep Creek’s drainage lies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but its final two miles of flow before joining the Tuckasegee River immediately above Bryson City are readily accessible state waters. There are roads paralleling either side of the stream from the bridge at its mouth up to the park line, but the road on the east side offers the easiest access. There are a couple of pullout points where you can park on the roadside, and the parking lot of the Deep Creek Baptist Church, about halfway on the two-mile stretch, is another possibility any day but Sunday.
This is the stream where I learned to fish, and I’m always amazed at how little pressure Deep Creek gets other than at times when word gets out that a stocking has taken place. One major drawback, especially in the heart of the summer, is that this is a favorite stream for folks riding inner tubes. They actually don’t seem to affect the trout much, probably because there’s so much tube traffic and also thanks to many of the best fishing spots being tight against the banks rather than in the stream’s main current, but aesthetically they are a nightmare. My answer is simple — fish in the dawn hours (that’s the best time in the heart of summer anyway) or at times of the year when there is little or no tubing activity.
Deep Creek in its lower reaches is a medium-large stream by mountain standards, with a fine mixture of long, rather deep runs and pocket water. It flows through a mixture of campgrounds, pasture land, streamside summer homes and permanent homes. I’m primarily a flyfisherman, but for the big browns that haunt these waters, there’s probably nothing better than a spring lizard drifted through a big pool after a hard shower has given a bit of color to the water. You will find information on local places to stay and eat at GreatSmokies.com.
VALLEY RIVER — ANDREWS, CLAY COUNTY
A longtime friend of mine, Marty Maxwell, actually brought both the Valley River and the Talulah River (see below) to my attention. The Valley River has its headwaters near Topton, and by the time it reaches the sprawling flatlands from which its name is derived, the stream is fairly good-sized and relatively slow moving. What first piqued my interest was when Maxwell, whose place of work in Andrews is located at str
eamside, mentioned going out to a nearby pool during his lunch break to fish. “It’s full of wild rainbows,” he said, “and its deep pools also hold some dandy browns.”
The Valley River meanders through the rich, flat farm fields surrounding Andrews for miles, and there are any number of access points to it from state and county roads that branch off the main highway (U.S. 19-74). The stream is a slow-moving one for the most part, given more to a series of large pools than to riffles and runs, but in the heart of the summer, you will find that the faster moving water, especially in the heart of the day, can be most productive. More information can be found online at www. andrewschambercommerce.com.
TALULAH RIVER — ROBBINSVILLE, GRAHAM COUNTY
Graham County is my favorite of all North Carolina trout destinations, and I must admit that it offers so many top-level trout streams, among them Big and Little Snowbird, Slickrock Creek and Big Santeetlah, that it is easy to overlook the Talulah River. The Talulah is actually more of a creek (and so designated on some maps) size wise, when it flows through downtown Robbinsville. It is readily accessible right in town from places like the Ingle’s parking lot, and it is seldom more than a long cast or two from the main drag, U.S. Highway 129.
This is truly in the heart of town, and although the road gets a bit farther away, Highway 129 from Robbinsville toward Topton parallels Talulah Creek for many miles as you move toward the headwaters of the stream. Any number of side roads will take you to crossings where you can park and begin fishing.
The Talulah is at best a medium-sized stream in downtown Robbinsville, but it holds very solid populations of both browns and rainbows. Most serious local anglers prefer to spend their time in other Graham County streams, most of which are bigger and better known, yet this stream holds just as many trout as the more remote locations and, perversely, may actually get less fishing pressure.
ALLEN CREEK — WAYNESVILLE, HAYWOOD COUNTY
When our paths crossed at a fly-fishing show, I mentioned some of my thoughts on and experiences with urban trout fishing to Roger Lowe, a veteran outfitter and the owner of Lowe’s Fly Shop in Waynesville. I shared my tale of a splendid 100-fish day on Jonathan Creek and he chuckled.
“Yep,” he said, “we sometimes get all caught up in fishing in the park or national forests, and forget what we have at our back door. I grew up fishing Allen Creek right here in Waynesville, and it has always been full of fish — not just stocked trout but plenty of wild ones.
Allen Creek, the headwaters of which provide Waynesville’s water supply, runs right through the heart of this booming little mountain town. It is paralleled on one side by the major highway serving the town, U.S. Highway 19-74, and on the other by Main Street and the other streets of the downtown area. It is home to both browns and rainbows, never mind the fact that it isn’t on the list of streams that are stocked or indeed in any way noticed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES FOR URBAN TROUT
None of the streams covered above are covered by special regulations or limitations, such as single-hook artificials only or catch-and-release. That means you can use anything, from the tiniest of dry flies to a big gob of night crawlers, which is legal under general trout regulations. It also translates, if you are so inclined, to keeping a limit of seven trout.
Any of the standard approaches favored for taking mountain trout will work. When it comes to pure-out, fish-catching effectiveness, nothing matches live bait in the hands of a skilled angler. Red worms, spring lizards, “nests” (the larva of wasps, yellow jackets or hornets), night crawlers, and a whole bunch of other naturals will work and work well. They are probably most productive when there is a bit of color to the stream, thanks to recent rainfalls.
Precisely the same holds true for in-line spinners, such as Mepps or Rooster Tails. Keep the size small, and if you aren’t bumping bottom, you probably aren’t deep enough. Don’t overlook tiny plugs. Pradco, the umbrella company for a whole bunch of lure manufacturers, offers all sorts of these imitators of crickets, grasshoppers, and the like — which can be really useful, especially when it comes to drawing strikes from larger trout.
Personally, I’m a die-hard flyfisherman, and don’t think for a minute that the long wand and whistling line constitute a handicap. Far from it. My preferred approach is what is sometimes described as a “hopper-and-dropper” rig, although in most cases the dry fly at the top of the two-fly rig is not a grasshopper imitator. With a buoyant dry fly and a small beadhead nymph, you have the best of both worlds. The dry fly (good choices include Royal or Tennessee Wulffs, Parachute Male Adams, Thunderhead, Jim Charlie, or any of the many attractors) does double duty as a strike indicator. The small nymph trailer, dancing along 18 to 24 inches below the dry fly, probes the sub-surface, where the vast majority of a trout’s dining is done. Solid nymph choices include Tellico, Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Prince, Pheasant Tail and Copper John patterns. Don’t overlook streamers, although they mean a fair number of hang-ups. There’s no type of pattern better for taking bigger trout, because they imitate the big bites favored by larger fish. Good patterns include Woolly Bugger, Matuka (especially in olive or black colors) and Black-Nosed Dace.
Whatever your preferred technique, these urban trout streams (and there are more of a similar nature in northwestern North Carolina) offer a grand opportunity for some “back door” fishing whether you are looking for new horizons, want to combine family vacation with a bit of fishing, or simply like convenience.
Although basic access information is given with each stream covered, visiting anglers new to these urban streams will find it helpful to have detailed maps for guidance. You can find these on Internet sources, but a better bet is to obtain one of two most helpful publications. These are North Carolina County Maps and North Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer. The former shows roads, from forest service ones to major highways, on a county-by-county basis, while the latter takes a topographical approach and is just about as detailed.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Casada is a lifelong trout fisherman who cut his angling teeth on streams in the Smokies. A full-time freelance writer, he has written two books on fly-fishing, as well as more than two dozen on other outdoors subjects. For information on these, or for a free subscription to his monthly e-newsletter, contact him at JimCasadaOutdoors.com.)