Skip to main content

Hotspots For North Carolina Trout

Hotspots For North Carolina Trout
The Blue Ridge Parkway and Stone Mountain State Park are just a few of the options when the topic is trout fishing in western North Carolina. (April 2009)

Guide Marty Shaffer of Wilkes County works one of the many plunge pools at Stone Mountain State Park.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.

"See that pool up there?" asked Marty Shaffner who operates Tri-State Angler Guide Service from his home in Wilkes County. "Slink down to your hands and knees and crawl up to where those ledges form the end of the pool. Cast your fly right behind that fallen log that runs out into the pool a few feet.

"By the way," Marty grinned, "you've got one chance to hit that spot. So, no pressure. Don't end up in the trees like you did at the last pool."

Still embarrassed by the five minutes spent trying to retrieve the size 12 Adams that probably still resides in an overhanging hemlock bough, I made a mental note to not make another humiliating cast and spook an entire pool of trout.

Taking a deep breath, I made one short false cast and sent a Size 14 Thunderhead to within about a foot of the prone tree. As I had feared, the cast wasn't perfect, but the trout that Shaffner had predicted would be there was, and the creature didn't seem to make note of my casting foibles as he sipped in the offering.

After cavorting across the surface, the 7-inch brown made its way to the net and after a few quick photos, I released the trout. It was the last fish of the day, an outing where Marty introduced me to the wondrous angling at Stone Mountain State Park. That anecdote took place on Garden Creek, one of many superlative trout waters that exist at the park, which lies along the county line of Alleghany and Wilkes.

The park extends across 13,500 highland acres and boasts 17 miles of trout streams that fall into four categories. Shaffner told me that his clients probably favor the wild trout streams the most. The foremost of these is Garden Creek.

"April is probably the prime month to fish Garden," said Marty. "The creek runs full then, and the trout are much less spooky than they will be by summer when all the streams here can run low. Expect a lot of 6- to 12-inch browns."

Even so, accurate casting is essential as rhododendron, hemlocks, alders, and silver maples shroud the creek. That same profuse vegetation, though, is another reason why brown trout, the primary species, fin the creek in such heavy numbers. The shaded pockets prove to be prime lairs. Browns predominate on the lower section of Garden Creek, and native brookies exist on the upper section above a waterfall. A trail parallels the creek as it courses down a mountain.

Shaffner also highly rates Widow Creek, which, though smaller, sports wild brown, rainbow and brook trout. Widow likewise possesses a waterfall. The third waterway, Big Sandy Creek, courses by a campground and contains wild rainbows. And the last member of the quartet, Stone Mountain Creek, holds a limited population of wild trout.

Since the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) manages these four as wild trout streams, anglers are restricted to single-hook artificial lures, a 7-inch minimum size limit on the trout, and a four-fish-a-day creel limit.

Wild brown trout are major attractions of the smaller headwater streams at Stone Mountain State Park. Photo by Bruce Ingram.

The second category at the park is delayed harvest streams. Like the wild streams, delayed harvest streams are managed by the NCWRC but have stocked trout waters open to fishing year 'round. However, trout caught between Oct. 1 and the first Saturday in June must be immediately released. Anglers cannot keep or have in their possession any trout while fishing these waters during this time. Single-hook artificial lures or flies are required during the October-June period. Beginning the first Saturday in June until Oct. 1, harvest of trout from these waters is allowed, and regular trout stream bait and lure regulations are in effect. Anglers may keep seven trout a day with no size limit.


The East Prong of Roaring River from the mouth of Bullhead Creek downstream to the park boundary is perhaps the major delayed harvest stream at the park. The second stream is that part of Stone Mountain Creek from its falls at the Alleghany/Wilkes border downstream to the confluence with Bullhead Creek and the East Prong. Additionally, two handicapped accessible fishing piers are situated on the East Prong.

The third category of stream -- catch-and-release, artificial lures only -- refers to Harris Creek, another stream that the NCWRC manages. Shaffner reveals that this waterway hosts wild brook trout, (typically 5 to 9 inches long) which are tucked away deep in the mountains. A very primitive trail follows the boundary between Stone Mountain and the Thurmond Chatham game lands and winds above Harris Creek.

Anglers will have to descend into the creek bottom, a considerable task. But the reward is unpressured brookies that rarely see offerings of any kind.

Bullhead Creek
The NCWRC does not manage Bullhead Creek, which Stone Mountain describes as a "Fish for Fun" water and charges an additional fee of $15 to fish. Please note that this term is not similar to the "Fish for Fun" events that the NCWRC operates. Shaffner relates that Bullhead is known for jumbo trout, many of which run between 12 and 18 inches.

State park personnel have divided Bullhead into numerous sections that people pay to fish. Bullhead has several rules, including catch-and-release fly-fishing only, barbless flies only, and fishermen are required to carry a landing net.

Trip Planning Information
Alleghany Chamber of Commerce, Sparta, NC, can be reached at or (800) 372-5473.

For more information on Stone Mountain State Park: 3042 Frank Parkway, Roaring Gap, NC 28668, (336) 956-8185, parkproject/visit/stmo/home.html.

For season dates and regulations for each type of trout water, contact the NCWRC. The regulations require that anglers obtain a valid state fishing license and trout stamp for all streams. Regulations of the NCWRC are enforced throughout the park. Visit, or call (919) 707


Marty Shaffner of Tri-State Angler Guide Service can be reached at, (336) 957-4630 or (336) 902-0044.

For information on gearing up and current fishing information, contact S&L Outdoor Sports Supply, 38 S. Main Street, Sparta, NC 28675, www.sl_, or call (336) 372-5686.

Last July, Mike Smith, who operates Greasy Creek Outfitters in Willis, Virginia, took me to fish some of the native brook trout streams that lie along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although I had both North Carolina and Virginia fishing licenses with me, I learned that anglers need only have one state's license when fishing these waters.

That's because either state's license is legal no matter in which state one is angling at the time. This is a great deal for licensed Tar Heel State anglers, as they can fish deep within Virginia, as long as they confine themselves to Blue Ridge Parkway waters. And April and May, emphasized Smith, are the premier months to fish these streams.

"Experiencing the dank aroma of the densely forested woodland where native brook trout live is a very special thing on the parkway in the spring," said Smith. "Then when you see the incredible colors of a wild trout when you land it, that just adds to the atmosphere. Another thing I enjoy is that this is pristine wild trout fishing at the source of so many of our great rivers, such as the Dan and Roanoke."

Smith emphasizes that stealth is crucial when anglers ply these waters. For example, on our trip last July, the guide repeatedly exhorted me to keep a low profile and to further camouflage my presence by staying close to streamside fauna as we inched upstream. Of course, the native brook trout streams in the region were exceptionally low last summer and fall, but even when they are running full, they are typically no more than 10 to 20 feet across and a few feet deep. A careful approach is always required, regardless of the season.

Understandably, Smith does not like to divulge the names of individual Blue Ridge Parkway creeks. These streams are so small that it would be unfair to the resource -- and to anglers themselves -- to concentrate people in just a few places. The good news is that many creeks do exist and all these cold-water streams possess similar fisheries in terms of numbers of fish and size -- typically, wild brook trout are about 5 to 9 inches in length.

The guide reveals that his favorite spring patterns on parkway waters are sizes 16 and 18 Royal Wulffs or Olive Caddis and sizes 14 or 16 Prince Nymphs. He prefers a 7-foot 2- or 3-weight fly rod with 7x tippet. Kelly Brown, maintenance supervisor for the Pinnacles Hydro-electric Project that abuts the parkway in the Old Dominion, regularly fishes these highland rills. He recommends sizes 12 and 14 Adams Parachutes, Copper Beadhead Pheasant Tails and Caddis Beadheads.

For spin-fishing, Smith suggests any 5- to 6-foot light-action rod spooled with clear 4-pound-test mono. Any ultralight spinner, such as a Mepps Aglia or Joe's Fly, will do.

"Spinners are great for the parkway's wild browns and brookies and can easily be cast up under heavy rhododendron," Smith concluded.

Trip Planning Information
Greasy Creek Outfitters can be contacted at their Web site:, or by phone at (540) 789-7811. (Mike Smith offers guided trips and is author of the book, Fishing the Roanoke Valley, which covers fishing the Blue Ridge Parkway.) Visit online at

Lodging: Meadowood Bed and Breakfast, (540) 593-3929. Owner Gil Gillenwater guides full-time for Greasy Creek Outfitters.

Fishing information: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission: or Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:

Richard Warren is one of the guides for Davidson River Outfitters in Pisgah Forest. He states that Transylvania County features one of the state's foremost trout streams.

"The Davidson River is a large wild trout stream where it's not unusual to catch fish 24 and 25 inches (long) in the spring," said Warren. "And the month of April is not only the best time to fish the Davidson in the spring but also for the entire year. The water temperature has risen to 50 to 52 degrees, the stream is full, and the fish are active."

Warren relates that the Davidson is about the width of a two-lane highway, with plenty of sections where the water is 2- to 2 1/2 feet deep. Come April, the trout hold in runs, slicks and current breaks. Interestingly, the guide relates that though northwestern North Carolina often receives a great deal of rain now, the river clears in as little as four hours, thanks to a heavily forested watershed.

Much of the Davidson falls under fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release regulations, although a two-mile or so hatchery-supported section exists in Transylvania. Warren adds that large Size 6 streamers are outstanding patterns for bringing up big browns.

"The fish lose their inhibitions in April on the Davidson," continued Warren. "Cast a streamer downstream at a 90-degree angle, mend it, then start stripping it back, mending every now and then. Sometimes you can just leave the streamer out in the current, mending the fly every now and then.

"The Davidson is a medium gradient stream, and the browns will hold next to the bank and come out and hit a streamer as it hovers in the current. Other times, they will hold next to submerged logs, but when that is the case, you are in real trouble if a big brown hits and then runs under some wood."

Although generic streamers will work just fine, Warren admits to a fondness for size 6 Zonkers in olive, black and white or various combinations thereof. A really good local pattern is another streamer, a Conehead Madonna.

"The Madonna looks a little like a Zonker, but it has a deer hair-like skirt that is really short, sort of like the skirts that the singer Madonna wears," said Warren.

Surface patterns also come to the fore in April and May, continued the guide. The most productive ones are sizes 14 and 16 caddis.

Warren said that a very popular Transylvania County stream for both fly- and spin-fishermen is the East Fork of the French Broad, which comes under the delayed harvest regulation.

"In fact, I would rate the East Fork as one of the top delayed harvest streams in the region," said Warren. "The East Fork has just walls of shaded water and it flows out of the mountains, so it is very cold and clear even in April. Very little of the river flows through farmland, so it remains clear even when we have spring rains."

Warren noted that in Transylvania County, this tributary of the French Broad features low gradient, easy wading and good access. The stream i

s typically 40 to 45 feet wide with dropoffs up to 3 feet deep.

In the spring, the guide said that the fly he has the most confidence in on the East Fork is a size 12 to 16 nymph created from red fox squirrel hair. He adorns this pattern with rubber legs, and said that the 12- to 14-inch browns and rainbows (with occasional fish up to 20 inches) that dwell in the stream savage the fly because it "looks buggy."

Another go-to pattern is a size 12 to 16 Anderson's Bird of Prey, a beadhead nymph that excels at diving deep when the river runs high. Olive or gray hues seem to be the most productive. And as always in the spring, a size 10 or 12 Woolly Bugger will always draw its share of trout. Spin-fishermen, the guide said, can experience success with Mepps Aglias and Panther Martins; add a split shot or two to keep the lure down in the water column.

"The East Fork is one of those trout streams that has lots of hungry trout that are cooperative and easy to catch in the spring," Warren concluded. "This is not a technical river, and folks can easily learn how to fish it."

For guided trips and best patterns, contact Davidson River Outfitters at, or call (888) 861-0111.

Star Nolan operates Brookside Fly Fishing Guides and covers some of the foremost trout streams in the western part of Carolina. One of her favorite streams to take clients on is not as well known as many in the region.

"The North Mills River is a very diverse stream," she told me. "In its upper section, there are some wild rainbows and, to the surprise of many people, even some native brookies. Many people didn't think that the upper stream could support native trout. Some anglers are pushing for a year 'round catch-and-release for the upper section.

"In the lower river, the North Mills is some 60 feet across and has some very deep pools where stocked rainbows, browns and brookies can be caught."

Nolan is also involved with Casting for Recovery, an organization that offers retreats and reunions for female cancer survivors.

"I hear so many inspirational stories at the retreats," said Nolan. "Every year, I meet many wonderful people."

For more information, contact Brookside Fly Fishing Guides at, or call (877) 298-2568. Casting for Recovery:

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Let There Be Light … For Anglers

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Scout & Adjust: Keys to Successful Hunting on Public Land

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Tips to Improve Deer Habitat on Your Hunting Land

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Treat Your Boat Well on Dry Land for More Splash on the Water

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

How to Max Your Fishing Success on Foot

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Going to the Bank

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Advantage: Kayak

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Bass Crash Course: How to Skip a Lure

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Take a Swim - For Real

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Mega Worms

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Give Me No Lip

When bass move offshore after the spawn and as the water temperature rises, they go deep or suspend along humps or other...

Sling a Blade

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now