Fly Fishing for Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

jim-fly-fishing-in-slickrockAre you yearning for an adventure in an area unplugged from technology? A relaxing and energizing way to spend some time? Wishing that you had something to do that would be entertaining for yourself and your children? Try your hand at fly fishing in our neck of the woods – the far western fishing center of western North Carolina near Robbinsville.

“Graham County boasts one of the most diverse trout fishing ecosystems in the southeast. Between national forest, national park, state and game land waters which include stocked streams, delayed harvest streams and a host of wild trout streams, every trout angler’s passion can be accommodated! Not to mention some of the best kept secrets in lakes which hold trophy size trout for the lake fishermen.” So says consummate fly fisherman Steve Claxton, owner of Smoky Mountain Adventures, Inc. located in Robbinsville, N.C.

trout-fishingThe brook trout is the only trout native to North Carolina. This elusive little fish makes its home in the isolated, head-water mountain creeks and streams of near Robbinsville, Fontana Dam, Stecoah, and Lake Santeetlah. They represent a unique strain of trout called the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful native fish species. Their upper sides are olive-green with mottled dark green “worm-like” markings on their backs and tails. Their lower sides are lighter with yellow spots interspersed with fewer spots of bright red surrounded by blue. Then the lower fins are orange with a narrow black band next to a leading white edge. They are breathtaking; a little like living jewels as they sparkle in the sun.

Andy Cable, expert trout fisherman, agrees. A skilled and passionate fly fisherman himself, Cable has some hints for those who come here to take advantage of the world renowned fishing in the area. . “I would recommend two things: use a light leader… 2.5 lbs max, and pay careful attention to where you are standing when approaching the hole you are fishing. Putting a little thought into where you want to stand and cast from goes a long way.”

Local native Rick Davis adds, “Proper footwear in these mountain streams is vital. The rocks can be extremely slippery and the right boots can prevent a serious fall.”

Although experts talk about eight and a half feet being the optimum length of a fly fishing rod for casting, a rod that is six and seven and a half feet long is better for brushy areas and in our mountains the really short rods are the best for navigating through the rhododendron and mountain laurel edged woodland streams.


If you are fishing for the native trout your best bet is to try the game lands portion of Big Snowbird Creek, above the old junction. Santeetlah Creek, Sassafras Creek, Slickrock Creek, Squally Creek, Wright Creek, Indian Creek and John’s Branch are excellent places to try your luck. See map below for location of these creeks or use the services of trained guides who have years of experience in the mountainous regions of Graham County.

Jim Casada is a full-time freelance writer who grew up in the heart of the North Carolina Mountains. He has written or edited more than 30 books including the award-winning Modern Fly Fishing and the Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing and most recently, his Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – An Insider’s Guide to a Pursuit of Passion. In his article published in the Carolina Sportsman, he raved about the trout fishing in western North Carolina, entitling his article “Best Spot on the Trout Map”.

“Over much of the course of its flow, Slickrock Creek forms the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee. The stream has a number of special or unique features. Unlike most of Graham County’s creeks, which feature a mixture of browns and rainbows – or, where natural barriers have prevented upstream migration, brook trout – except for its uppermost reaches, Slickrock is home exclusively to brown trout. After the U.S. Forest service purchased the watershed in 1936, Civilian Conservation Corps workers made the long hike to Slickrock Creek carrying fingerlings in specially constructed backpacks.”

“The browns found the habitat, which was last logged in 1922, to their liking and immediately began natural reproduction.” Browns have thrived in Slickrock ever since this original implantation, with no further stocking having been needed or attempted.”

The pristine fishing waters of our delayed harvest section are sought after by avid trout fishing enthusiasts. What exactly is a delayed harvest? Here in North Carolina it refers to a time, October 1 through the first Saturday in June, which is one of the most anticipated fishing seasons of the year. This is when specific bodies of water are ruled as single hook, artificial, catch and release only. When trout fisheries are heavily stocked and strict “catch and release” rules are implemented it allows novice fishermen to get out and test their skills in an environment where fish are plentiful and competition from bait fisherman is nonexistent.

The delayed-harvest section at Snowbird starts at a foot bridge just above the Junction at the end of Big Snowbird Creek Road and extends about 2.8 miles downstream to a concrete bridge known locally as Chestnut Flat Bridge, see map below. Detailed information can be found HERE.

A perfect way to fish Graham County is to stay at one of our Lodges where proximity to streams, knowledgeable staff, access to guides and equipment is all taken into consideration. Snowbird Mountain Lodge located at Santeetlah Gap on the Cherohala Skyway is one such place. It’s close to both Big and Little Santeetlah Creek, West Buffalo Creek and the delayed harvest area as well as the native trout waters of Snowbird Creek. Featuring several trout fishing events during the season Snowbird’s team has the skill and knowledge to place you on the perfect stretch of water for your skill or give you the tools to improve your knowledge. “Over the past several years we’ve had several guests catch the “Grand Slam” of fish – all in one day – Brooks, Browns, Rainbows and the rare Tiger trout”… Robert Rankin, Inkeeper

Whether you choose to fish in Hatchery supported streams, explore the rugged and enchanting headwater creeks or fish the numerous lakes in Graham County, you can be assured that you will want to return.

Fishing Guides in our area:
Steve Claxton 
Endless River Adventures
Nantahala Fly Fishing
Smoky Mountain Outdoors
Noon Day Fly Fishing
Billy Joe Welch of Hunting Boy, 828-735-1637

View 2016-17 Trout Regulations (See Graham County)

View Printable Graham County Trout Fishing Trails Map