Fishing opportunities in North Carolina abound. Whether you are fishing for native brook trout in a cold mountain stream, lunker largemouth bass in a piedmont reservoir, brawny striped bass in a river or you just want to take your kids fishing at a community fishing lake, our state’s waters offer diverse angling opportunities for everyone.
- Big Flies = Big Fish
The old saying “the bigger the bait the bigger the fish” rings true in the fly fishing world, especially in the chilly winter waters off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
- False Albacore Fly Fishing in NC
- Fishing Morehead City, NC
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fly Fishing
- Pamlico Sound Fishing
The Davidson is a tributary of the French Broad River and its physical characteristics are typical of many rivers in the Southern Appalachian Range. Because of its ease of access, it is one of the most heavily fished rivers in the area, but if you’re willing to do a little exploring, you can avoid the crowds.
When you enter the Pisgah National Forest on Route 276, just north of the town of Brevard, there are roughly ten miles of catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only water on the Davidson. Double that if you count the tributaries, though some may be too small and overgrown for even the most gifted small stream enthusiast to overcome. The two most accessible tributaries are Avery and Looking Glass Creek, both of which support healthy populations of small to medium-size rainbow trout. Avery is the smaller of the two, and has several even smaller tributaries feeding into it. Looking Glass Creek is larger and easily approached from Route 276. Although throngs of tourists visit Looking Glass Falls and the Sliding Rock Recreation Area, the river itself seems to be generally overlooked by anglers.
There are several “wild” trout streams within a short drive from the Davidson where one’s surety of more trout for a day’s angling would have little doubt. Typical North Carolina mountain wild trout: stunted growth, over size mouth, and an eager willingness to jump on almost anything that falls into the stream.
If your idea of fly fishing for trout is drifting a Humppie through the riffles, then more days than not, you will go home from the Davidson disappointed. Most of the Davidson is “catch & release, fly fish only”. Almost all the river is within sight of either a hardtop or gravel road. The trout in this river get fished hard.
Deep slow pools are common on the Davidson downstream of the hatchery. Refuges that the trout use to escape extremes in weather and excessive angling pressure.
Because the trout in the Davidson are seldom, if ever, very evenly distributed throughout it’s length; I doubt that an accurate survey of the population is possible. If such a survey was possible, I would venture to guess that if the total number of pounds of trout in this river was divide by it’s length; that this number for the Davidson might possibly compute to more pounds per mile than any other stream in North Carolina (not counting delayed harvest streams at peak stock levels).
There is natural reproduction in most of the upper sections of the Davidson, as well as in Avery Creek. Additionally, the catch and release section of the river receives recruitment from the put and take area in the lower river, and from escapees of the hatchery. During daily cleaning of the pens, trout often escape through the drains.
Hatches on the Davidson are consistent with most western North Carolina streams. Around the first of April there is a note worthy black caddis (16 & 18) hatch. In mid-May there is a much anticipated green drake hatch. The green drake hatch is difficult to predict and often short lived. If you come anticipating the drake hatch, you should be prepared to fish the “yellow sally” hatch which is generally more dependable, and in my opinion, much more fun to fish. Above the hatchery dam, there is a population of golden stone flies (#8) that trigger activity whenever the nymphs are on the move.
Midge hatches are dependable on most all the slower sections of the river. Come prepared with a fairly divers midge selection including nymphs, emergers, and dry flies; especially in cream colors.
Practices at the hatchery have altered the stream ecology in the area just down stream of the drains. Increased oxygen levels, changes in pH, and nutrient levels are apparently very conducive to the midge population. The area adjacent to the Pisgah Forest Hatchery has midge hatches almost 365 days a year. I have taken trout from this section of the river with a dry midge during a heavy snow storm in the middle of January.
If you are looking for solitude you best bets are either midwinter or early spring weekdays. The area close to the hatchery is often crowded on weekends throughout the coldest months of the year. However, an accomplished midge fisherman fishing this section can catch a dozen or more trout almost any day of the year.
On the Davidson, which often runs “gin clear”, I have found that a good presentation on a long leader is more critical that what fly you select. Stream conditions and hatch reports are available from any of the fly shops in Asheville/Hendersonville area, and from those in Brevard.
The Pisgah Forest Fish Hatchery is open to the public and well worth the time to stroll through the hatchery area. Feeding time is a must if you have any young anglers in your group. In the wildlife center they have regularly scheduled presentations of interest to the angler and outdoorsman.
The Forest Service has a nice campground with waterfront sites on the Davidson. There is also primitive camping allowed in many areas of the National Forest. If you are looking for a diversion other than fishing, the view from Looking Glass Rock and also John Rock are both worth the hike.
Driving directions are easy. Two miles north of Brevard is the intersection of US 64/276 and NC 280. Take 276 west which parallels the Davidson River up to the junction with Looking Glass Creek. To stay with the Davidson turn left on Forest Service Road 475 which leads to the hatchery.
Because the Davidson River is so easily accessed along almost it’s entire length you will often encounter anglers of all skill levels and experience. You may also encounter anglers who’s “stream etiquette” might not be on the same level as yours. Try to keep in mind that the river is there for everyone to enjoy, not just for the “experienced fly angler.” A kind words and a brief explanation, as opposed to curt condemnation might better serve the future.
The annual return of anadromous fish to the Roanoke River in North Carolina is truly one of the most bountiful angling opportunities in the southeast. Hickory shad followed by striped bass provide almost non stop action for about ninety days every spring.
The picture on the Roanoke was not always so rosy. Due to almost unrestricted fishing pressure, both recreational and commercial, this fishery was almost decimated.
Several years ago a coalition of guides, local civic leaders, fisheries management officials, and industrial concerns was formed to help steer fisheries management policies on the Roanoke River.
This coalition helped bring about some major changes in the management of the striped bass fishery, not only in the Roanoke River but also in the Albemarle Sound where most of the striped bass spawned in the Roanoke will spent their first few years. Management changes include: limited number of “harvest” days, along with closely monitored quotas, slot limits, barb-less hook regulations, and efforts to maintain minimum river flows during critical periods during the spawning season
Hickory shad season usually is beginning to heat up by the full moon in March. For fly angler without a boat, the Roanoke River can be a tough nut to crack…Flows of 2,000 cfs or less (Roanoke Rapids Gauge) will afford some limited wadding access in the vicinity of the boat ramp at Weldon up to the US 158 Bridge. The vast majority of the shoreline of the River is steep (slippery) clay banks with trees and brush down to the water.
While there are some striped bass mixed in all during the hickory shad run, most local guides consider April 15th to be the first booking date for fly anglers looking for big numbers of stripers. The best of the striped bass run will last about 30 days. In the early part of the run the population will be almost exclusively male. The female population arrive in a classic bell curve, very few early in the run and then a dramatic increase until there numbers are almost equal to the males. Near the end of the run the population will again return to being almost exclusively male.
Fly tackle requirements for the Roanoke vary greatly with stream flow. If the water is low a 3 or 4wt with a type II sinking line is quite sporting for hickory shad. Hickory shad can be very acrobatic if not burdened by a heavy sinking line.
An 8wt is just about right for striper fishing. To consistently catch stripers on the Roanoke you must be able to present you fly close to the bottom. That means at least a type IV line with a 30 foot head. Five foot, ten foot, and even fifteen foot sink tips are seldom as productive as full sinking lines or lines with 30 foot fast-sinking heads. Day in and day out, you can almost always observe a fly angler or two, struggling to catch even a few stripers, while others are having a banner day. If you want to consistently catch fish throughout the day on this river, you must come prepared to present your fly close to the bottom.
The outfit of choice for me is a 9′ medium fast 8wt equipped with a 30′ section of LC13 (see related article on LC13) and 30lb braided mono running line. I can hear people squealing now, “390 grains on an 8wt!!”. This is a setup that suits me. With a rather lazy sidearm casting stroke, I can make literally hundreds of 80 to 90 foot cast in a day with little or no effort. Depending upon boat position and where I wish to place the fly; a “roll” of the last 30 foot of line (to bring the line close to the surface), followed by a “water haul” is also a very efficient way to cast almost effortlessly with a heavy sinking line.
With only a box full of #2 Chartreuse Clousers you could catch more than enough shad or stripers on the Roanoke to keep almost anyone happy. Everyone who spends much time on this river will have a few favorite patterns. If you were to check the boxes of many of the full-time guides on the river you would probably see a lot of boxes full of chartreuse/white Half and Half (half Clouser/half Deceiver). If shad are your primary target, then a fly with some hot pink will often out produce other flies on the Roanoke River.
I personally have not found the stripers on the Roanoke to be very color selective. I have found that when it is tough to get a bite, that I can sometimes stir up some action by changing size. Either a very small fly (like a #6 Clouser) presented tight on the bottom, or a very big fly presented up close to the shoreline; will produce fish when other presentations are failing.
Typical Size Striped Bass for the Fly Rod Angler on the Roanoke River. Harry Hall photo – Roanoke River
Everyone wants to know about catching Roanoke stripers on poppers. About mid way into the run, when the female population is increasing, groups of spawning fish will come up to the surface. The majority of this surface activity occurs just before sunset.
Ripe females are surrounded by a dozen or more eager males. This spawning ritual culminates with a spectacular surface display and the release of clouds milt into the water column.
When these male stripers are in this over stimulated mode they will readily chase a popper. Medium size poppers will generally draw more strikes than larger ones.
How to catch a big one ?
Stripers on the Roanoke average less than 20 inches. There are however a few fish approaching 30 inches caught everyday during the mid-stages of the run. In 2003 there were reasonable numbers of stripers over 30 pounds in the upper reaches of the river, with a fish or two landed that exceeded the 50 pound mark. With so many smaller fish in the river your odds of catching a larger striper is not high. There are a few proven techniques for improving your odds for hooking up with a larger fish.
Fishing just prior to sunrise is perhaps the very best thing you can do if you are looking for a bigger fish. Up in “the rocks” just above the boat ramp at Weldon is one area that has traditionally produced bigger fish at sunrise. Casting cross-current in the faster runs with big fly and a stout tippet just as it gets light enough to see, will produce a trophy fish or two for those who put in enough time.
Big flies generally produce bigger fish. Pounding snags and blow-downs along the shoreline with a big fly, or working one tight on the bottom will generally pickup more of the larger fish than other techniques during the middle of the day.
Bull Head Creek
The mountains of northern and western North Carolina have approximately 4000 miles of designated trout water. Some of these rivers are large and wild. But the vast majority are small stream that flow down out of the Appalachians. They are lined with rhododendrons, and provide wonderful shady relief from the summer heat of the Carolinas. The most important thing is that they are filled with rainbow and brown trout in the lower elevations, and higher up in the headwaters you will find native brook trout.
One of the more interesting streams is Bull Head Creek in Stone Mt. State Park. Not simply because of the quality of the fishing that you will find here but because of the history of the stream.
The stream was originally owned by the Blue Ridge Fly Fishers. This was a private club that was founded in 1935. In the mid ’60’s the property that surrounded Bull Head Creek was donated to the state of North Carolina and incorporated into Stone Mt. State Park. The agreement was reached that the state would manage the stream as the club had, and keep the club’s rules and regulations in place.
Those rules continue to be fly fishing only, catch and release, barbless flies size 6 and smaller, and every angler must carry a net. The fish are feed twice a week and this ensures the quality of the fishery in the size of the fish, their numbers, and survival rate. This practice tends to make the fish focus in on subsurface activity, and thus makes them quite challenging.
The easiest way to get to the park is to take Exit 83 off of I-77. Follow Route 21 about 10 miles to County Road 1002 and turn left, following the signs for Stone Mt. State Park. 41/2 mile later turn right onto the John P. Frank Parkway which will take you directly into the park in a couple of miles. Once in the park follow the main road until it turns to dirt and the take your first right into the parking area for the stream.
Once out of the car you will need to sign in on the sheet near the door of the clubhouse, and when you do this you will be choosing one of the eight “beats”, or sections, that you will be fishing for the day. After doing this you will need to fill out one of the registration envelopes, and put the $4.00 fee inside, and deposit the whole thing in the pipe next to the door. There are vending machines where you can buy some snacks, and soft drinks inside the cabin. A number of picnic tables that are perfect if you want to bring a lunch or need to tie up something that you have not brought with you are scattered around the clubhouse.
Each of the sections has its own character. There is also a “Home Pool” that you are allowed to fish for a short period of time each day. Do not pass up this section as it holds some tremendous fish. This is a deep pool where water rushes in on the left side and is deflected by an underwater ledge in to a large eddy. Fishing the edges of the current lines down deep with various nymphs, streamers and woolly buggers is the best way to approach this pool. If the water is low and there is a some insect activity, either aquatic or terrestrial a dry fly can lead to some heart stopping rises. When a butterscotch brown spotted “alligator” sticks its nose out of the water and takes your fly it may be difficult to be patient and set the hook after the fish has turned back towards the depths of the pool
Number One, which starts just above the granite slabs that create the flumes that fill the Home Pool, is a series of deep runs and boulder strewn pools. As is the characteristic of many North Carolina mountain streams half your time is spent fishing, the other half is spent bouldering. Number Two is not quite as steep, and as you walk up the path you can spot fish in the larger pools and runs. The first pool on Number Two is a slow moving glassy smooth piece of water where long leaders and accurate presentations are required. These are the two sections I fished on my first trip to Bull Head. Don Yeager and I managed to get a day off together and decided it would be a refreshing break to fish the stream. An early morning rendezvous, a good cup of coffee and we were off. During the hour and a half drive, during which weekday morning traffic was pouring into Charlotte, the sun tried to burn off a dense layer of fog. It still was socked in when we got to the park.
This Bill Head Creek rainbow required the help of fellow anglers to subdue long enough for a quick photo session. Jamie didn’t mention that these fish are being fed, but whatever it may be it seems to agree with them!
After signing in and taking a look at the water we fished the Home Pool first. The water was a bit high and off color from the rain the previous day. Don decided he would wade wet, I thought wearing a pair of breathable waterproof waders was a good idea . We fished Zonkers, both gray and white, pink and red San Juan Worms, and chartreuse inch worms. At the end of our 20 minutes Don hooked up with an 18″ brown trout that tore up the pool. I stopped fishing to watch and he said not to as sometimes a fish charging around would wake up the other fish in the pool. As he landed the fish a couple of other fishermen showed up for their turn in the Home Pool. Our time allotted having been used up we moved up to section Number Two
We started in the middle of the section and fished the pool and run where we saw a few of the fish. We were able to spot them, even though the water was off color, against the orange and white rocks in the middle of the pool, as well as the gravel tailout. Because the water was a little up we had to use from two to four BB split shots. Again fishing San Juan Worms and inch worms we worked the run at the top of the pool making sure to cover all of the water. Don again hooked the first and as it charged around a number of “submarines” emerged out of the depths and followed his fish around as if they were trying to figure out what was going on. This seemed to wake everyone up and for the next hour or so we hooked a number of brown trout that ranged from 16″ to 22″. We were surprised to catch a couple of 8″ fish. Don’s comment was “what is this little guy doing in here with all these monsters.”
After lunch at the club house we decided to start at the Home Pool and fish Section Two. As we left the car it started to sprinkle, Don decided not to bring his rainwear, I did; More on that later. We left the home pool to a father and his 10 year old son, and as we did it the rain started in earnest. We didn’t pick up any fish until we got to a deep run that sweeps down through the left side of the pool along a rock ledge. The fish were hanging in the deep water under the fastest moving water, so it was important to use enough weight to get down to the bottom. I got hung up a few time, broke off my fly, and had to retie. While doing this Don picked up a few fish. On my third rotation through I watch my strike indicator stop, I set the hook and came up solid. I muttered something about another rock and roll casted two times to try a free my fly. Don mentioned “, Rocks don’t swim,” I lifted up again and was into a beautiful 20″ plus brown that tried to run down to the home pool. I didn’t know a 3 weight rods could take so much pressure but it did and five minutes later we netted, revived, and released the fish.
The rain continued to pick up and I was grateful for my decision to bring my wading jacket each time I looked over at the water running off of Don’s hat. The water began to rise a bit do to the rain and a few rumbles of thunder let us know that this was more than a passing shower. We fished the same run for two hours, each of us landing a number of fish, all of them browns except the last one. Don hooked into the first rainbow of the day, which promptly broke him off on a piece of ledge rock. We took that as a sign that our day was over and after a walk back to the cars and while changing clothes the sun came out. Typical.
While drinking a Coke Don described the six sections that we did not fish. Number Three is actually Rich Mt. Creek. This side stream is a place where one can do a bit of bush whacking but there is also a good opportunity to find some brook trout here.
Four is most recognized for the large pool at the top of the section where a giant log once spanned the stream. It is gone now, but the rainbows that live hear don’t seem to mind.
Beat Five is mostly riffle and runs that fishes quite well in the fall when the browns and brook trout move upstream to spawn.
Number Six is a section that is generally ignored but the last two winters have created a new pool in the middle that should be explored. A long and accurate cast is needed here to catch the fish that can easily be spotted in clear water.
Seven is perhaps the most interesting of the section as it is a “mini gorge” that once you start into you are committed to fish in its entirety. It is a series of stairs step pools with the one above about eye level when you are standing in the pool below. The top section is Eight and it is one of the prime spawning areas, along with the upper half of Seven. It is the most rugged section and the feeding stops here so the fish are a bit more wild and aggressive. When you get all the way to the top, and the stream is only 10 feet wide, you will be able to hear the cars on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Freshwater Mountain Streams
Where mountain streams run through beautiful forests and are home to rainbow, brown and native brook trout, small mouth bass, bream, red-eyes, catfish and even the elusive muskies that make great eating and even better trophies.
Even when the weather is hot, North Carolina streams run cool, and there is no better place than creekside – or in the creek – on those warm summer days.
Of the more than 4,000 miles of flowing water capable of supporting trout in North Carolina (the most of any state in the southeastern United States), more than one-half are open to the public. Most of these general waters are supported by state hatcheries, which usually stock the waters beginning in March (continuing in four-week intervals until August) with both young and catchable trout. Stocked fish average eight inches in length.
Trout fishing is unique in the High Country because the quality of fishing is so high, even though it’s located near such large population centers. You can catch the “big one” of your dreams without having to spend the money and time to travel to some remote stream 60 miles off a paved road in the Rockies.
South Toe River
The South Toe River is a fly-fishing only, catch and release. The river is 20-40′ wide with Gin clear water. All fish are wild, with Rainbow being the most abundant. Fly’s to use are small 14 to 20 size with leaders of 9- 12′ in length. The style fly is not as important as size. The river is located at the base of Mt. Mitchell near Black Mountain Campground off highway 80.
The North Toe
The North Toe is a fairly large river about 40′ to 100′ the river is slow and gradually grade. The river is 2′ to 10′ deep so wading should proceed with caution. This river is a great Smallmouth fishery. The fish a eager to take a fly. the fish can range in size form 8″ to 20″. The best way to fish this river is with a guide from a drift boat. But a canoe or kayak will do if you are a experienced in paddling. The best flies are the Black and Olive Wooly Buggers in size 6-8, Conehead Muddlers do a good job also. Poppers fished in the morning or late afternoon are great. Fish these next to the shadow line for a real treat.
Curtis Creek is located in the Black Mountain foothills midway between Marion and Old Fort. This creek is of average size and low gradient. This creek is Delayed Harvest waters with a good stocking of brooks, browns and rainbow. Curtis is best fished with 8′ to 9″ rod and 7.5 to 9″ feet leader. Trout range in size from 8″ to 14″ with and few 20″ + fish but many are in the smaller size. Curtis Creek will make for a great day of fishing and fun..
The Cane Creek is another Delayed Harvest Creek located in the North Carolina high country about 20 miles north of Mt. Mitchell and about 10 miles west of Spruce Pine on Hwy 19E in the small town of Bakersville N.C. This is a very rustic mining town with the creek running right through the middle of town. The creek is small and slow but the fishing can be excellent with some very healthy trout in the 8″ to 16″ range with some a little larger.
Spring is a special time of year for trout anglers. Water temperatures have increased, insects and other aquatic life have become more active, and trout have begun to feed aggressively. One stream in our area that is particularly good in spring, and during other times of the year for that matter, is the upper Nantahala.
The upper Nantahala is located inside the Nantahala National Forest just off Highway 19/74 in Macon County, North Carolina. The stretch of the upper Nantahala that will be covered by this article runs from its junction with White Oak Creek for approximately five miles down to the Nantahala Power and Light powerhouse. Below the powerhouse the Nantahala becomes a much larger river and merits separate coverage.
The upper Nantahala was one of the first waters in North Carolina to receive designation as a “Delayed Harvest” stream. Delayed harvest rules apply to the stream from October 1st through the first Saturday in June of each year. During the delayed harvest period only single-hook flies or artificial lures can be used, and all fish are to be released. [Note that during June through September delayed harvest rules do not apply and fishing is allowed under the much less restrictive regular state rules and regulations.]
troutDuring the delayed harvest period the upper Nantahala receives several major stockings of trout from the state hatchery. Brook, brown, and rainbow trout are stocked with most of the fish being in the ten-to twelve-inch range when they are introduced. However a few trophy-sized trout are stocked as well.
The upper Nantahala also supports a good population of native trout, primarily rainbows and to a lesser extent browns. One of the primary reasons that the upper Nantahala supports a successful fishery is that the stream contains a tremendous amount of aquatic life. Trout that are native to the stream eat very well all year, and even with the addition of stocked trout there is an ample food supply for the population.
As is typical of many other streams in the Smoky Mountain system, the Nantahala is a nursery for a variety of mayflies, caddis flies, stoneflies, and a few midges. In many of the rivers in this region the caddis flies are the most important during much of the year. The Nantahala seems to have an unusual abundance of caddis flies, and if you turn over rocks in the streambed you will be shocked at the number of caddis larva present. One of the dominant hatches on the upper Nantahala is the black caddis. This hatch occurs frequently around mid day during the spring: I have found the best water temperature for this hatch to be 45 to 52 degrees.
Unlike most mayflies, these caddis flies move quickly and erratically, making samples difficult to collect for identification purposes. You will often see these insects flying very low over the surface of the water, traveling upstream in large numbers. In the air they appear to be almost dark gray in color. Upon closer inspection you will notice the fly is in reality darker in color, closer to black or dark dun. The females will have a small round egg sack that is a dark olive green color. The best match is generally in a size #14 or #16.
During the spring and the fall there is a very good hatch of blue winged olives. This delicate mayfly is easy to identify by its olive body color and brilliant blue-gray wings. Sizes #16 and #18 are most common.
Another food source that this stream contains, but one that is much less prevalent in other waters in this area, is the fresh water snail. I believe that snails comprise a major part of the trout’s diet in this stream.
Overview of Saltwater Fly Fishing Opportunities
At the beginning of the year there is really only one option for the angler that wants to fish the salt in North Carolina. Bluefins!
Big fish that eat flies, pull hard, and bust knuckles and equipment. The fishing takes place out of the marinas on Hatteras Island. There are only a few captains that will take fly fishers-Captain Mitch McFredrick on the Chapin and Captain Steve “Creature” Coulture on Sea Creature. Both of these captains sail out of the Hatteras Harbor Marina and can be reached at (919) 986-2166 for bookings and information.
At this time of year, however, plan on booking a trip for three or four days of fishing because you’ll usually fish only one day in three due to weather. Take it from very personal experience-buy some Dramamine or other motion sickness medicine. It can make a miserable but fishable day bearable.
The tactics used to fish for these critters, which range from 100 to 600 plus pounds, is to troll ballyhoo until you hook up a fish. The goal then is to land the fish as quickly as possible. While someone is fighting that fish, the mate will be throwing chunks of menhaden over the side to coax the other fish in the school to the surface. When the fish are up behind the boat the cast you will make is less than 30 feet. One of the best scenarios for the fly angler is for the fleet to find an active school of fish and have 25 to 40 boats all in an area chumming. It keeps the fish interested and on top.
The fish that can be realistically targeted by the fly fisherman are those from 100 to 150 pounds. I don’t care how stout your rod and reel are, you won’t be landing a fish over 200 pounds unless something very unusual happens.
The weapons of choice are 15- to 17-weight rods not longer than 8-1/2 feet, and reels that will hold over 500 yards of backing. The Billy Pate Bluefin and the Steelfin Abyss are two reels designed specifically for this fishery. Fly lines are simple and short-not longer than 50 feet. A Teeny TS-750 with the rear 50 feet of running line cut off to allow MORE BACKING on the reel is a good choice. The backing to use, if you can find it, is 50 pound spectra-not so much for the strength, but the strength per diameter and the fact that it cuts through the water much more easily than dacron. Flies can vary from big to small, and all colors of the rainbow. Deceivers in the menhaden-like colors of blue and green, tandem-rigged, from 10 to 20 inches long, seem to be the best.
The rest of the year, from April though December, is a smorgasbord of different types of creatures that all eat flies. The migratory fish-Atlantic bonito, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, tarpon, cobia, dolphin, false albacore, and other offshore species-tend to show up from south to north in the spring, and then from north to south in the fall. The resident fish-redfish, from puppy drum to channel bass, speckled and gray trout, flounder and stripers-are around all year, but are most active during the April to December time period. All of these species are best targeted with rods from 8- to 10-weight, with some of the larger migratory fish requiring 12- and 13-weights. Most saltwater reels work well here-simple, anodized, disk drag reels that are serviceable and that will stand up to fish that pull both hard and fast. If you’re setting up an outfit from scratch, I would recommend getting two extra spools for your reel. It’s best to carry a floating line, some sort of intermediate or sink tip line, and a super fast sinking line or shooting head system.
The flies for these fish vary widely. The smaller fish, such as puppy drum, speckled and gray trout, small stripers, Atlantic bonito, false albacore and Spanish mackerel, eagerly eat all sorts of flies in the three- to six-inch size range. Some of the most popular patterns are Clouser Minnows, Deceivers, Half & Half’s (half Clouser/half Deceiver), and minnow imitations that match the size, shape and color of what these critters will be eating. The bigger fish tend to take bigger bites, and thus the flies need to be sized accordingly. Crab patterns should also be in every fly fisher’s box-any of the epoxy, wool, or yarn styles work well in smaller sizes for speckled and gray trout, puppy drum, and flounder. In larger sizes, crab patterns are one of the flies of choice for anyone trying to become the first person to land a tarpon on a fly in North Carolina.
There are a number of inshore and “back country” guides that specialize in fly fishing. In the Nags Head area, the two top guides are Captains Brian Horsley (919-261-1541) and Bryan Dehart (919-473-1575). Both captains have extensive local knowledge, and have been working the waters of the sounds and beach fronts for most of their lives. Moving south along the Outer Banks, focusing on the Hatteras area, Captain Zander Brody (919-995-5269) would be a great choice. He grew up on the water, and is always entertaining when out for a day’s fishing. In the Morehead City-Atlantic Beach part of the world there are again a couple of choices. Captain George Beckwith (919-636-2733) is not only a very experienced angler, and focuses on the waters of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound, he also has a B.S. in Marine Biology. Another good choice for an enjoyable day on the water is Captain David Dietzler (919-240-2850), and he will fish for anything from albacore to stripers to sharks. On the southern third of the coast, the center of fly fishing activity is in Wilmington, and there are several guides in this area. Captain Tyler Stone (888-325-4285), owner of Intracoastal Angler Fly Shop, focuses mainly on the inshore and near shore fishery.
There are two events in North Carolina that the saltwater fly fisher should try at least once. The first is the run of striped bass that swim up the Roanoke River from Albemarle Sound in the spring. They get all the way to the dam in Weldon, North Carolina, just down stream from I-95, where they stack up and can’t swim any farther upstream. Sinking lines and 9-weight rods are the order of the day. These fish are in spawning mode, so most of the fish landed are 3- to 5-pound males that aggressively strike at everything going by. Occasionally, a big female over 20 pounds is landed.
The second highlight is the run of false albacore that starts on the Outer Banks in October. As the water cools, the fish will move south along the coast past Cape Hatteras by the first of November, and congregate at Cape Lookout and the Shakleford Banks until after Thanksgiving. The equipment here is a 10-weight rod with a reel that has a smooth, strong drag for the explosive runs these 12-to 18-pound fish regularly make. Flies are simple and relatively small-Clousers, small glass minnow imitations, and epoxy-head flies are consistent producers.
There are dozens of shops along the North Carolina coast, and most can supply you with reliable information on where and when the fishing will be hot. This coastline is a large and diverse area that is still being explored. Give it a try. The fish are hungry, they eat flies, and pull hard-really hard! All in all, the North Carolina coast is a great frontier in saltwater fly fishing.
Article & photos by Captain Brian Horsley
Fishing for Stripers on the Outer Banks
The recovery of the striped bass in Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds is a feather in the cap of the North Carolina and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council management plans-a bright spot in North Carolina’s usually-blemished record of resource protection and enhancement. After years of strict regulation and continuing rigid limits and seasons, stripers are again wide spread. Their population continues to grow, spilling over into non-traditional places and seasons.
The striped rascals are everywhere! Methods of fishing vary widely, but the best has to be with a fly. Someone once told me, “Stripers are the perfect game fish. They’re pretty to look at, pull hard but not to hard, readily eat flies, and they’re not overly smart. Their only downfall is they’re good in the skillet.” If you know where to look in Pamlico, Croatan, and Roanoke Sounds, you can find stripers every month of the year. November through early June are the prime months, but they are still around throughout the summer.
The first place to look in late winter and early spring is around the Dare County bridges: Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge, Washington Baum Bridge, William B. Umstead Bridge, and Herbert Bonner Bridge (Oregon Inlet Bridge). You can catch fish around these structures all year with a little specialized fly tackle. Stripers like to wedge in between the pilings and near the bottom waiting for prey to wash by. The first ingredient is to be able to deliver the fly next to the pilings along the bottom. This can be done with any fast sinking line available in your local fly shop, but my favorite is Cortland’s Quick Descent 425 grain on a 9-weight rod. Stripers are not overly leader shy around bridges, so a leader of 12 to 16 inches works best. I like to use 16-pound tippet because it breaks easier when you snag the bridge!
Fly selections should be basic and easy to tie-some mornings you’ll go through a dozen Clousers. Other productive flies are Dan Blanton’s Whistler and Lefty Kreh’s Deceiver. I tie my Clousers with bead chain eyes, as lead eyes don’t fair well slapping the concrete. As with most stripers flies, “if it ain’t chartreuse, it ain’t no use.” When the water is dirty, or in low light conditions, try black flies with purple flash.
Moving water is very important to feeding stripers. I like to fish up current and cast the fly at the pilings, letting it drift down before starting my retrieve. I know people who fish it just the opposite. Fish it any way you feel comfortable-just get the fly down and next to a piling.
Another good place to fish for stripers is around marsh islands, and in the rips that sometimes form around them. No pilings here, so you can scale down your tackle some. The rips off of marsh islands are slow enough that an intermediate line gets the fly down, and a cross-current cast works best.
Some of the area’s best fishing is along the rips closer to Oregon Inlet. The rips tend to be deeper, have a lot stronger current, and hold more fish. As the current just starts to move, a 5weight rod with a 175-grain line is the perfect choice. As the current increases, and 8-weight rod with a 325 line becomes the better choice. Late March, April, and May are the peak months for these rips, when most of the fish will run from 15 to 27 inches. The flies that work best here are half & halfs, rattle flies, Clousers, deceivers and whistlers. Chartreuse or chartreuse and white are good colors in clear water, and black with purple flash in muddy water.
A little more protected place is Bodie Island Light, which offers good springtime action. These are schoolie fish, so bring your 5-weight. Wading around the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center can produce good catches in the spring and late winter. On the south side of Oregon Inlet, stripers lurk on the points spring and fall. The best wading spot is off the jetty on the south side of Oregon Inlet.During late fall and early winter experienced fly anglers can land fish up to and over 40 inches.
The main wintering grounds for most East Coast lie between the Virginia state line and Cape Point on Hatteras Island. This is home to some of the most exciting striper fishing on the East Coast. On ebb tide the waters of the Pamlico empty into Oregon Inlet, spilling shrimp, menhaden, croakers, eels and other bait fish onto the shoals. Hoards of hungry stripers line up to feed on this smorgasbord. The key here is to get close enough to hook fish without getting beaten to death in the breaking surf.
When packing for a striper trip to the Outer Banks be sure to include 7- to 9-weight rods (10weight for the surf), intermediate lines, and 300- to 500-grain sinking lines (or a shooting head system). Fly boxes should be well stocked with Clousers, Deceivers, Whistlers and your favorite stripers patterns in sizes from 1/0 to 4/0. The basic colors should be chartreuse/white, chartreuse, black or gray/white.
Resources & Articles
A Guide to Fly Fishing North Carolina mountain trout streams
The trout streams in the Blue Ridge , Appalachian , & Great Smoky mountains of North Carolina from Cherokee to Asheville to Boone host the best fishing streams there are in North Carolina .
Find the South Fork’s Smallmouths Now
The South Fork of the New River may well be the best smallmouth stream in the Tar Heel State.
Head Northwest For Carolina Trout
Top-drawer trout fishing is closer than most of North Carolina’s city-dwelling anglers know.
NC Wildlife Rescources Commission
Outer Banks Fishing.com
This site is locally run from the Outer Banks of North Carolina in Kitty Hawk and it has the latest fishing information for the northern coast.
Frank & Fran’s Outer Banks reports
Frank & Fran’s – The Fisherman’s Friends
Davidson River Outfitters
26 Pisgah Highway , Pisgah Forest, NC 28768; (828) 877 – 4181
Foscoe Fishing Company
9400 Highway 105 S. Foscoe, NC 28604; 828-963-6556
7220 Wrightsville Ave., Suite A, Wilmington, NC. 28403; 910.256.4545
Hunter Banks Co.
29 Montford Avenue Asheville, NC 28801; 1-800-227-6732