Destinations For Winter Trout

Karl Eckberg with a delayed harvest trout from South Carolina’s Chauga River.

Words and photo By Nick Carter

For trout anglers, the next few months offer some of the best catch-and-release fishing of the year. Delayed harvest (DH) waters are regulated by the states to carry us through to spring with heavy stockings and catch-and-release, artificial-only fishing geared toward fly fishers.

Here’s a look at a couple good DH options.

Chauga River, South Carolina

The Chauga River is one of several good backcountry streams in Upstate South Carolina. It features some 20 miles of remote, lightly pressured water known for brown trout. This time of year, the Chauga’s 3-mile-long DH stretch is where it’s at.

About an hour and a half west of Greenville, the Chauga flows a ridge east of the well-known Chattooga River. That’s part of what makes the Chauga such a great option during South Carolina’s Nov. 1-May 14 DH season. The Chattooga draws most of the fishing pressure, allowing the Chauga to fly under the radar.

The Chauga fishes just like the Chattooga, only a little smaller, said Karl Eckberg of Chattooga River Fly Shop. The river’s ledges, drop-offs, deep river-bend holes and an abundance of riffle water hold rainbows, browns and brookies.

There are only two access points to the DH stretch. Despite a good trail, Ekberg said the middle portion of the specially regulated water hardly gets touched.

Early in the season, freshly stocked trout are suckers for the “big flashy and rubbery stuff,” said Ekberg. Load your box with Mop Flies, Y2Ks, Squirmy Worms and Gummy Worms. Micro streamers become more important as the season progresses, but fall and winter also offer hatches of midges, blue-winged olives and little black stoneflies.

Nantahala River, North Carolina

The upper Nantahala River’s 4-mile DH section is like a high-elevation trout stream without the hike.

About 20 minutes southeast of Bryson City, Wayah Road hugs the upper Nantahala, giving no-hassle access to miles of riffles and pocket water, big bridge holes, gorges and deep plunge pools.

The drawback to this situation is fishing pressure. Roadside pullouts fill up when the weather is nice during the October into June DH season. Stocked trout learn to spot a fake pretty quickly, so the fishing can be challenging.

There are good numbers of standard hatchery-sized rainbows, browns and brook trout. Big fish are known to stake claim to the best holding water.

For a few days after a stocking, the usual flashy “junk food” flies are effective, but Nantahala fish switch to more natural behaviors in a hurry. Fall and winter bring out winter stoneflies, blue-winged olives, midges and maybe even a few small caddis. Spring ushers in a riot of bug life and excellent dry fly fishing.

Nick Carter is the author of “Flyfisher’s Guide to North Carolina & Georgia.” It is available on Amazon.com, and autographed copies are available by emailing the author at nsc8957@gmail.com.

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