By Alex Dale
The high country in northwestern North Carolina offers the fly angler many unique opportunities within a relatively short distance. Our shop, Highland Outfitters, located in downtown Boone serves as a basecamp for anglers local to, and those visiting, the area. The high country offers a year-round trout fishery, with over a thousand miles of trout water located within an hour of the shop. Anglers can expect to fish everything from small headwater streams teaming with native brook trout, freestone streams that are home to brown and rainbow trout, all the way up to the tailwaters of the Watauga and South Holston Rivers just over the state line in East Tennessee.
Backcountry areas, that require the angler to hike in, offer a unique wilderness experience for those willing to make the trek. Pisgah National Forest and the Linville Gorge Wilderness areas are pristine environments where one can expect to find brook, rainbow, and brown trout as well as smallmouth bass. The scenery in these areas is truly breathtaking and is a defining characteristic of the high country. Wild trout call these areas home with the average fish being 8-12 inches and trophy size trout that can exceed 20 inches.
The East Tennessee tailwaters, comprised of the Watauga and South Holston rivers, attract anglers from all over the world. The South Holston River boasts an estimated ten thousand trout per mile, while the Watauga holds around eight thousand per mile. Anglers can easily wade most of the tailwaters during low water. Drift boats provide access during both low and high-water flows. The water temperature remains cold year-round as it pours out from beneath the respective lakes. The tailwaters offer a staggering amount of trout as well as the heightened chance of catching a trophy sized trout. Smallmouth can be found in the lower sections of both tailwaters and, during certain times of the year, striped bass will run up into the tailwaters. All of this makes the tailwaters a multi-species fishery that can be accessed year-round, making our area in western NC and eastern TN a destination for anglers of all disciplines and preferred target species.
Summer fishing is characterized by high altitude headwaters creek and tailwaters fishing due to the cold water. Fall fishing is the busiest time of the year, in part, for the color of the fall foliage as well as for the brown trout pre-spawn. The local brown trout turn into bars of gold dotted, with red and halos of white. During this time, the native brook trout are also showing their colors. Brook trout are the gems of the Appalachian Mountains and there is no finer time to catch them than during fall. Winter fishing is exceptional for those willing to be out in the cold with midges being the primary food source for our trout. Spring fishing is when mature insects start hatching and flying around our local waters. Springtime fish gorge themselves on these insects, offering some of the best trout fishing of the year.
Alex Dale is the owner of Highland Outfitters.