Big Trout Or Easy Trout On The Nantahala DH

By Nick Carter

With special regulations calling for catch and release, single-hook, artificial only October into June, a nearly 4-mile stretch of North Carolina’s Nantahala River is very popular this time of year. There is easy roadside access and wading can be as easy or difficult as you make it, although frequently the water gets quite high with winter rains.

Don’t let heavy flow and a little bit of a stain deter you. Murky water combined with the right nymph or streamer can be the right combination to fool big fish that see a lot of flies. And there are some big fish. North Carolina does a great job of sprinkling trophy-sized individuals in with its stockings.

For years, the Nantahala DH was a destination location for me before a move to Graham County just a few miles from the river made it a back-up plan. At the time, I was a wild trout snob. I can’t count the times I drove past easier fishing and larger fish to hike into remote streams where 5-inch fish were the norm. I don’t regret that. It was fun. What I do regret since moving away from Graham County are the Wednesday afternoons I had off work when I passed on the opportunity to fish the DH.

I did, however, fish it a lot. What I learned was the fishing can be ridiculously easy for numbers after a stocking, but the better fish require a little work. The river can also be downright difficult once the fish wise up. Showing them either something natural or something out of the ordinary can be productive.

Patience is also a virtue. Moving quickly and picking off the eager feeders is a good way to land a bunch of standard hatchery fish. Moving slowly and stealthily, watching the water and carefully picking your casts helps for those larger fish.

In a place where almost all the fish come to hand with lip piercings, there are individuals that become reluctant to eat. Egg patterns, Buggers, mop flies and flashy nymphs get the most attention after a stocking. But bugs will be on the water, with winter stones, blue winged olives, midges and maybe some small caddis popping off in sunny spots during winter. Come spring, the river is a riot of bug activity, and dry fly fishing gets very good. At any given time, there might be black and tan caddis, small dark stoneflies, yellow sallies, midges and a variety of mayflies on the water.

“Flyfisher’s Guide to North Carolina & Georgia” includes maps, GPS access points and detailed descriptions of the region’s best trout fishing. It is available on Amazon, at fly shops or by contacting the author at

Editor’s Note: In honor of delayed harvest trout regulations opening across the Southeast, here’s a look at one of North Carolina’s best. This description of the Nantahala River between Murphy and Bryson City is an abbreviated excerpt from the book “Flyfisher’s Guide to North Carolina & Georgia.”

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