Adventures in North Carolina: Fly Fishing the Western North Carolina Trail

IMG 2063

This past weekend I had the chance to visit a part of the country I hadn’t seen before. The good folks in Jackson County, North Carolina invited me to drop by to check out everything that the region has to offer in terms of outdoor activities. And while I was there for the better part of three days, it was quickly evident that it would take longer than that to experience everything there was to do there. As a result, even though my stay was brief, I’m already thinking about making a return trip to explore the area more fully.

During my travels this year I’ve been fortunate enough to get the chance to learn how to fly fish in a number of different places across the country. On the three or four occasions where I’ve been able to try the sport this year, I’ve come to discover that not only is it a lot of fun, it is incredibly calming too. There is nothing quite like being out on the water, casting your line, and finding yourself completely immersed in nature. So, when I saw that fly fishing was on the agenda I got pretty excited. I would later learn that I had plenty of reason to get excited, because Jackson County is one of the best spots to go fly fishing in the eastern U.S., if not the entire country.

As it turns out, Jackson County happens to be home to the very first fly fishing trail in the United States. The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail was created a few years back, and remains a labor of love for those involved. It was created to spotlight some of the amazing places for anglers to ply their craft, and trail maps are available for anyone who is coming to visit. Those maps share 15 top spots that are found in the area, providing both locals and visitors with some fantastic options.

While I was there, we traveled out to Tuckaseigee River to see if we could catch anything. Rainbow, brook, and brown trout are all found in the waters in this part of North Carolina, and on the Tuckseigee the can often be found in large numbers.

It was a cool, crisp morning when we donned our waders and boots, grabbed our poles and shuffled out into the river. The sky overhead was clear blue, without a cloud in sight. And while the sun hadn’t yet climbed high enough to top out over the surrounding ridge lines, it was clear that it would eventually be a warm day.

Our guide for the morning’s activities was Alex Bell, a retired school teacher and principal turned fishing guide who has been instrumental in getting the Fly Fishing Trail off the ground. For Alex, the project is something he is passionate about, and he wanders to other parts of the country to share the story of why Jackson County is such a great place to fish. He is also the owner of AB Fly Fishing, which specializes in taking travelers out to the water and teaching them the tools of the trade. In fact, Alex mentioned that the majority of his customers are beginners to the sport, and that he very much enjoys introducing them to the nuances that go along with it.

Wading out into the river, we discovered that its water levels were down as a result of a summer drought in the area. Despite those conditions however, we could spot a number of other fly fishers in the water both up and down the stream, several of whom were routinely pulling in – and releasing – trout.

IMG 9165

For anyone who hasn’t fly-fished yet, it is tough to describe the experience. Learning to use just the right flies to lure in a fish, and experiencing the zen of the cast, is a lot of fun. There is a skill involved with this type of fishing that you don’t find elsewhere, which is why it is such a passion for so many anglers.

It doesn’t hurt that the best fly fishing usually takes place in extremely scenic places. Standing in a river, surrounded by trees lining the banks and towering mountains looming overhead can be a powerful experience indeed. It is a different way to connect with nature, but no less satisfying than say hiking a trail or climbing a mountain.

The scenery we found in Jackson County certainly helped to convey that feeling. Visiting in fall – even after peak leaf-season – was dramatic. The trees were still ablaze with bright oranges, reds, and yellows, and while the days were warm, the air felt crisp, letting us know that fall was truly lurking, and that winter is indeed coming. While we stood in the water, tall ridges cast long shadows over us, keeping the morning air cool for longer than it should have been. But, it made the conditions ripe for fishing, and we were eager to take advantage of the time we had out on the water.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to reel any fish in on that day, although some other members of my group managed to catch a couple of trout. That’s the nature of fly fishing of course, as sometimes it is action packed, and other times it’s tough to even get  bite. Learning exactly which flies work for the conditions you’re fishing is crucial, and being willing to experiment can pay nice dividends. But just being out on the water is its own reward too. On that morning, standing in the Tuckaseigee, there was no place I’d rather have been, even though I didn’t even get a nibble.

Before we knew it, our time on the river had come to and end. We had a busy schedule for the weekend, and only one morning set aside for fly fishing. That was barely enough to get a taste for what the Jackson County and the Fishing Trail have to offer, but it was also enough for me to know that I’d very much like to go back to hone my skills on those waters further.

It was also enough of a taste for me to confidently share with others that there is indeed great fly fishing to be had in the eastern U.S., and particularly in North Carolina. It is a spot that is more accessible to many travelers than booking a long trip out west, and the waters are well stocked with plenty of fish. Sure, places like Montana, Colorado, and Idaho receive a lot of accolades for their great fly fishing spots – and rightfully so – but Jackson County is a place that should not be overlooked, as it is right up there with the best of them in terms of setting, quality fishing spots, and numbers of fish.

If you’re looking for new places to test your skills, or you want to fly fish for the first time, you need to have the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail on your radar. You certainly won’t be disappointed.

Find out more about the trail by clicking here.

Kraig Becker