Nantahala River Rainbow Trout
Copyright 2021 James Marsh
Fly Fishing The Nantahala River North
The Nantahala is probably the best know river in North
Carolina but not because of its fly fishing opportunities.
It's because of its white water. It's a very popular
kayaking stream. Fly fishing the Nantahala River is also
popular. This stream flows through sections of the
Nantahala National Forest. It begins on Standing Indian
Mountain from a number of small headwater streams
that have some brook trout. They are protected only by
the sheer distance one has to go in order to fish them.
Kimsey Creek, Park Creek, Bearpin Creek, Big and
Little Indian Creeks, and Curtis Creek are the major
tributaries. The upper part of the Nantahala River is all
managed as wild trout waters except for Kimsey and
Park Creeks.

From Mooney Falls downstream for about six miles an
unpaved Forest Service Road #67 follows the stream.
It's still quite small and in a canyon-like area part of the
way. There are two campground along this section of
the river. Below the lower campground, Standing Indian
Campground, highway #64 follows the stream. The
lower section of the river, above Nantahala Lake is
mostly all private property. There are two sizeable
tributary streams - Bucks Creek and Jarret Creek above
the lake. Jarret Creek enters the lake rather than the
river. Upstream of the lake, Buck Creek enters the
stream. Bucks creek has some wild trout, mostly
rainbows. Its small, wide and shallow but does provide
about three miles of water to fish. Jarret Creek has a
population of small wild rainbows and a little over a mile
of water that can be fished.

Below Nantahala Lake, the river changes drastically
because most of the water is discharged from the lake  
through a pipe to a powerhouse at the upper end of
Nantahala Gorge, a distance of seven miles. The only
water that comes out of the lake comes through the
spillway and at that point, it's almost zip. The only water
in the seven mile stretch comes from small tributary
streams, so there's usually not much water in this
section. This area is stocked.

At the end of this section, from Appletree Campground
on highway #1401 downstream, there's another three
and a half miles of water that's within the National
Forest Land. The main source of water comes from
White Oak Creek. Below White Oak the stream is
heavily stocked.  The section downstream from White
Oak Creek to the Powerhouse falls is under North
Carolina's Delayed Harvest Regulations.

Fly fishing the Nantahala River in this section is by far
the most popular area to fish it. It can be accessed from
State road #1310 (Ball Road) which turns off Highway
#19. The road takes you to the powerhouse. The
Delayed Harvest section starts above the powerhouse.
It's still a relatively small stream in the DH area.

When the water comes out the pipeline at the
powerhouse, the flow of the Nantahala River increases
big time. It flows for about eight miles through the
Nantahala Gorge that's so popular with those that float
the whitewater on rafts. Of course, when the dam isn't
generating, the water doesn't gush from the pipe and
this part of the river is a moderately flowing stream that
can be waded. When it is flowing, it's almost impossible
to wade. This section of the river is stocked and
contains a lot of holdover trout. This section is very
easy to access. Highway #19 follows closely along the
Nantahala River
North Carolina
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Photo Courtesy of  Lamster Photography
Type of Stream

Rainbow Trout (stocked and wild)
Brown Trout (stocked and wild)


Western North Carolina

Nearest Towns
Bryson City

Year-round in some areas, NC
general season in others. Closed in
hatchery supported waters during
the month of March


Special Regulations
Delayed Harvest Section

Non-Resident License
State of North Carolina

National Weather Service Link

Fly Fishing Gear, Tackle and
Trout Flies
Eric Peacock with a big Natahala brown
Nice brown trout caught by
Eric Peacock on our Matuka
Sculpin streamer.
Thumbnail Image:  Click to
The season runs year-round
Trout can be caught most days of the winter
Spring is the best time to fish the river due
to the hatches.
Fly Fishing Guide for the Nantahala
This Nantahala River fly fishing guide is
mostly about the water below Lake
Nantahala and in the gorge below the
powerhouse. As mentioned in the
introduction page, fishing the Delayed
Harvest section is by far the most popular
section to fish. The other areas see fewer
anglers. From March through the month of
July, you can keep fish from the Delayed
Harvest Area. This means you will see a lot
of bait fisherman there. The other months,
it's catch and release rules. These fish are
sometimes quite large. Holdover trout are
caught ranging up to twenty inches on
occasions. This area is small stream fishing.
It can easily be waded and fished from the
banks in most places. It can also be crowded
at times. It's easy to find yourself fishing
upstream behind someone. Keep an eye on
the rocks along the bank for wet wader prints.

As also mentioned, the flows in this area are
from the feeder streams upriver, not from a
dam. It isn't a tailwater although it's below a
dam. The water bypasses it through a pipe.
You do have to pay attention to the amount
of melting snow and rainfall, mostly rainfall,
to make sure you are not going to fish when
the water is off color and high.

When you are fishing the Nantahala Gorge
below the powerhouse, it's important to
check on the discharge rates and schedule.
You don't want to get caught wading out in
the middle of the stream when the water
suddenly rises.
You must be very careful. You also don't
want to get run over by one of the many
rafts or kayaks. This could be a problem if
you were wading. When they are
generating power during the summer,
normally the only time you can wade this
section of the river is early in the mornings
before they start generating.

We have found that nymphs out produce
dry fly fishing in the tailwater sections
almost all the time. There are some dry fly
fishing opportunities but it's mostly below
surface feeding that takes place. Streamers
are also very effective in this section,
especially when the water is slightly off
color from heavy rainfall.

In the Delayed Harvest area, it's almost
right the opposite. Of course, you can
always do well fishing nymphs but this
section offers a lot of dry fly opportunities.
In fact, you can catch trout on dry flies
some days even during the middle of the
Winter. The recently stocked trout are not
difficult to fool but the larger holdovers that
have been in the river for over a year can
be difficult to fool. You are always better off
imitating the most available food the trout
have to eat than you are using generic and
attractor flies.
Hatches and Trout Flies for the
Nantahala River:
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and
nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other foods
at the particular time you are fishing. Unlike
the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the
Nantahala River and in all stages of life that
are applicable to fishing. If you want to fish
better, more realistic trout flies, have a much
higher degree of success, give us a call.  
We not only will help you with selections, you
will learn why, after trying Perfect Flies, 92%
of the thousands of our customers will use
nothing else.

he first insects to hatch in January in the
Nantahala River are the little Winter
Stoneflies. The hatch through the month of
March. Little Brown Stoneflies will start
hatching about the first of March and hatch
until the end of April.

Blue-winged Olive are the most consistent
hatch throughout the year in the Nantahals
River. You will start to see some hatches
about the middle of February and they will
continue off and on throughout the entire
year. These include the
Baetis species
along with the Eastern BWOs, Little BWOs
and Small BWOs consisting of about 15
different species, some of which are
bi-brooded meaning they hatch twice a

Blue Quills will start to hatch about the
middle of February and last into the first of
April. They are usually very large hatches
that are very consistent. About the same
time you will begin to see the Quill Gordons.
They hatch until as late as the first week of
April in the higher elevations. This hatch can
be heavy in the Nantahala River Gorge.

The middle of February will also bring about
one of the largest caddisfly hatches of the
year - the Little Black Caddis or
Brachcentrus species. This hatch is always
very consistent.

The Hendricksons start hatching near the
last week of March. They are short lived,
hatching for only about a month to six weeks
at the most. It is moderate and only occurs
in certain locations in the Nantahala River,
mostly in the slow to moderate sections.

Around the middle of April, American March
Browns will begin to hatch. These mayflies
are just about everywhere you fish but they
hatch inconsistently until around the first
week of June. Much more consistent are the
Light Cahills. They start about a week or two
after the March Browns and last as long as
three weeks, depending on the elevation.
Both of these are fast water species.

The middle of April will bring about a hatch
of the Short-horned Sedges. These are very
small black caddisflies that are quite
abundant. About the same time you should
notice the first hatches of the Green
Sedges. They hatch everywhere there is
fast water for over two months but never in
large quantities. They are plentiful in this

Around the second week of May, Eastern
Pale Evening Duns will start hatching. Most
anglers call these Sulphurs but the true
Sulphurs will not start to hatch for another
couple of weeks. Both hatches last about a
month but are very sparse. They are slow to
moderate water hatches.
Hatches, continued:
The first of May the Giant Black Stoneflies
will start hatching. These hatch at night and
deposit their eggs at night. Nymphs work
well in the late afternoons. The Little Yellow
Stoneflies, called Yellow Sallies are one of
the best hatches that takes place in the
Nantahala River. They will start around the
first of May and last until mid July.

The Golden Stoneflies start hatching
around the first of June and last about five
weeks. The Little Green Stoneflies start
about the last week of May and last until

During the month of June, grasshoppers,
beetles, ants and inch worms, all terrestrial
insects, become important food items for
the trout. There are few hatches occurring,
so most anglers start using imitations of
these terrestrials. The inch worms, or moth
larvae, are especially important due to the
large numbers of them in the forest of the

In addition to the terrestrial and aquatic
insects, theres a lot of other food for the
trout. Small Crayfish is one of those items.
The brown trout are especially fond of
them. Another one is Sculpin. These small
fish are abundant in most of the stream.
Imitations of them can be very effective.
The Black Nose Dace is another baitfish
that is important. Streamers imitating
these and other minnows work great
especially when the water is slightly off

Midges are abundant in the river. They can
be very important when the water is cold
and nothing else is hatching. Imitations of
the larva and pupa will catch trout anytime
of the year.

We recommend our "Perfect Fly" imitations.
They are the best, most effective flies you
can purchase and use anywhere trout
exist. They have proven to be very
successful on the Nantahala River.
Although the trout in this river will take
attractor and generic flies, you will find that
imitating the specific insects that are most
plentiful at any one time is far more effect.
If you haven't done so already, please give
them a try. You'll be glad you did.

The last week of June through the month of
August you will find some Cream Cahills.
These are sparse but important at that time
of year. By the middle of August hatches of
Little Yellow Quills will start to occur mostly
in the higher elevations. This is a very
good hatch that last until the end of
October. By the middle of August, hatches
of Mahogany Duns will begin to occur. This
hatch last for as long as two month.

Also by the middle of August you should
start seeing some Needle Stoneflies.
These hatch in fairly large numbers until as
late as November, especially in the higher

From the middle of May until the middle of
November, a long period of time, you will
hatches of Slate Drakes occurring. These
mayflies hatch out of the water but never in
large quantities. Imitations of the nymphs
and spinners can be important.

The Great Autumn Brown Sedges, start
hatching at night by the first of October
and last into the first of December.
Summertime is okay in the headwaters
Fall is the best time in the delayed harvest
Nanathala River Brown Trout
(Bottom Of Page)
Fishing Report Updated 01/22/21
Nantahala River Fishing Report - 01/08/21
Stream levels are currently near normal. You should be able to catch good numbers of

7 Day Weather Forecast: (Click the box below to see detailed weather informatiion)

Recommended Trout Flies:
Afternoon Water Temperature: 39
Clarity: clear
Duke Energy Scheduled Releases
Blue-winged Olives: size 16/18 nymphs, emergers, duns and spinners
Brown Sculpin/White Belly Sculpin, Articulated sculpin, size4/6
Black Matuka and Olive Matuka Sculpin, size 4/6/8
Midges: Blood (Red), sizes 22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Light Green, size 22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Cream, size 22, larva, pupa and adults.
Aquatic Worms, size 12, pink, red, and others.
Winter Stoneflies, size 16/18, nymphs and adults
Black Flies, size 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Strategies, Techniques and Tips:
This stream has a lot of newly stocked trout but also a few wild ones and plenty of
holdovers. For that reason, we recommend our Perfect Flies as opposed to the generic
trout flies. They are much more imitative of the natural food in the stream.
Our Brown Sculpin and White Belly Sculpin streamers are good flies to use anytime.
The Black Matuka and Olive Matuka sculpin flies are good performers on the Nantahala.
Aquatic worms.are working.
Winter stoneflies are hatching.
We still think a good strategy is fishing a tandem Midge rig under a small strike indicator
with the midge lava as the bottom fly and the midge pupa as the top fly. Fish the adult
midge only when you observe trout feeding on the surface.

Black flies are hatching.

Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.

2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.

3. Email us (
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.

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