American Fly Fishing

By Bill R. Chiles

By the time Christmas rolls around, many streams in trout country are locked up in snow and ice, or the air is so frigid that fly lines freeze in midcast like a Warner Bros. cartoon character. Frozen precipitation, however, is relatively uncommon in the South, even on high-elevation trout streams. Daytime temperatures commonly reach into the balmy 50s and sometimes the 60s. Such conditions make the southern Appalachian Mountains a great place to feel a fly rod bend while the North is in a
deep freeze.

   When you chase Southern winter trout, remember that not all streams are the same. The Davidson River near Brevard, North Carolina, has a fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release section that fishes well during the winter. A generous population of big fish and easy access make the river crowded during the warmer months, but those crowds thin out in the chilly days of winter. The trout, however, gobble midge pupae all winter long. And if you are lucky enough to be there on a 60-degree afternoon, don’t be surprised to find big browns and rainbows sipping Blue-Winged Olives from the surface.
   The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) manages a number of streams as delayed harvest (DH) fisheries. Such fisheries are heavily stocked in the fall, allowing only catch-and-release fishing until June. Many such streams also support wild trout, and the resulting dense trout populations can provide excellent fishing all winter. Notable DH streams include the East Fork French Broad River near Rosman, the Tuckasegee River north of Cashiers, and the North Fork Mills River near Hendersonville. For a complete list of North Carolina DH fisheries, visit the NCWRC website,
   A number of Southern tailwaters also provide fantastic fly fishing through the winter. Eastern Tennessee boasts some quality tailwaters, such as the South Holston and Watauga Rivers. In North Carolina, consider the Catawba River; in Georgia, you can catch trout in the shadow of Atlanta skyscrapers on the Chattahoochee River. Even on cold winter days the water from these tailraces remains relatively constant, often significantly warmer than the air temperature.
   Finally, the Chattooga River in South Carolina offers a number of options for winter trout action. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources manages a stretch of the Chattooga upstream from the State Route 28 bridge as a DH fishery, similar to those in North Carolina. Some very large fish are taken here each winter. Farther upstream, in the Sims Field area, a remote stretch of the Chattooga is stocked by helicopter each fall. There are also some very big wild browns in this section. On the coldest days of January and February, you can experience good dry-fly action with a shot at a really big wild fish.
   Local fly shops can provide valuable information, not to mention expert local guides, often at rates reduced for the winter. Brookings’ Cashiers Village Anglers in Cashiers, North Carolina, (828) 743-3768,, and Davidson River Outfitters near Brevard, North Carolina, (828) 877-4181,, offer expert information and guide services for the western Carolina fisheries as well as eastern Tennessee tailwaters. The Fish Hawk in Atlanta, (404) 237-3473,, is an invaluable resource for those interested in fishing the Chattahoochee.


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