All of Western North Carolina is renowned for its fly fishing, and its reputation continues to grow. Jackson County has developed the first official, mapped fly fishing trail, and that has been emulated by Swain County. And of course there are plenty of outfitters and guides ready to take visitors to the best fishing holes in the mountains.

Below are just a few of the stops on Jackson County’s Fly Fishing Trail. For more information, visit www.flyfishingtrail.com.

Scott Creek

• The Stretch: Roughly 10 miles from headwaters near Balsam down to Sylva

• Access Point(s): Parking and access available via several pull-off areas along U.S. 23/74

• Type of Water: Hatchery supported

• Noteworthy: Stretch also includes North Fork Scott Creek and Buff Creek, which are very scenic

Caney Fork

• The Stretch: Roughly 10 miles from East Laporte Park to headwaters at fork of Mull Creek and Piney Mountain Creek

• Access Point(s): Access via Caney Fork Road (SR 1737), avoid posted land

• Type of Water: Undesignated

• Noteworthy: Respect private landowners

Tanasee Creek

• The Stretch: Roughly 2-3 miles from Tanasee Creek bridge up to headwaters

• Access Point(s): Parking and access available at bridge on Tanasee Creek Road (SR 1762)

• Type of Water: Wild Trout

• Noteworthy: Very scenic stretch in the Nantahala National Forest

Panthertown Creek

• The Stretch: Entire stream, roughly 3 miles

• Access Point(s):  Parking and access at end of Breedlove Rd (SR 1121), with 2-mile walk to creek

• Type of Water: Catch and release single hook artificial lure

• Noteworthy: Located in Panthertown Valley, which is known as the “Yosemite of the East” because of its bowl shape and rocky bluffs

Raven Fork

• The Stretch: Starts at Blue Ridge Parkway bridge near Cherokee and goes north for 2.2 miles

• Access Point(s): Parking and access via several pull-off areas along Big Cove Road; paths run along stream

• Type of Water: Catch and release fly fishing only

• Noteworthy: Cherokee Trophy Water; Cherokee annual permit and daily permit required

Whitewater River

• The Stretch: Roughly 2-3 miles from N.C. 107 down to the South Carolina state line

• Access Point(s): Parking and access along N.C. 107, a few miles south of Cashiers

• Type of Water: Wild Trout

• Noteworthy: Flows into Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi

West Fork Tuckasegee River

• The Stretch: From small reservoir at Thorpe Power House upstream several hundred yards

• Access Point(s): Parking and access available both sides of N.C. 107 near Thorpe Power House

• Type of Water: Hatchery supported

• Noteworthy: Although hatchery supported, this has nice concentration of stream-raised fish

Tuckasegee River

(East Laporte Park to N.C. 107 Bridge)

• The Stretch: Roughly 2-3 miles from park to bridge

• Access Point(s): Parking and access available at East Laporte Park and pull-off areas along Old Cullowhee Road

• Type of Water: Hatchery supported

• Noteworthy: East Laporte Park has picnic tables and public restrooms

Savannah Creek

• The Stretch: About 10 miles from headwaters in Pumpkintown into Tuckasegee River

• Access Point(s): Parking and access available via several pull-offs along U.S. 23/441

• Type of Water: Hatchery supported

• Noteworthy: Access limited the closer you get to the Tuckasegee River

Tuckasegee River

(NC 107 Bridge to Dillsboro park)

• The Stretch: Roughly 4-5 mile stretch from bridge to the riverside park in Dillsboro

• Access Point(s): Parking and access available via numerous pull-offs along North River Road

• Type of Water: Delayed harvest

• Noteworthy: Best place to achieve the Tuckasegee Slam (catch all three species in one spot)

Greens Creek

• The Stretch: About 3-4 miles from Macon County line to Savannah Creek

• Access Point(s): Various places along Greens Creek Road (SR 1370)

• Type of Water: Wild Trout, undesignated, hatchery supported

• Noteworthy: Portion of the creek flows through the Nantahala National Forest

Tuckasegee River

(in Dillsboro)

• The Stretch: About 1 mile from Dillsboro park through town

• Access Point(s): Various places between park and Best Western River Escape Inn

• Type of Water: Hatchery supported

• Noteworthy: Includes two lodging options: Best Western River Escape Inn and Dillsboro Inn

Lower Tuckasegee River

(Barker’s Creek Bridge to Whittier)

• The Stretch: Roughly 8-10 miles from bridge to Whittier

• Access Point(s): Parking and access via pull-offs and businesses along U.S. 19/74 freeway

• Type of Water: Hatchery supported, undesignated

• Noteworthy: The stretch is also home to smallmouth bass

If all goes according to plan, by this time next year Jackson County will have been declared the trout capital of North Carolina, and county commissioners are already starting to talk about how to plan for the resulting increase they anticipate in angling tourism. 

out frThe sun is lowering toward a perfect spring evening as the crew from Fox Sports’ “Anglers & Appetites” pulls onto a gravel patch alongside the Tuckasegee River. 

“This is what spring is supposed to feel like,” says the show’s co-host Dave Zelski.

out frJackson County is on its way to becoming the trout capital of North Carolina after county leaders unveiled a plan last week that’s been in the works since last summer. 

“Anything that we can do to encourage tourists to come to Jackson County we ought to try to do, and I think we already recognize that we have this remarkable resource in Jackson County — the public waterways. It’s already being utilized and is such a treasure in Jackson County,” said County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan, who spearheaded the effort with Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Spiro. “It just makes sense to try to do what we can to further enhance it and to promote it.”

tg troutA seemingly dead-end situation became a life-changing moment for Alex Bell.

“We came back to school from a tournament and they said our program had been cut,” he said.

out frMore than a third of the tourists who come knocking at the Jackson County visitor center these days have trout fishing on their mind.

A push in recent years to market the county as trout paradise is clearly paying off, and now the string of towns in Jackson County that claim the Tuckasegee River as their backyard have yet another tool to lure fishing aficionados.

The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail has added a new stop on the map for anglers — the Raven Fork trophy water on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

The fly-fishing trail leads fishermen to 15 different fishing spots in Jackson County, from narrow mountain streams to wide rivers. The Jackson Country Tourism Authority came up with the idea last year as a way to harness the potential of touring anglers.

“The Raven Fork trophy water enhances the trail’s overall experience because it provides a type of fishing not found anywhere else,” said Julie Spiro of the Jackson Country Tourism Authority. “It’s thrilling to catch fish on that stream. There are a lot of large trout in there.”

The 2.2-mile stretch is regularly stocked with large rainbow, brown and golden trout. It’s common to catch fish 20 inches or longer, and there are a number of trout that exceed 30 inches. Access is available through several pull-offs along Big Cove Road with paths that run along the stream.

The scenic Raven Fork replaces the Horsepasture River as spot number 6 on the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. Public access to the Horsepasture River is becoming increasingly limited, which prompted the change.

Raven Fork is designated by the Cherokee as catch and release fly-fishing only. Anglers wishing to fish Raven Fork need to purchase a $20 special use permit and a $7 daily permit from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Local guide Alex Bell, who helped create the trail, often has anglers request a trip to Raven Fork.

“Cherokee wants to be a destination east of the Mississippi River that every fly fisherman knows,” Bell said. “They have different strains of trout coming in and have great vision for their fishing program.”

The Raven Fork trophy water in Cherokee and the Tuckasegee River above Dillsboro are two of the most rewarding stretches for trout fishing in the region.

“Those are the two big boys. And they’re both on the trail,” Bell said.

800.962.1911 or go to www.FlyFishingTrail.com.

Ask any fisherman what their favorite stretch of stream is and you may as well be asking for directions to the moon.

They might tell you what stream they frequent, but as for an exact spot — well, that’s between them and the trout.

For out-of-town fishermen wanting to snag a mountain trout on their vacation who don’t have hours to hang around a fly fishing shop prying locals to reveal their coveted fishing holes, the new Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail Map and Guide is just the answer.

The fly fishing trail spans 15 fishing spots in Jackson County, from wide valley rivers to narrow mountain creeks.

The trail guide was created by the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority and Jackson County Chamber of Commerce — with the help of some knowledgeable fishermen.

The trail guide doesn’t go so far as identifying the best spots on a creek, but does get the fishermen in the right vicinity.

“This way they may discover their own special spots,”

said Alex Bell, one of the authors of the trail map and a fly fishing guide. “We wouldn’t want everyone going to the right side of the creek bank 100 yards up. But as a fly fisherman you are able to read the water and look at the surroundings and you can figure out where the trout are most likely to be hanging out.”

Usually, fishermen just need to know where there is a good roadside pull-offs to access a creek without trespassing on private property. Otherwise, out-of-town fishermen are left studying dozens of blue squiggly lines on a map wondering which ones they could actually reach.

“Even if someone tells you such and such creek, you may have passed by it but they aren’t marked,” Bell said.

The other author behind the fly-fishing trail, Bobby Kilby, is famous in trout fishing circles. He’s caught trout in more than 85 of the named creeks in Jackson County. Kilby’s record makes the 15 spots selected for the fly fishing trail sound like child’s play. But Bell thinks they arrived at a good mix: relatively easy access, a variety of water and a good geographic spread across the county.

Bell, 54, retired as the principal of Smoky Mountain High School two years ago. While he now has all day to loaf around on rivers, during his career he snagged whatever fishing time he could. Thanks to the Tuckasegee running through town, he could steal a few minutes on his way home from work.

“I tell people all the time it was my chief therapy,” Bell said. “I had my stuff in the back of the truck and whenever my day finished I would head to the river. It was a way to decompress and relax.

“With fly casting it is all about rhythm and tempo. They always say there is an art and science to it and the combination of the two is very relaxing,” Bell said.

Alex Bell can’t resist striking up a conversation with fellow fishermen he encounters on the Tuckasegee.

But lately, he’s had a motive behind his friendly banter. As an author of the new WNC Fly Fishing Trail, Bell is eager to know just who is flocking to fish mountain waters.

One day in May, Bell was sitting on the tailgate of his truck having lunch when 14 anglers with a fly fishing club from Florida came clambering up the river bank.

“As we struck up a conversation one thing led to another and I mentioned the fly fishing trail map and one said ‘Yeah, we got it right here’ and pulled it out of their vest,” Bell recounted.

The trail guide was the brainchild of the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority, so Bell knew luring tourists was the whole point. But as he calculated the economic impact of 14 people spending three nights in Jackson County who came here just to fish the trail, it sunk in.

“It came full circle just how good this is for everybody,” he said.

The fly fishing trail leads fishermen to 15 different fishing spots in Jackson County, from narrow mountain streams to wide rivers. Julie Spiro, executive director of the Travel and Tourism Authority and Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said the fly fishing trail has taken off better than she ever imagined.

“I think it has had a good positive affect on tourism here,” Spiro said. “It gets people into Jackson County to fish and spend the night and eat dinner out and enjoy some time here in the mountains.”

A testimony to its success, Spiro keeps running out of the trail map brochures. The first print run of 1,500 were gone in just two months. She ordered a batch of 5,000 in early May, but those were gone by the end of the month. In all, she’s gone through almost 9,000 in just six months.

“We mailed out thousands of maps to interested fisherman,” Spiro said

While it’s hard to know exactly how many of those ultimately make the trip, some stop into the visitor center and announced their arrival, like a man and his buddy on a recent visit from New Burn, N.C.

“He said ‘You mailed me this map and I’m here to fish,’” Spiro recounted.

The fly fishing trail has been featured around the country, from an outdoors radio show in California to a travel article in the New York Times. It’s also landed on the UNC-TV series North Carolina Now twice. Bell, 54, who runs AB’s Fly Fishing Guide Service, has booked several trips for clients who came to Jackson County after discovering the trail guide.

Spiro credits Craig Distl, a public relations specialist with the Jackson chamber, as the instigator behind the trail. Spiro has actively marketed Jackson County as a fishing destination for several years, but Distl suggested they “step it up a notch.”

The idea of a fly fishing trail is a first for the region and positions Jackson as the first county to actively capitalize on the image of a fly fishing destination.

“A lot of people are very interested in fishing all 15 spots on the trail,” Spiro said. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment that they have fished the entire trail.”

Indeed, Bell has encountered fishermen on the water checking off their maps as they go. Some said they plan to fish a few spots each year, making return trips each summer until they finished them all.

The concept of themed-trails are growing in popularity among visitors looking for a more interactive vacation. There are several themed-trails in the region: a Cherokee Heritage Trail, a Craft Heritage Trail, a WNC Farm and Garden Trail, a Birding Trail — and now a fly fishing trail.

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