By Ken Kastorff, Fly Fishing Guide

I get asked all the time, “when is the best time to come and fish in Western North Carolina?”  We are lucky to live in a place where we have outstanding fly fishing opportunities year round. Many anglers put their gear up for the year when winter arrives but this year it has been even easier than in past years to enjoy great winter fishing.  Mild weather has made for pleasant days on both natural streams, like those in the Smoky Mountain National Park and delayed harvest streams like the Upper Nantahala River, Tuckasegee River and Snowbird Creek just to mention a few.

Speaking of delayed harvest, all of the delayed harvest streams in North Carolina will be stocked again in the first couple of weeks of March, April and May.  This is the time of year when you might find larger fish being stocked.  It is the best time of the year to do a guided trip.  Lots of fish and no crowds. River levels are back closer to normal after a dry fall.  It is a great time to do a float trip where you can easily cover miles of river and not have to worry about trying to wade in the faster and deeper water.  Ask ahead of time to find out how many miles of river you will be floating.

Winter and early spring are my favorite times of the year to fly fish.  While it is always fun to hone ones nymphing skills, winter is a great time to streamer fish.  Streamer fishing is the most exciting and most fun way of fly fishing.  It is the most exciting because typically larger fish are caught on streamers.  Winter is a great time of the year to dredge up that brown trout of a life time.  It is the most fun way to fly fish because it involves traditional casting skills like those that most people associate with fly fishing.  Get out your copy of A River Runs Through It and take a break from watching a stick indicator or struggling with trying to perfect that perfect drag free drift.
It is time to bring out the sink tip line and shorten your leader.  Get a rod with some backbone that can throw larger heavier flies.  I will oft times fish two streamers at the same time.  Usually, a smaller streamer followed by a larger one a few feet behind.  Many times I will fish two different colors.  Here are a few tips for steamer fishing:
  • Start with a cast perpendicular to the current.
  • Let the current swing the fly down stream and wait until the fly has almost straightened out before stripping it in.  When stripping back to the rod, pause after every second or third strip.
  • Steer the fly with your rod.  You can easily move the fly laterally in the current flow to place the fly next to down stream eddies or over and into likely pockets that could hold fish.
  • Cast cross current again and this time strip slowly as the fly swings down stream.
  • Pumping the rod will give the fly more action.  Do this same cast again each time increasing the speed of the retrieve.
  • Eventually, on your last cast the streamer should be erratically breaking the surface of the water on your retrieve, looking like distressed bait fish.
  • Now cast about five feet upstream from perpendicular and let the fly sink a little before stripping it in.
  • Each successive cast should be five feet further up stream, until you feel the fly bouncing on the bottom of the river.
  • This technique works well because each cast brings the fly through a different water column.
I can pretty much guarantee that if you put in the time and use this technique you will be surprised at the success you will have.  Winter will likely become one of your favorite times of the year  to fish.