When is the best time to come and fish in western North Carolina?  The short answer is that western NC has outstanding fly fishing year round. Many anglers put their gear up  during the “off season” of winter/early spring, but that’s when you can enjoy some of the best fishing of the year.  North Carolina’s typical mild weather makes for pleasant days on both the tail waters of the Nantahala and delayed harvest streams.  Delayed harvest stream include the Upper Nantahala River, Tuckasegee River and Snowbird Creek, just to name a few.  And the off-season delayed harvest is just the first reason to enjoy this time of year.

Delayed Harvest trout fishing on the Nantahala


Delayed Harvest Season

Delayed harvest makes western North Carolina an even better fly fishing destination than it already is!  All of the delayed harvest streams are stocked in the first couple of weeks of October, and then again in March, April and May.  This is the time of year when you might find larger fish being stocked. What makes it such a good time to get out with a guide and float the river is that you have lots of fish and no crowds. This time of year, there is no reason to be limited to a small section of stream.   A float trip allows you easily cover miles of river and not have to worry about trying to wade in the faster and deeper water.

Off season can be the best month for spring fly fishing

“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.  Once you pick up the technique and spend some time fishing during the off-season, it will likely become one of your favorite times of the year to fish.”

The Nuances of Streamer Fishing

We asked head guide Ken Kastorff about late winter and early spring fishing.  His response was that “personally, my favorite time of the year to fly fish because I switch to streamer fishing.   While it is always fun to work on nymphing skills, late winter/early spring is a great time to streamer fish.  Streamer fishing is the most exciting way of fly fishing because, typically, larger fish are caught on streamers. Late winter/early spring is prime time to catch that trophy brown trout.  Streamer fishing gives you a break from watching a stick indicator or struggling with trying to perfect that perfect drag free drift.  Streamer involves traditional casting skills like those that most people associate with “fly fishing.”  Switching to streamer fishing is like casting yourself in A River Runs Through It.”

learning to cast a fly rod takes time


Best Equipment for Off-Season Fly Fishing

It is time to bring out the sink tip line and shorten your leader.  Geta rod with some backbone that can throw larger heavier flies.  Ken recommends fishing two streamers at the same time.  Usually, a smaller streamer followed by a larger one a few feet behind.  He added that many times he will fish two different colors

Here are a few tips I give my fly fishing guests when working with them on streamer 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 downstream 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 upstream, 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.

Off season in western North Carolina

If you are looking for one of the best destinations for fishing in the southeast, and looking for one of the best small towns to visit in North Carolina, western North Carolina is your destination.