When most people think of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and its 57,000 acres deep in western North Carolina’s mountains, the tribal casino probably comes to mind. But if you are fisherman, you know the best bet on the reservation is the trout fishing.
Three streams and three ponds within the tribe’s Qualla Boundary, are open to the public, as long as you buy an appropriate tribal fishing permit. The tribe operates their own hatchery, producing enough trout to stock tribal waters twice a week.
No matter what technique you favor, fly tackle or spinning gear, the reservation has opportunities. If you are a fly fisherman, the reservation has a 2.2-mile section of the Raven Fork for catch-and-release fishing. It requires an additional permit but is full of large trout to test your skills.
The catch-and-keep waters have long been known for large trout as well, having produced more than one state record trout over the years; the state-record brook trout remains a 7-pound, 7-ounce fish caught in 1980 from the Raven Fork. In addition, the daily creel limit is 10 — three more fish than allowed on waters managed by North Carolina.
Not only is the reservation home to 30 miles of stocked streams, but it is surrounded by trout streams in every direction, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where fishing ranges from big streams you can park next to or tiny streams you have to backpack into to catch native brookies. The Nantahala River is not far away to the southwest, and the Tuckasegee River is not far away to the south.
The Cherokee area has so many place to fish that picking one can be overwhelming.
Fishermen who prefer spinning tackle would be smart to choose the Oconoluftee River from the boundary of the catch-and-release section downstream through the town of Cherokee. This is the most-heavily stocked catch-and-keep section of stream on the reservation. Best lure choices are in-line spinners like Roostertails and small lures that imitate minnows, like Rapala CountDown lures or X-Raps. Powerbaits and Gulp baits can also be very productive.
Matt Beam of Rivers Edge Outfitters in Cherokee said his favorite place to fish on the reservation is the catch-and-release, fly-fishing only section of Raven Fork. It holds large numbers of large trout not typically encountered in North Carolina streams.
His favorite technique is to cast large streamer patterns across and downstream of areas likely to hold fish. He said most anglers will also have plenty of success fishing nymphs. Favorite flies include egg patterns, San Juan worms, Prince nymphs and stonefly nymphs.
Off the reservation, Beam likes the lower section of the Nantahala River, below the powerhouse. He likes to fish it on falling water after the end of a water release, casting dry flies with a beadhead nymph as a dropper.
Jason Cole, who owns Hooker’s Fly Shop in Sylva, said the Tuckasegee is full of great fishing spots, but it’s hard to beat the delayed-harvest section downstream from Cullowhee.
“It is heavily stocked and one of the best delayed-harvest streams in North Carolina” he said.
Cole said many other streams in the area offer outstanding fishing for both stocked and wild trout, using fly or spinning tackle. Staying in Cherokee, anglers could fish a different stream every day and not come close to fishing them all for weeks.
Cherokee is truly North Carolina’s trout fishing mecca.
HOW TO GET THERE — The town of Cherokee, N.C. and the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is close to the junction of US 19 and US 441 in Swain County, about 90 minutes west of Asheville via US 74.
WHEN TO GO — Catch-and-release streams in the Cherokee reservation are open year-round. Catch-and-keep streams are closed March 11 and open March 25. Hatchery supported streams outside the reservation are closed for stocking through March, opening April 1. Wild-trout streams and delayed-harvest streams outside the reservation are open year-round.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Fishermen using spinning tackle should stock up on in-line spinners, tiny crankbaits that imitate minnows or tiny jigheads and small grubs. For fly fishing, nymphs or streamer patterns will produce more fish in early spring.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Rivers Edge Outfitters, Cherokee, 828-497-9300; Hooker’s Fly Shop, Sylva, 828-587-4665. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
MAPS — Delorme’s N.C. Atlas & Gazetteer, www.delorme.com.