Anglers often think winter isn’t a good time to fish for mountain trout, but guide Eugene Shuler of the Ela community near Bryson City said it’s actually the best time to land a trophy brown or rainbow.

“Fishing’s surprisingly good up here,” he said. “The fly-fishing-only section of the Tuckasegee River in Cherokee is the best place to catch big trout because it’s spawning season.”

Browns began spawning during mid-November and continue through the middle of January, while rainbows also are spawning in the Tuckasegee.

“You can make a guy’s day at some of the rivers and streams around here,” said Shuler, of Fly Fishing the Smokies. “A 4-weight rod may get broke; you’re better off with a 5- or 6-weight fly rod.”

Hunger caused by winter spawning triggers trout to eat, making them susceptible to anglers’ offerings.

“The big fish, especially the spawners, burn a lot of energy, and that’s when you can catch bigger-size fish,” said Shuler (828-488-7665).

Trout from 18 to 26 inches are being caught in the Tuckasegee and Oconaluftee rivers.

Anglers who want to fish the Cherokee Reservation must purchase a tribal fishing license, but Shuler said first-time anglers might want to hire a guide to help with exact fly patterns to use and where to present those lures.

“There aren’t a lot of bugs around in winter, but there are a lot of trout eggs in the water now,” he said. “Egg-pattern flies do well along with small black stone flies and winter caddis patterns in dark, smoky gray. Midges also may work well.”

Shuler said the key is to fish nymphs in deeper water on the bottom, especially in pools, and fish them slowly.

He also likes to venture to Great Smokies streams such as Deep Creek, Hazel Creek, Forney and Noland Creek.

“Hazel Creek is hammered hard in spring and summer, but there’s not much pressure in winter,” he said.

The lower section of the Tuckasegee before it enters Fontana Lake is another excellent place for winter trout, Shuler said.

“It’s perfect,” he said, “even on a deep-winter because the water temperature stays ideal for trout, around 44 to 45 degrees.”