Cherokee’s Enterprise waters are a trout fisher’s dream.
The Cherokee Reservation’s Enterprise Waters are well known as one of the top catch-and-keep trout fisheries in the mountains, with generous creel limits and heavily stocked streams.
The 30 miles of streams and three ponds that make up Cherokee Enterprise Waters are stocked annually with 360,000 rainbow trout that run between 8 and 10 ounces, and a few brown and brook trout in the trophy category. Anglers may keep up to 10 trout a day, with no size, lure or bait restrictions.
In addition to catch-and-keep waters, the tribe has a 2.2-mile section of Raven Fork in the Big Cove area that is restricted to catch-and-release fly-fishing. Most of the fish are at least 20 inches, with some in the 30-plus-inch range.
Streams in the Enterprise Waters system are the Oconaluftee River, Raven Fork, Bunches Creek and Soco Creek. The three ponds are in Big Cove. Except for Soco Creek, Enterprise streams originate in the adjoining Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Oconaluftee, the longest section, runs through the town of Cherokee, eventually joining the Little Tennessee River upstream from Fontana Reservoir.
Tie on a fly
While bait fishers make up a majority of the anglers who fish Enterprise Waters, Cherokee streams also are excellent fly-fishing streams. Stocked trout quickly adapt to their new environment, and once they’ve been in a stream a couple of weeks without their daily allotment of trout food, they learn to eat whatever insects and aquatic life are available.
Float a small, Blue-Winged Olive over a likely run, and you’ll get a strike even after a bait fisher has given up, convinced that the stream has been fished out. Despite heavy fishing pressure and frequent stockings, the streams do have limited natural reproduction. Plus, wild trout are either washed down or migrate from park streams.
Trout are raised from eggs at the tribal hatchery at the head of Big Cove, and approximately 800,000 trout are kept in raceways, everything from fry to stocking-size trout. Most of the trout are rainbows.
Enterprise Waters are stocked once a week during the winter and three times a week during spring, summer, and fall. Most of the rainbows run between 8 and 10 ounces, but weekly stockings also include trophy trout that run four to 12 pounds and a few even bigger. The larger trout are stocked in the bigger waters of the Oconaluftee and lower Raven Fork.
Prime places for fly fishing are upper Raven Fork and Bunches Creek in the Big Cove area. Bunches Creek, a small stream, is a tributary of Raven Fork, and Raven Fork, a medium-size stream, is a tributary of the Oconaluftee River. Both streams are easy to get to and easy to wade. Bunches Creek is accessible from a gravel road; a paved road runs beside Raven Fork from where it begins as Enterprise Waters to its confluence with the Oconaluftee River.
For fly fishing, Blue-Winged Olives (Nos. 16 or 18) are deadly almost any time of the year in Cherokee or park waters. Other excellent patterns are Quill Gordon, Blue Dun, Hendrickson and March Brown, all in Nos. 14 or 16. Excellent attractor patterns are a male Adams, Royal Wulff, Thunderhead or Gray Hackle in Nos. 12 or 14.
For nymph fishing, recommended patterns are No. 10 March Brown, No. 10 Dark Stone, No. 10 or 12 Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, No. 10 Secret Weapon or a No. 10 Tellico.
The tribe sponsors several high-dollar weekend fishing tournaments. This year’s tournaments include a two-day, season-opening tournament in March with $20,000 in prizes; the Tim Hill Memorial Trout Tournament in July with $10,000 in prizes; and the Qualla Country Trout Tournament in September with $20,000 in prizes. Entry fees are nominal.
Enterprise streams are closed for two weeks in March, but they open the last Saturday in March, a week earlier than state-managed, hatchery-supported streams. Only a tribal permit ($10 per day) is required to fish Enterprise Waters; no other license is needed. Permits for catch-and-release waters are $25 per day in addition to a $10 tribal fishing permit. Children under 12 are not required to purchase a tribal permit, but they must be accompanied by a permit-holding adult.
Maps, brochures, and other information are available on-line at www.FishCherokee.com.