Social-distancing on the Nantahala

social-distancing
A father and his son fish the hatchery supported stretch of the Nantahala River, which covers 4 miles in Macon County, N.C. (Photos by Wesley Satterwhite)

Big North Carolina river is trout fisher’s paradise

Social-distancing was a natural practice for trout fishers long before the Corvid-19 pandemic. If another fisher gets within seeing distance, it’s considered an intrusion.

Social-distancing, however, is not the problem for trout fishers; it’s finding and getting to prime trout streams because of widespread closures of  U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service facilities and state parks. Tentative limited openings in both Carolinas are being considered, if the coronavirus shows signs of leveling out.

Despite limited access, some streams such as the Nantahala River in Macon County, N.C. are not affected by the shutdown. Paved and unpaved roads offer easy accessibility to most of these waters.

Rising in southwestern Macon County near Standing Indian, the Nantahala flows northwest to the Clay County line. It continues along the boundary of the two counties and on to Fontana Reservoir. Long before the river reaches Fontana, however, it forms Nantahala Lake in Macon County.

No paddles needed

Whitewater enthusiasts extol the Nantahala’s virtues as a prime paddling destination. But area trout fishers see the river as one of the best trout fishing streams in the mountains. Ronnie Setzer of  Sylva, N.C., a long‑time trout fisher and former guide, calls the Nantahala one of the area’s premier trout streams.

“It offers some excellent fishing, and it has some big trout in it, especially in the lower section below the powerhouse,’’ he said.

When Setzer fishes the stream, he usually heads for the delayed‑harvest section. It’s a four‑mile stretch between Whiteoak Creek in Macon County and the Nantahala Power and Light Co. powerhouse. Setzer said this section has excellent populations of big brook, rainbow and brown trout. These fish are generously stocked in the stream in the fall and again in the spring.

“It’s a very accessible stream,’’ he said, “and much of it can be fished from the banks.’’

The upper section of the stream above Nantahala Lake is tougher to fish because of heavy overgrowth. The stream is small up to the Standing Indian area.

Caddis invasion

Anglers note the Nantahala for its excellent caddis hatches, which extends from mid‑May to July. A variety of caddis imitations get good results. A No. 14 or 16 yellow‑bodied Elk Hair Caddis works well in both the delayed‑harvest waters and the hatchery‑supported sections. Blue-wing olive hatches also occur prominently in spring and early summer.

The stream gets tremendous pressure during the summer because of its easy access. On weekends during the delayed‑harvest season, vehicles fill just about every pull‑off. Many of the weekend fishers are from South Carolina, Georgia and outlying areas of North Carolina, especially the Charlotte area. Social-distancing isn’t easy here.

The section above the powerhouse is hatchery-supported. But it has a good population of wild trout, mainly due to nutrients coming from Nantahala Lake. Plus, water quality is good enough to support natural reproduction.

Water levels above the powerhouse are constant, but the flow below the dam can be erratic. When the turbines are on in the powerhouse, the stream is strictly whitewater country as it gushes through the gorge. Water levels can rise quickly. Fishers should exit the stream if they notice the river starting to rise.

US 19 west of Bryson City parallels the lower section of the river from Nantahala Falls to just below the powerhouse. Access to the delayed‑harvest section is off US 19 on Wayah Road at the Nantahala River Launch Site Recreation Area. Numerous pull-offs line the road along the delayed‑harvest section.

Covid-19’s effects

Corvid-19 and the need for social-distancing has taken a toll on businesses in both Carolinas, including fly and tackle shops and guide services. Trout-fishing guide services halted operations at least until June. And many fly shops have closed until further notice.

The Cherokee Indian Reservation canceled its fishing program until further notice. Streams along the  Blue Ridge Parkway are inaccessible in many sections due to closure of some sections of the park

On a positive note, anglers should find excellent fishing the fishing once restrictions expire.

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Robert Satterwhite
About Robert Satterwhite 177 Articles
Bob Satterwhite has been writing about the outdoors, particularly trout fishing, for more than 25 years. A native of Morganton, N.C., he lives in Cullowhee, N.C., close to the Tuckasegee River, Caney Fork, Moses Creek, and several other prime trout streams.

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