Don’t forget winter trout fishing in the mountains, where cold means hot

winter trout
Don't overlook the N.C. mountain trout streams this time of year.

Drift nymphs through deep pools for rainbows and browns, guide says

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 winter trout fishing is great. And 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 begin spawning during mid-November and continue through the middle of January. 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. So they are 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).

Anglers catch trout from 18 to 26 inches in the Tuckasegee and Oconaluftee rivers this time of year.

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. This can be especially helpful with exact fly patterns to use and where to present those lures.

“Not a lot of bugs are around in winter. But a lot of trout eggs are 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 anglers need to 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 it gets little 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. That’s because the water temperature stays ideal for trout, around 44 to 45 degrees.”

Click here to read more of our freshwater fishing stories from across the Carolinas.

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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