The 10 Best Trout Fishing Rivers in North Carolina: Expert Guide + Map

Trout Fishing in North Carolina the best lakes feature image

For any angler searching for thrilling wild trout fishing adventures and stunning natural landscapes, North Carolina is the place to go for fly fishing.

With so many prime trout fly fishing spots, the state boasts some of the best populations of stocked and wild rainbow trout, brook trout, and brown trout in the US.

Many of the trout-filled waterways in North Carolina are excellent for complete beginners as well. If you’ve had poor luck catching stocked or wild trout in other states, visit NC for a weekend or two of excellent fly fishing experiences!

(Remember to have the correct fishing license. See here for all the info on North Carolina fishing licenses.)

List of North Carolina Trout Rivers

  1. Davidson River
  2. Nantahala River
  3. South Toe River
  4. Watauga River
  5. Linville River
  6. French Broad River
  7. North Toe River
  8. Pigeon River
  9. Tuckasegee River
  10. Wilson Creek

Map of North Carolina Trout Streams and Rivers

North Carolina Trout Streams and Rivers
Ten North Carolina Trout Rivers

Trout Fishing North Carolina Rivers and Streams

Here’s some detailed info on each of these rivers and streams.

1. Davidson River

Davidson River North Carolina

Located in the western part of the state near Brevard, the Davidson River is a beautiful destination for anglers of all skill levels. It has some truly exceptional trout fishing opportunities and has huge populations of wild and stocked rainbow trout, brook trout, and brown trout.

The Davidson River and some great fishing spots are easily accessible from the nearby Davidson River Campground, which also gives you a perfect spot for spending the weekend if you plan on doing a lot of stocked trout fishing.

Some of the most successful lures in this area are nymphs and dry flies with fly fishing. I’ve had excellent results with both Prince Nymph and Elk Hair Caddis, but a wide range of different flies will entice the trout to strike.

See also:

2. Nantahala River

Nantahala River Trout Fishing North Carolina

As another beautiful western area, this river flows through the Nantahala National Forest and is well known for being an exceptional wild trout habitat. The water is very cold and crystal clear, making it a prime spot to fly fish for native brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout.

Parking and access to the trout streams is nearby at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which also sells adventure packages such as rafting, duck rides, and helicopter rides.

Lures that do well here are many, but some of the most commonly used include inline spinners such as Panther Martin or Rooster Tail, as well as sliding sinker rigs using salmon eggs or PowerBait.

See also:

3. South Toe River

South Toe River Trout Fishing North Carolina

Located not far from Burnsville and located in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina, the South Toe is a very peaceful and stunning fly fishing spot to enjoy a day or two of wild trout fishing. The water is stocked with farmed and wild rainbow trout and brown trout giving you plenty of chances to catch a big trophy fish.

The nearby Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area provides easy access to these trout streams, and you’ll get exceptional results when you fly fish using nymph flies and streamers of almost any type, as well as surface plugs and small poppers for the stocked trout to target.

See also:

4. Watauga River

Watauga River Trout Fishing North Carolina

Running through both Tennessee and North Carolina, the Watauga River is full of fish to target. For trout fly fishing, you’ll find a huge population of brook trout, with some brown trout and some big rainbow trout as well. The fish are mostly stocked, but quite a few wild bloodlines are found in the river as well.

You can get to the trout streams from the nearby Watauga Gorge access area. Most anglers I have spoken with have had the most luck fly fishing using Woolly Buggers or drift fishing with live worms or Trout Magnets.

See also:

5. Linville River

Linville River Trout Fishing North Carolina

If you’re looking for a good trout destination that is also picturesque and beautiful with a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this is definitely the place for you. Linville River is located in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area and has crystal clear rivers cutting through rugged terrain.

You’ll find an extremely healthy population of rainbow trout, along with brook trout and brown trout, for extra enjoyment when fly fishing.

A wide range of lures and fishing techniques and trout fishing rigs will work in this spot, including fly fishing with nymphs and small streamers, bait fishing, fishing with inline spinners, and more. I personally prefer drift fishing with live worms or cut bait, but soft plastics in the deep pools get excellent results as well.

See also: Types of Trout Explained

6. East Fork of the French Broad River

East Fork of the French Broad River Trout Fishing North Carolina

Flowing through Transylvania County, the East Fork of the French Broad River provides an idyllic trout fishing experience. If you want a great backdrop for your trout fishing pictures, this is the spot for you. The river is home to the usual selection of brown trout and brook trout, but rainbows can also be found here in very healthy numbers and large sizes.

This North Carolina river is easily accessible from the Pisgah Wildlife Education Center, which unfortunately was severely damaged in a 2021 flood and, as of 2023, has yet to reopen. However, it still serves as the easiest access point to the East Fork.

Since this river is hatchery supported, the opening of trout fishing season on April 2nd allows anglers to keep up to 7 trout per day and has no restrictions on what bait can be used to fly fish. Most anglers I’ve heard from will use inline spinners and spoons over the deep pools area, but almost anything will get strikes in the early North Carolina trout fishing season.

See also: The Best Fishing Lures For Trout

7. North Toe River

North Toe River Trout Fishing North Carolina

Similar to the previously mentioned South Toe, the North Toe, not far from the North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway, is also a very peaceful location to enjoy a relaxing day of trout fishing with very little fishing pressure.

The river is annually stocked with rainbows, browns, and brook trout, giving anglers of all experience levels a solid chance of landing their next trophy or table trout, but you can also find wild brook trout and some exceptionally large brown trout here too.

There are a number of parking and access areas along the river, so you can find your very own little wild trout stream fishing spot. Anglers I have spoken with say drift fishing gets excellent results but fly fishing is also extremely popular at North Toe River.

Any flies will work for the trout fish in this area, including nymph patterns such as Pheasant Tail, Hare’s Ear, and Prince Nymph, dry flies like Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and Blue Wing Olive, and streamers such as Woolly Buggers and Muddler Minnows.

See also: Best Flies to Use For Brown Trout

8. West Fork of the Pigeon River

Pigeon River Trout Fishing North Carolina

Pigeon River is right next to the Sunburst Campground, which makes accessing this stunning river extremely easy. Running through Haywood County, the river is home to brooks, browns, and rainbows of moderate to massive sizes.

Many anglers say this spot is one of the most productive trout tributaries in the state, in addition to having some beautiful scenery.

Nymphing will be your best bet to landing fish, but dry flies work exceptionally, as do small streamers. Fly fishing is definitely the way to go in this location, and almost every angler you will see here will be using this method. Consider going with Pheasant Tail, Elk Hair Caddis, and Blue Wing Olive before trying other sizes, types, and patterns of flies.

See also: The Best Fly Reels For Trout Fishing

9. Tuckasegee River

Tuckasegee River Trout Fishing North Carolina

This spot is the number one destination in North Carolina for a wide range of different fish species. While there are healthy and large populations of the usual three trout types, rainbow, brooks, and brown, it’s also home to more diverse fish species than any other river in Swain County.

There are numerous access points along “the Tuck,” including boat ramps and the Tuckasegee River Greenway. You’ll be able to find a nice little spot of river to call your own, no matter what season you decide to visit. Keep in mind most of the river is closed to public fishing during March while the state restocks the trout from local hatcheries.

Lures and techniques that do well here include nymphing, streamer fishing, and dry fly presentations, so feel free to experiment with a new method or fly patterns.

See also:

10. Wilson Creek

Wilson Creek Trout Fishing North Carolina

Situated in the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, Wilson Creek is home to wild and stocked rainbow, big brown trout, and brook trout.

This waterway is very heavily stocked by the state but is almost exclusively a delayed harvest section making it an outstanding spot for brand-new fly anglers to try out their techniques. Even if you have never touched a fishing rod before, Wilson Creek is the number one spot to come when you want to catch something.

Successful fishing techniques include nymphing, dry fly presentations, small streamers, inline spinners, spoons, small crankbaits, drift fishing with soft plastics, bottom fishing, and more. Almost any method or lure will get some sort of action due to the fish stocking numbers in this area.

Other Fishing Options In North Carolina

There’s of course more to fishing in North Carolina than fishing for trout. North Carolina is home to some great bass fishing lakes. It also boasts great coastal fishing with the state’s fishing piers renowned for offering great fishing.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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