Winter Fishing in the Smokies and on the Nantahala River

We’ve spent the past few days tending to last minute Christmas details, but also found plenty of time to get out on the water. The weather has been less than ideal, but we find more time to fish for ourselves now than we do in the spring, summer or fall so we have to take advantage when we can.

Streams in the Smokies around Townsend have been fishing better than we would’ve anticipated given the cold water temperatures which are now slowly creeping into the 40’s but have been cooler in the preceding days.

The Rubber Leg Tellico Nymph has been fooling plenty of fish lately

Yesterday I made a trip over to the Nantahala River in western North Carolina. Many fly fishers in the Southeast have heard of this river, but most focus their efforts on the heavily stocked, delayed harvest section of the stream. Personally, I prefer the big tailwater section of the river that’s better known for whitewater paddling.

I expected the flow the be at a minimum, but it was running at full capacity. That makes fishing a little more difficult but not impossible. Most anglers tend to avoid the river when it’s running, but I think that’s mostly because it’s full of rafts and kayaks in the prime months. Contrary to popular belief, the river is quite fishable when it’s running.

The lower Nantahala reminds me a lot of the upper Madison River from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. The heavy flow prevents anglers from covering every last spot but there are plenty of pockets to fish. The river is stocked but it’s full of wild fish and over the years I’ve caught far more wild fish than stockers.

A typical wild rainbow from the Nantahala River tailwater between Topton and Wesser

Brown trout are in the Nantahala tailwater too, but less common than rainbows

While big stonefly nymphs have been working well in the Smokies, I didn’t hook a single fish on one on the Nanty. A variety of nymph in size #12-14 hooked tons of trout. I fished dropper rigs with Prince Nymphs, Zelon Nymphs, Pat’s Nymphs, and Pheasant Tails and put a split shot between the flies.

It was the most productive day I’ve had on the water in a long time. There were some runs where I landed 5-6 fish and there wasn’t a run where I didn’t land at least one.