Blue Ridge Parkway Fishing

Fishing Blue Ridge Parkway Waters

The National Park Service protects over one hundred miles of streams that rise along the spine of the Blue Ridge.There are thirteen man-made lakes along the Parkway to enhance the natural beauty of the scenic drive and for fishing. These streams and lakes hold native or stocked fish in a mountain environment. The 4,000 miles of cool, clear mountain streams and the many lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains offer anglers more fishing opportunities than can be found in any other state in the Southeast. The region supports one of the most diverse fishing habitats in the world. Fly fishing enthusiasts come for the native brook trout and for the brown and rainbow trout that thrive in the many stocked streams. North Carolina’s mountain trout streams are considered to be the finest in the eastern United States.

Blue Ridge Parkway Fishing Licenses and Regulations

Fishing is allowed in Parkway waters with a valid state fishing license from either North Carolina or Virginia. No special trout stamp or license is needed and persons under age 16 can fish without a license when accompanied by a licensed adult. Only single hook, artificial lures may be used in most Parkway waters. Digestible baits, except unpreserved fish eggs or live baits other than earthworms, are allowed in designated waters. Fishing is not permitted from footbridges, dams or adjacent walls. In trout waters,regulations are posted at the stream bank and are in effect for that stream only. On all Parkway waters,fishing is allowed from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset. Digging for bait on Parkway land is not allowed. Be aware that many streams meander onto U.S. Forest Service or private land and regulations will vary as the jurisdiction changes.The law does not require “catch and release” on all streams, the habit is one that will ensure healthy populations of species for future generations.

North Carolina Fishing License Online

Virginia Fishing License Online

Species of Fish Found in Blue Ridge Parkway Streams and Lakes

Most of the lakes on the Blue Ridge Parkway support warm water species such as bass, bream, or bluegill. In Parkway streams and some stocked lakes, a variety of species of trout may be found: Brown trout have been stocked in eastern streams since the late nineteenth century. These golden colored trout are not native to the Appalachian Mountains. Rainbow trout have been stocked in eastern streams as sport fish as well. These beautiful fish with the pink stripe down the side are originally native to the western United States. Brook trout are the only native trout in the southern Appalachians. This small fish with beautiful orange and red markings has survived many changes in its habitat during the centuries that humans have occupied the Blue Ridge. Catching a “Brookie” is an experience that most anglers carry with them for a lifetime.

Fly fishermen for years have used the Blue ridge Parkway to fish the many mountain streams. Use this guide to fly fishing the Blue Ridge Parkway to ensure a great fishing experience.

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Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina Best Places To Fish

Cherokee Trophy Water

Cherokee Trophy Waters are located at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway offering one of the most unique fly fishing experiences on the Qualla Boundary. The Cherokee Fish and Game Management agency regularly stocks the nearly 30 miles of streams and six acres of ponds that are operated as a tribal business. The heavily stocked Cherokee tribal water features stretches of the Oconoluftee and Raven Fork Rivers, where you can catch some of the biggest rainbow and brown trout in the Smoky Mountains.  A stretch of the Raven Fork, beginning at the Parkway and extending north for 2.2 miles, is heavily stocked and regulated by strict catch-and-release policies, and a portion of that 2.2 miles is set aside for fly fishing only. The best time to fish these areas is the spring and fall to avoid summer crowds. Trout season opens the last Saturday of March and continues through February 28 of the following year. Fishing is permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset. Although no state license is needed anglers must obtain a Tribal Fishing Permit available at nearly two dozen Cherokee businesses. The daily limit is 10 per permit holder.

Big East Fork of the Pigeon

East Fork of the Pigeon River, also known as the Big East Fork, is known for brook trout and is accessed by the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Big East Fork Trail. The water flows through the Shining Rock Wilderness and the water is very clear. Notable tributaries include the Yellowstone Prong, the East Fork Pigeon, the West Fork Pigeon, and Dark Prong. The Big East Fork sits at a relatively high elevation so the best time to go fishing is  from mid-April to October. 

South Toe

The South Toe should be on every parkway angler’s list.  The South Toe is accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway via Forest Road 472, and its lower reaches have been compared to the highly acclaimed and Blue Ribbon-rated Davidson River. The South Toe River originates from Mount Mitchell a favorite vantage point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Anglers will catch rainbows, browns, and brook trout in the six- to ten-inch range. Along the banks of the South Toe River there are many first come first-serve campsites with amenities in the nearby Black Mountain Campground. This is a great Blue Ridge Parkway trout fishing base camp for anglers looking to explore, hike and catch trout on the South Toe tributaries of Upper Creek, Lower Creek, Big Lost Cove Creek and Rock Creek. The best  time to fish this area is from late March to early November with an emphasis on the spring months.

Wilson Creek

Wilson Creek is one of North Carolina’s top-ranked trout streams with brown and rainbow trout in a variety of pools, runs, and riffles. Wilson Creek has been compared to the streams of Northern California’s Sierra Nevada. You can also explore Wilson Creek’s tributaries such as Harper Creek, Gragg Prong, and Lost Cove Creek. Wilson creek is highly fish-able in the spring and fall months, but may also yield trout in winter on warm days.

Watauga River  in Valle Crucis

The Watuaga River is unique due to the width of the Watauga River and the openness of its banks as it flows through Valle Crucis. This section in Valle Crucis North Carolina is very similar  of the type of rivers found out west. Valle Crucis offers many public fishing access for catching rainbow, brown and brook trout. The best time to fish the Watuaga River in Valle Crucis is from October – June, and is a catch-and-release River.

Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia Best Places To Fish

Rapidan River

Often heralded as the best trout stream in Shenandoah National Park, the Rapidan has long been famous for its fly fishing potential. A former haunt of President Herbert Hoover, this river offers anglers a true native trout fishing experience. It mainly houses wild brookies, usually within the six- to twelve-inch range. Pools here plunge as deep as eight feet and can rival a small living room in size. Certain sections of the Rapidan can be accessed by downhill trails extending from Skyline Drive, while access to the lower section, known for producing the best hatches, is granted via Route 662 through Wolftown and Graves Mill.

When to go: For best results, try to catch the Rapidan during the spring hatch.

What to use: Its brook trout are known for their willingness to tackle a dry fly, so pay attention to your surroundings and try to match the bugs emerging from the surface. It would be ill advised to take a trip to the Rapidan without a few of the river’s namesake bugs, a small rusty colored dry fly known as Mr. Rapidan.

North Fork Moormans River

The Moormans River flows into Charlottesville Reservoir, providing the Blue Ridge town with essential drinking water, but the North Fork of this river, where it flows out of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, is better known for its trout producing potential. A catch and release only stream, the North Fork Moormans is wholly contained by the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. Like the Rapidan, the North Fork provides prime habitat for native brook trout, but sizable browns are not uncommon. Accessing the North Fork is easy. Just head up Skyline Drive and park at the Blackrock Gap parking lot south of Milepost 87, then hike down North Fork Moormans River Road which runs alongside the river. You’ll find an ideal spot soon enough.

When to go: Because it is a wild flowing freestone stream, the North Fork reaches low levels in late summer and early fall, making fishing more difficult. Try to avoid periods of low flow and focus your efforts on springtime fishing, when the North Fork is at its absolute peak.

What to use: Make sure your fly box is stocked with dries like Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis, plenty of bead heads’ nymphs, and terrestrials such as beetles and ants.

Jeremy’s Run

The only stream on our list accessible by way of the Appalachian Trail, Jeremy’s Run is as much about the hike that gets you there as the trout you’ll hopefully land once you arrive. The fish here are small, wily, and wild, and when conditions are right, they’re eager to take a well presented dry fly or nymph. The most convenient access point for Jeremy’s Run is the Elkswallow picnic area near mile marker 22 of Skyline Drive.

When to go: Both the remote nature of this stream and the diminutive size of the wild brookies that call it home make Jeremy’s Run an ideal setting for testing out lighter tackle.

What to use: Take a 4 weight rod with you or a light Tenkara setup, and make sure to pay close attention to water levels. During long dry spells this small mountain stream is known to run low, making fishing difficult in certain areas.

Rose River

Like the Rapidan, the Rose River of Madison County is largely contained by the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park and accessible by the Blue Ridge Parkway’s northern cousin Skyline Drive. The Rose flows out of the Blue Ridge into the picturesque Rose Valley where it supports a hardy population of brookies and rainbows in the shadow of Old Rag Mountain. The section within Shenandoah National Park is open to the public, but beyond that is a stretch of private water owned and managed by Rose River Farms where anglers routinely land trout in the 17- to 20-inch range.

When to go: With spring just around the corner, the time to hit the Rose River is now.

What to use: Relatively light tackle is recommended and fly boxes should be fully equipped with #12 and #14 Quill Gordons and March Browns, as well as elk hair caddis, Mr. Rapidans, Blue Wing Olives, and Harry Murray’s elk hair beetles.

Big Run

The largest stream in Shenandoah National Park, Big Run is remote and wild, but it’s also home to some of the park’s biggest brook trout. To reach Big Run, park at the Doyles River parking area just south of mile marker 81 on Skyline Drive. Follow the Big Run Loop Trail from the Big Run overlook roughly 2.2 miles until you reach the Big Run Portal Trail. Take some time to explore upstream from the portal. Some of the better trout waters can be found near the section where Rocky Mountain Run joins Big Run from the north. If you’re really looking to immerse yourself in the area, bring your backpack along. Of all the streams on our list, Big Run may be the best candidate for a multi-day backcountry fly fishing excursion.

When to go: While fishing on Big Run is best during the months of April and May when insect hatches are in full swing, it is one of those rare streams where anglers often find year-round success. Warm winter days are known to produce trout, while the stream’s steep gradient and deep plunge pool keeps the water cool and productive even in the heart of summer.

What to use: If you’re going there in the next few months you’ll want to stock your dry fly box with quill gordons, American march browns, eastern pale evening duns, little yellow stoneflies, and cinnamon caddis, just to name a few.

Madison Run

The Madison Run is best fished on its lower and middle sections where it flows between Austin and Furnace Mountains. It is accessible via Skyline Drive by parking at the Brown Gap parking area near milepost 83 and hiking down Madison Run Road, but most anglers choose to fish it from the bottom by way of Route 708. This access route requires less hiking and deposits anglers on fishable waters much more quickly than the Skyline Drive option.

When to go: It’s best to avoid this stream when water levels are low, usually during the early fall and summer. Focus instead on spring, the best time to fish the Madison Run, and late fall.

What to use: The brook trout in this quiet freestone are relatively easy to fool with well presented nymphs or standard attractor dry flies.

Other Fishing Information

Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail

The first and only fly fishing trail in the United States, the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, is situated in Jackson County and features some of the best trout waters in the Great Smoky Mountains. The trail marks 15 excellent spots for catching brook, brown and rainbow trout.  Catch the spirit of catching the fish on this YouTube Video, produced by the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority.  Graham County, in the far west, is also a magnet for fly fisherfolk. Download a Graham County Fishing Trails map here.

Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians

Visit this museum in Bryson City with exhibits showcasing the history of the sport in the Southeast, as well as types of gear, gamefish, regional fishing waters and more.

Still-Water Fishing in Mountain Lakes and Ponds

For those who prefer still-water fishing, largemouth bass, whitefish, catfish, pike, and bluegills abound in the region’s myriad lakes and ponds in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains. In deepwater lakes such as Fontana Lake, northern fish such as walleye, muskie, and smallmouth bass are also favorites.
Excellent deep water fishing can be had on the Fontana Reservoir adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A Visitor Center offers interpretive exhibits on the creation and history of the historic Fontana Dam.

Other easily accessible lakes with good fishing include:

Lake James State Park (between Morganton and Marion, NC)
Lake Lure (Lake Lure, NC)
Julian Price Memorial Park Lake (near Boone, NC)
W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir (near Wilkesboro, NC)
Lake Chatuge (near Hayesville, NC)
Santeetlah, Cheoah & Calderwood lakes (near Robbinsville)


Fishing Opportunities for Children

A number of fishing events for children are sponsored by the US Forest Service, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and local businesses to help kids learn fishing basics such as casting, knot tying, tackle selection, catch-and-release, and boating safety. These events offer kids an opportunity to fish for a number of stocked game fish, including mountain trout. The events are free and prizes are awarded, including lifetime fishing licenses, rods, reels, tackle, and fish identification guides.

Fishing Derbies

Every August, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sponsors the annual Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby at the Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds. More than 1,000 children participate annually in this free event, which includes fly-tying exhibitions, fish-cleaning stations, food, music, door prizes, and trophies.

Troutacular! is the state’s newest mountain heritage trout festival, held in June in the communities of Bakersville and Spruce Pine, both of which have been named Mountain Heritage Trout Waters Cities in North Carolina.

Fishing Facts

The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina offer abundant fishing opportunities for anglers of every skill. Literally hundreds of miles of mountain streams, rivers, lakes and ponds provide excellent fly fishing and still-water fishing.

Fishing in National Parks

There are more than 300 miles of streams in the North Carolina region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many are in wilderness areas inaccessible by road. A valid North Carolina or Tennessee fishing license is required to fish anywhere in the park.

Seventy-five miles of streams and 66 acres of ponds are located within the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor in North Carolina. A valid North Carolina fishing license is required, and because in some places special regulations apply, persons wishing to fish in these waters should read the rules printed on signs posted at lake shorelines and along stream banks.

Fishing in State Parks

Two State Parks offer more than 26 miles of trout waters: Stone Mountain State Park near Wilkesboro and South Mountains State Park near Morganton. The basic state fishing license and the special trout license are required to fish these water, and special procedures and fees may be required on certain streams.

Prime Time for Mountain Fishing

May and June are the prime months for trout fishing in the North Carolina mountains. Water temperatures in the streams rise to 50 to 55 degrees, and the fish become more active and plentiful. Insects on the surface of the water also come to life, which in turn stimulates the fish to bite.

NC State Fishing Licenses

Licenses are required to fish the waters of the North Carolina mountains. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission issues a variety of licenses, based on residency and frequency of use. Short-term, annual and lifetime licenses are available. Detailed information on types of licenses and fees can be found on the Commission’s website. Licenses can be purchased online.

Resources and Information

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fish & Game Management
PO Box 302
Cherokee, NC 27819

Bobby N. Setzer State Fish Hatchery
PO Box 728
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768

Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education
PO Box 1600
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
(828) 877-4423

(The Bobby N. Setzer Hatchery and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education are located one mile off US 276 in the Pisgah National Forest near the town of Pisgah Forest.)

NC Wildlife Resources Commission
Division of Inland Fisheries
1721 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1721
(919) 707-0220

Learn More

Check out the North Carolina’s interactive fishing map.