The Fabulous Fall Fly-Fishing Forecast

Fall Fly-Fishing in Western North Carolina

Photo courtesy of Cullowhee River Club

By Alex Bell

As fall comes to the mountains and foothills, people get excited for many reasons. In the fly-fishing world, fall means we have survived the dog days of summer and some of the most challenging trout fishing of the year.

This year has been especially difficult in many areas. The combination of above average air temperatures and below average rainfall has been a double whammy. Breaking down the expectations for the upcoming season by state/region will hopefully be helpful and motivate veterans and beginning fly fishers alike to get the long rods out and enjoy our spectacular sport.

Western North Carolina offers fly fishers both large rivers and small streams, including the streams in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the US. Also in the fall, this area has several sections of rivers that are stocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout as part of the Delayed Harvest (DH) System. DH means catch-and-release, artificial single-hook regulations apply from October 1 until the first Saturday in June. The Tuckasegee River in Jackson County receives more stocked trout than any other county in the state.

Shannon Messer of Blackrock Outfitters in Sylva says, “The opening of DH season for fly fishers is as exciting as kids getting the latest electronic games Christmas morning.” His recommendations for fly selection for the DH waters include dry flies such as blue winged olives (size 12-20), midge patterns (18-22) and parachute Adams (12-18). Nymphs include woolly buggers (8-12), girdle bugs (6-10), egg patterns (8-14) and San Juan worms.

Eastern Tennessee has some tremendous fisheries. The South Holston has a reputation for big brown trout and great dry fly fishing thanks in large part to the sulphur hatch that seemingly occurs year-round. “One of the biggest attractions for anglers is that they are fishing for wild fish,” says Blake Boyd, who has fished and guided the South Holston for years and currently guides for South Holston River Lodge. “Neither the browns nor rainbows have been stocked in years.” He adds that in a recent study by the state wildlife and fisheries department an estimated 11,000 trout per mile call the South Holston home.

Boyd explains that the fall forecast varies from year to year based upon the timing of the first frost. In October and November, the sulphurs and blue winged olives are prevalent. Terrestrial patterns—such as beetles, grasshoppers and ladybugs—are still productive flies until the first frost. The Watauga River is another popular fishery in east Tennessee. Boyd says it is more of a caddis fly river and has a good population of striped bass until the weather turns cold and the bass head back to the lake.

Virginia is for trout lovers, and the fall gets people excited about the streams located in the Shenandoah National Park. One of the best guides in the area, Kiki Galvin, shared some of her fall expectations and predictions. “As the leaves change colors, the blue winged olives will be most abundant,” she says. “Orange stimulator flies are effective on the top in the fall. Fishing Adams flies is another favorite that time of year.”

Although she guides mostly in the creeks, Galvin also guides on tailwater rivers where the water flow is controlled by a dam or series of dams. One should always check on the power generation schedule of tailwaters in order to wade safely. She finds midges to be a go-to fly throughout the fall and into the winter, and adds that, up until the first frost, ants in sizes 14, 16 and 18 are extremely productive. “Ant patterns are often one of the most overlooked of all flies in the early fall,” says Galvin, whose guide service is Ms. Guided Fly Fishing.

As you can see, fall is a special time of year for fly fishers. Not only are we blessed with exceptional trout fishing, we get to experience the beautiful foliage and the cool waters of our streams and rivers in this special region of our great nation.

Alex Bell hosts a weekly fly fishing radio show, is the co-creator of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail and owns AB’s Fly Fishing, which guides trips in western North Carolina and east Tennessee.

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