Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Nantahala River North Carolina
This Nantahala River fly fishing guide is mostly about the water below Lake Nantahala and in
the gorge below the powerhouse. As mentioned in the introduction page, fishing the Delayed
Harvest section is by far the most popular section to fish. The other areas see fewer anglers.
From March through the month of July, you can keep fish from the Delayed Harvest Area.
This means you will see a lot of bait fisherman there. The other months, it's catch and
release rules. These fish are sometimes quite large. Holdover trout are caught ranging up to
twenty inches on occasions. This area is small stream fishing. It can easily be waded and
fished from the banks in most places. It can also be crowded at times. It's easy to find
yourself fishing upstream behind someone. Keep an eye on the rocks along the bank for wet
As also mentioned, the flows in this area are from the feeder streams upriver, not from a
dam. It isn't a tailwater although it's below a dam. The water bypasses it through a pipe. You
do have to pay attention to the amount of melting snow and rainfall, mostly rainfall, to make
sure you are not going to fish when the water is off color and high.
When you are fishing the Nantahala Gorge below the powerhouse, it's important to check on
the discharge rates and schedule. You don't want to get caught wading out in the middle of
the stream when the water suddenly rises. You must be very careful. You also don't want to
get run over by one of the many rafts or kayaks. This could be a problem if you were
wading. When they are generating power during the summer, normally the only time you can
wade this section of the river is early in the mornings before they start generating.
We have found that nymphs out produce dry fly fishing in the tailwater sections almost all the
time. There are some dry fly fishing opportunities but it's mostly below surface feeding that
takes place. Streamers are also very effective in this section, especially when the water is
slightly off color from heavy rainfall.
In the Delayed Harvest area, it's almost right the opposite. Of course, you can always do well
fishing nymphs but this section offers a lot of dry fly opportunities. In fact, you can catch
trout on dry flies some days even during the middle of the Winter. The recently stocked trout
are not difficult to fool but the larger holdovers that have been in the river for over a year
can be difficult to fool. You are always better off imitating the most available food the trout
have to eat than you are using generic and attractor flies.
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Nantahala River, North Carolina
Photo Courtesy Steven Lamb