Copyright 2014James Marsh
Fly Fishing The Thompson River North
The Thompson River is the most remote of any of the
several streams that flows across the state line from
North Carolina into South Carolina's Lake Jocassee. It
starts out on the Bearpen Mountain not far from
Highlands North Carolina. The closest point a road gets
to the major part of the stream is on state highway #281
where the road crosses the river. The stream is heavily
fished in the nearby areas at that point. Below highway
#281, the river is in Gorges State Park and it remains in
the park until it flows into South Carolina. There's also
one stretch of the Thompson River than flows through
Nantahala Game Lands thats above the highway.
Like the other rivers in the Gorges State Park area, the
Thompson has several waterfalls. Big Falls, also called
Thompson Falls, is the most popular one. As with the
other streams in the area, the Thompson River is better
known for its waterfalls than its trout fishing
opportunities. This river drops 1750 feet in just over
four miles. It has some small tributaries - Mill Creek,
Reid Creek and others. There are seven major
waterfalls and some minor ones on the Thompson
River. None of them are accessible by road.
Due to its remoteness, most of the trout in its waters
probably never see a fly. The Thompson River Trail
roughly follows the stream for about five miles from
highway #281 to Lake Jocassee. It's actually an old
logging road. Moat all of the trails in the Thompson
River area are poorly marked.
From state road #1152 (in the headwaters of the
Thompson) downstream to Reid Branch, a small
tributary stream, the river is under the state's wild trout
regulations. All waters within Gorges State Park is
under wild trout regulations. The stream is known for its
brown trout but it also has some wild rainbow trout. As
with the other streams that flows across the NC/SC
state line, this one is stocked with fingerling rainbow
and brown trout in South Carolina's waters above Lake
Jocassee. This makes it possible for some of them to
get up into the Thompson River in North Carolina
waters but the fingerlings quickly learn to behave
almost identically to wild trout if they survive.
Other than the highway #281 area, which is heavily
fished, the only way to reach this river below its
headwaters is to hike using the Foothills system of
Trails. This is a series of trails that's approximately 75
miles long that wonder through this area in lower North
Carolina. Any trail you take, is going to require a long
hike. There's one other possibility, depending on
whether or not the Duke Power Company has the
Musterground Road open. It's a gravel road that
reaches the stream in the Bad Creek Project that stays
closed at least part of the time according to the locals.
The shortest hiking route is over three miles long and it
departs from South Carolina's Bad Creek Project.
There are other routes but they all are longer. This
means that most of the Thompson River below highway
#281 is rarely fished.
Most of the trout, at least in the highway #281 area, are
brown trout that range from 8 to 12 inches, although the
first and only one I have caught there measured a full
16 inches. It was taken from a pool not far downstream
of highway #281. Two others, caught that same day by
Angie, were both under 12 inches. We only fished the
stream, one at a time for about two hours.
This river probably has few areas where the water isn't
dropping from one plunge pool to another. There are
few riffles, rather mostly all small, deep extremely clear
pools. The brown trout are in the pools and the few
runs that may exist. We have only seen a short section
of the four miles of river below highway #281 and other
areas may vary but based on the declination of the
river, I seriously doubt it.
We suggest you fish very early or late during the time
the skies are clear. Fishing on low pressure days, when
there's good cloud cover, will make the "catching" much
easier from this type of stream. There's little, if any,
cover in the stream unless a tree happened to have
fallen in the river. The larger brown trout hide under
crevices in the rocks and boulders during the day. In
this type of water, you are far better off fishing a nymph
in all the deep, dark likely places you can find as
opposed to fishing a dry fly. The smaller browns do take
dry flies at times but catching a large one on a dry fly is
like trying to win the lottery.
The best time to catch a large brown from this stream
(or any other similar one) is during the Fall spawning
season when they loose much of their caution. I'm not
suggesting you fish for them on their redds but rather
prior to the actual spawn, although I doubt anyone is
going to do much harm to the trout population in this
stream. I would guess over ninety percent of its waters
are never fished.
The season runs year-round
Trout can be caught on most warm winter days.
Fly fishing the Whitewater River during the Springtime is
the best time to fish it.
Summertime may get a little slow due to warm water
Fall is a great time to catch a large brown trout
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