Bernie's Fishing Tales
Updated: 04/06/2023 • Bernie Gilchrist
Greetings fellow fly-fishing enthusiasts! Spring has finally arrived and for me, it's the best time of the year. The rivers, creeks, and streams of Western North Carolina are calling, and I can't wait to cast my line and feel the tug of a big trout on the end of it.
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains, living in Sylva gives me access to some of the best fly fishing on the east coast. From April to June, I spend as much time as possible chasing after Rainbows, Brookies, and Browns that inhabit the waters just outside my front door.
I'm fortunate enough to live right on the old Tuskasegee River, which is known as the mother river for the Cherokee. Some mornings, I even get to wet a fly before heading off to work. It's an incredible lifestyle, and I'm grateful to live in such a small mountain town that has so much to offer- it's truly a dream come true.
As I stand by the crystal-clear waters of Sylva, I can't help but feel a sense of awe and wonder. This small town nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains is known as The Trout Capital of North Carolina, ( https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/fishing/ ) and for good reason. The oldest running rivers on earth run through these lands, producing trophy trout in all directions.
As the sun rises over the misty mountains, the sound of the rushing waters echoes through the valleys, inviting fishermen from far and wide to try their luck. With so many streams and rivers to choose from, each with its unique charm and character, it's no wonder why Sylva has become a haven for fly-fishing enthusiasts.
The rivers here are teeming with a variety of trout species, including Rainbow, Brown, and Brook trout. These trophy trout offer a real challenge for even the most experienced anglers, but the satisfaction of landing one is unmatched.
But Sylva ( https://www.romanticasheville.com/sylva.htm ) is not just a destination for fishing. The town itself is a charming gem, full of Southern hospitality, rich history, and scenic beauty. From the quaint downtown area to the stunning waterfalls and hiking trails in the surrounding area, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Life here in Sylva is just sweet, and I can't imagine living anywhere else. So, come on down and experience the best fly fishing on the east coast.
If you're planning a trout fishing trip this spring, let me make a few recommendations on where you'll find the best fishing waters. There are several trophy rivers that run right next to Sylva, and I highly recommend downloading this comprehensive Flyfishing Trail Map for your convenience. https://cdn.discoverjacksonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/WNC-FlyFishing-Trail-2022.pdf
With this map in hand, you'll be able to navigate the area with ease and find the perfect spot to cast your line. The rivers, creeks, and streams in this area are bountiful with Rainbows, Browns, and my personal favorite, the native Brookie. So, here are my recommendations…
The Mother River of the Cherokee:
One of my all-time favorite spots to cast a line is the Tuckasegee River, (https://www.visitsmokies.org/smoky-mountain-blueways/tuckasegee-river/ ) which runs just below the charming town of Webster, NC. As the largest mountain river in Jackson County, the Tuck, as the locals call it, is a haven for world-class trout fishing. The name Tuckasegee comes from the Cherokee language, meaning Slow Moving Turtle, and it's easy to see why. This well-stocked river offers plenty of opportunities to land hosses in one of the most beautiful mountain valleys you'll ever see.
However, be sure to get there early, as this stretch of river can get crowded with anglers. It's been a popular fishing destination for locals for centuries, so competition for the best spots can be fierce. But, trust me, the breathtaking scenery and excellent fishing are well worth it.
And if you happen to get hungry, Cullowhee and Sylva are both just a quick five-minute drive away, offering plenty of options for a satisfying lunch. To find the Tuckasegee River, simply Google directions to Webster and make the drive - you won't be disappointed. Parking is available on both sides of the road and even in the nearby church parking lot next to the bridge. For more information, check out fishing run #12 on the Fly-Fishing Trail Map. (https://cdn.discoverjacksonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/WNC-FlyFishing-Trail-2022.pdf )
In short, if you're a fly-fishing enthusiast looking for a memorable experience on the Tuckasegee River, be sure to head to Webster, NC. With its slow-moving waters, well-stocked trout, and picturesque mountain valley setting, it's the perfect spot for an unforgettable fishing adventure.
Pure Solitude Fishing:
For those seeking a truly wild and adventurous fishing experience, I cannot recommend Panthertown Creek enough. (https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/trails/panthertown-valley-trail/ ) This area is the last true wilderness forest on the East Coast and has been aptly named the "Yosemite of the East Coast." The feeling of solitude and connection with nature is truly transformative.
While it may be a bit of a hike to reach the creek from where you'll park, the reward is well worth the effort. Once you arrive, you'll likely have the creek all to yourself as it is so remote. And with the single-hook-only and catch-and-release rules, the trout in this area are abundant and healthy.
Panthertown is a place to escape from the stresses of daily life, and you'll feel it with every cast you make. The stunning natural beauty and peaceful surroundings make it a perfect place to connect with nature and unwind. However, I would recommend hiring a local guide if you want to tackle this creek. The area can be challenging to navigate, and a guide can help ensure you have the best experience possible.
Be sure to check out fishing hole #5 on the Fly-Fishing Trail Map ( https://cdn.discoverjacksonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/WNC-FlyFishing-Trail-2022.pdf ) to learn more about this incredible wilderness fishing destination. Whether you're a seasoned angler or a novice looking for a new adventure, Panthertown Creek is a must-visit for anyone seeking a true wilderness fishing experience.
Mountain Stream Fishing:
Let me tell you a story about my two favorite honey holes, the Caney and Moses Creeks. These clear, crystal waters are just down the road from my house and are always a fun and exciting adventure. As I make my way down the winding dirt road towards the creek, I can feel the excitement building within me. I can almost hear the water rushing over the rocks and feel the coolness of the air that surrounds it.
When I arrive, the first thing I notice is the incredible beauty of the area. The lush green trees, vibrant wildflowers, and the sound of the water all come together to create a truly magical experience. It's like stepping into another world - a world where the only thing that matters is the thrill of the catch.
These small streams produce the coveted and famed Brook Trout, ( https://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Fish/Brook-Trout ) and I have had some of my best fishing days on these waters. The Brookies are truly a treat to catch, as they are not stocked like they used to be. They say that the best way to know a mountain stream's condition is by the number of Brookies produced, as these fish can only thrive in waters that are pure and unpolluted.
That's why it's so important to maintain these waters here in Western North Carolina. We must work together to keep them clean and free of trash. Every time I fish these waters, I make sure to pack out anything I take with me, and I always pick up any trash that I come across. It's the least I can do to help protect these precious resources for future generations to enjoy.
If you're looking to experience the thrill of fishing on these clear, sparkling waters, then head over to the small streams #2 on the Fly-Fishing-Map ( https://cdn.discoverjacksonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/WNC-FlyFishing-Trail-2022.pdf ) for directions. Just make sure to avoid any posted lands and remember to leave the area better than you found it. These honey holes are truly special, and we must work together to preserve them for years to come.
Seek Higher Elevation for Wild Trout:
Looking for a high-elevation fishing experience for Wild trout? Look no further than the Whitewater River ( https://diyflyfishing.com/whitewater-river-north-carolina/ ) near Cashiers, NC in the high plateau. Here you can cast your hopes for Brookies, Rainbows, and Brown trout, all of which are wild. Unlike other trout waters in the area, the Whitewater River is less pressured, providing a more peaceful fishing experience. While the river may be challenging to access in some areas, staying above the waterfalls will ensure a safe and enjoyable fishing trip. The river's shaded areas and cool waters make it an ideal summer fishing spot, complete with small falls and pools with gentle riffs. Kayakers also love this river, so keep an eye out if you plan on wading. And don't forget to take in the breathtaking views of the Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, with the upper falls dropping 411 feet, for a combined total of over 1,500 feet with the lower falls. This natural wonder is known as the "East King of Waterfalls." (https://www.wncwaterfalls.info/waterfall/23/whitewater_falls ) For more information and directions, be sure to check out #7 on the Fly-Fishing-Map. ( https://cdn.discoverjacksonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/WNC-FlyFishing-Trail-2022.pdf )
Let me tell you a story about one of the sweetest and most pristine places on earth for trout fishing, created by the Cherokee Indians. They have taken their love for fishing to the next level with their own hatchery and river management. But that's not all, they have even established their own government to regulate the waters of the Cherokee Qualla Bounty. This means that if you want to fish there, you will need to buy a separate fishing license.
Now, let me tell you, getting a license is worth it. You can find information on how to get a license on their website. (https://visitcherokeenc.com/play/outdoor-adventure/fishing/?gclid=CjwKCAjwoIqhBhAGEiwArXT7K98qIZ5vKsmHMR91QE3aylFQHCn7_R--6zpa2N76LnPa6hnu9koNHRoCREIQAvD_BwE ) If you don’t have online access, you can find local venues that sell one-day licenses for just $10.00. Just ask a local, and they will guide you. Cherokee has over 30 miles of streams which they claim to be the longest stretch of professionally managed fishery in the Eastern United States. And they aren't kidding when they say they have some of the best and most stocked rivers found anywhere in America.
In these waters, you'll find some real hosses! Rainbow, Brook, Brown, and even Golden trout are all waiting for your presentation. The thrill of catching these magnificent creatures is unparalleled. But it's not just about fishing, the area is also known for its beautiful surroundings, which provide a serene and picturesque setting for fishing just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ( https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/nc-2-do.htm )
They also have their own fish hatchery too! ( https://theonefeather.com/2021/08/16/tribal-trout-hatchery-undergoing-major-renovations/ ) This hatchery ensures that the rivers remain stocked with plenty of fish for years to come.
When you need a break, you can stop for lunch and choose from many restaurants that are in Cherokee. And while you're there, keep an eye out for eastern Elk ( https://www.romanticasheville.com/elk-cherokee ) as they often come to the rivers to drink and play. I love seeing these majestic beasts cross the rivers as I am emerged in nature chasing Rainbows!
If you want to learn more about Cherokee fishing, check out their website. ( https://visitcherokeenc.com/#home ) Trust me, you won't regret it!
If you do not know your way around the Trout Fishing Capital of North Carolina, ( https://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/fly-fishing/trout-towns-8-fly-favorites/ ) then I suggest hiring one of my good friends as a guide. Checkout these professional guide services if you want to catch the BIG ones:
The Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in Sylva, NC ( https://www.tuckflyshop.com/ )
Ab’s Fly Fishing in Sylva, NC ( https://www.abfish.org/ )
Blue Chip Fly Fishing in Whitter, NC ( https://bluechipflyfishing.com/ )
Brookings Anglers in Cashiers ( https://www.brookingsonline.com/ )
Carolina Trout Guide in Jackson County ( https://www.carolinatroutguides.com/ )
If you need more information on where to fish then check out the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail! https://www.flyfishingtrail.com/
Just one last River thing…
In addition to the beauty and abundance of fish, the waters in Western North Carolina are known for their crystal-clear clarity. The clear waters make for an even more rewarding fishing experience, as you can see the fish swimming and striking your lure. The importance of maintaining the health of these waters cannot be overstated. The streams and rivers here are delicate ecosystems that require clean water to support the fish and other wildlife that depend on them. That's why it's crucial to take care of our environment and do everything possible to preserve it. When you're out fishing in these waters, remember to follow the Leave No Trace principles and pack out everything you bring with you. And if you see any trash in the water, please pick it up and dispose of it properly. By working together to maintain the health of these waters, we can ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the same beauty and abundance of fish that we enjoy today.
Thinking about moving here?
As I sit here on the banks of the Tuckasegee River, with my line in the water and the sun setting behind the Blue Ridge Mountains, I can't help but feel grateful for where I am. This is the Fly-Fishing Capital of North Carolina, and I have the pleasure of calling it my home.
I've spent years exploring these waters, from the Tuckasegee to the Nantahala and beyond. And I can tell you with confidence that there's no better place for fly fishing on the east coast.
But it's not just the fishing that makes this place so special. It's the mountains, the people, and the way of life. If you're looking for a place to call home, I'd love to help you find it.
With my years of experience in the area, I know all the best places to fish and live. Whether you're looking for a secluded cabin in the woods or a house in town, I can help you find your dream mountain home ( https://www.berniegilchrist.com/buy/ ) and save you time and money.
So come on up and experience the magic of these old mountains for yourself. And when you're ready to make them your home, give me a call or start your search right here on my website.
Tight lines, my friends and I’ll See you on the river!