Wild Trout Water

Wild trout are fish that successfully reproduce and live in our streams year-round.  The NCWRC does not generally stock fish on top of known populations of wild trout, and Trout Unlimited discourages stocking on top of a self-sustaining trout population. In North Carolina, we have wild populations of three major families of trout:  brookies (which are our only NATIVE) trout, and browns and rainbows – which were introduced to our waters in the late 1800s.

Brookies need our coldest, most pristine water in which to reproduce and survive.  This is generally found in the headwater portions of the state’s wild trout streams.  Rainbows tend to gravitate toward faster, more oxygen-rich water and do best in larger streams when it comes to growth. Their life span is only about four years, so growth is rapid and can only occur where there is sufficient food.  Browns tend to like the lower, slower water, the deep pools, undercut creek banks, big logs and such. They can also thrive in warmer, less pristine water than the other two species.

On those days when the Davidson is too full of other fishermen or too much water, nearby Avery Creek, another Davidson tributary, provides an alternative. This is a wild trout stream so expect small rainbows and browns averaging about 6″. The stream is located off NC 276 about halfway between NC 280 and the junction with Forest Service Road 475. Just remember to turn at the sign for the stables.

The Davidson is North Carolina’s destination trophy trout stream and is full of large trout that have frustrated even the most experienced anglers. Don’t venture into these waters unless you are mentally prepared to be skunked by some very experienced fish. The secret to catching fish here is either sight fishing with large streamers to wary browns or repeatedly drifting #22 nymphs past the noses of waiting fish.

One of the most popular places to fish is near the fish hatchery shown on the map. Because the hatchery releases a lot of nutrients into the stream there is a large supply of food for the fish and they get large. Also because of the nutrients, the stream has a large midge population which calls for using very small midge nymphs in the #18-22 range. If you are not skilled in very technical nymphing methods then it is worth it to hire a guide for a least a half day to improve your skills and reduce the frustration. Most of this stream is managed as a catch and release, artificial flies fishery from the headwaters down to Avery Creek–below that to the USFS boundary, it is a hatchery supported stream.


Looking Glass Creek is a major tributary of the Davidson River but is best accessed from above Looking Glass Falls as there is only a short section between the falls and its confluence with the Davidson. The stream follows route NC 276 up the mountain and there are numerous pullovers and parking areas along the stream. Because of the easy drive-by access, pressure on this stream is high. It is managed as a wild trout fishery.

The South Mills is a wonderful wild trout stream 30 minutes from Asheville.  It offers a mix of open and brushy settings with a variety of water types.  You can reach the stream on foot in 10 minutes from the Turkey Pen parking lot but the farther upstream you hike the better the fishing.  Wet wade it in summer.

Fish are wild and hungry here.   If you don’t spook ‘em, you’ll likely catch ‘em.  In summer expect relatively low water.  Be stealthy and work riffles, pockets, slots and shady spots with attractor dries like #16 Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wullf’s etc.   In deeper water adding a small dropper nymph like a PT or Hair’s Ear can help when fish are unwilling to surface feed.  Fish light, a 2/3wt or Tenkara is all you need and there is no reason to be on heavier than 6X tippet.  If water is up, smaller streamers (#10/12) are a good fall-back. These are wild fish, go barbless and please use good catch & release techniques.

You can also access the South Mills River from the headwaters by driving to the Pink Beds and following the trail downstream.  No matter where you start, make sure you have a trail map, food/water and a day pack with what you’ll need for the day.  Check the forecast because once you’re an hour or two into the drainage you’re going to have to cope with whatever weather comes your way (and you can’t see it coming).   It’s a good place to go with a friend.

I think I fish, in part, because it's an anti-social, bohemian business that, when gone about properly, puts you forever outside the mainstream culture without actually landing you in an institution.

John Gierach