Bryson City, North Carolina
On The Fly Freshwater
By Jimmy Jacobs
The small pocket of calm, slick-surfaced water hugged close against a little patch of dirt, rock and tree roots that split the current bringing water out of a side channel behind a large island. The surrounding flow was kicking up small white crests as it blasted down the rocky course to join the main river flow. But, that little bit of holding water simply looked too good to bypass.
It took some maneuvering, but I managed to get just upstream of the hole and drift a Prince Nymph down into it. The line tightened and came alive with the unmistakable feel of something animate on the other end. A quick few moments later, a 14-inch downtown Bryson City rainbow trout slid into the landing net, was photographed and released.
Mentioning good fishing in the delayed-harvest section of the Tuckasegee River usually doesn’t raise an eyebrow. That stream has been providing great action through the fall to spring months in North Carolina for a couple of decades. However, most of those memories of fine days on the river center around the village of Dillsboro. But that is not the only part of this flow that is making a mark in fly-casting circles.
Farther down river at Bryson City in Swain County, a separate 2.2-mile section of water also is managed with delayed-harvest regulations. This portion of the river was a late-comer to the game, having gained the DH status in 2015.
From the U,S. 19 Highway bridge at the eastern end of the city, downstream to the Slope Street bridge in downtown, the river is open to catch-and-release, single-hook-only angling from October 1 to early June each year. And, like its cousin upstream, this flow is quite user friendly.
The best way to have a great day on the river and learn a few of its secrets is to do a float trip through this DH area with a guide. Fortunately, you have at least three great local choices for such an adventure. Listed alphabetically, Bryson City Fly Shop, Mac Brown Fly Fish, and Tuckasegee Fly Shop all are first rate and offer guided floats on the river.
If you also need some gear, drop by Bryson City Fly Shop at 17 Ela Lane for a good selection and great advice from Eugene Shuler. Or you can visit with Dale Collins at the Tuckasegee Fly Shop at 3 Depot Street for the same quality service and inventory.
As for Mac Brown, you can expect to have plenty of shots at fish, with the added bonus of being on the water with a great fly-casting instructor.
Once familiar with the water, you also have some options for do-it-yourself wade trips at Bryson City. Starting at the upstream end, the Mercer Private Public Use Riverfront Park is located on the north side of the river, 1/2 mile downstream from the U.S. 19 bridge on Old River Road. As the name implies, this is private property, but the owner graciously allows anglers to park and wade into the adjacent shoals and shallow flat.
Another 0.4 mile along Old River Road you’ll see some pull-outs along the road side. These are directly across the river from Naber’s Drive-In (which is a good place to grab a hamburger for lunch while fishing), and offer access to more wadable areas.
A final public access option is found downtown at Bryson City Island Park. This site is at the end of Bryson Street, where you find a few spaces to park. A short path and foot bridge take you out to the island, which has picnic tables and walking trails. More importantly, the island provides access to a couple of wading options.
The entire back channel behind the island is wadable and fishes like a small stream. Best areas are at the deep pool at the bend just above the foot bridge, or at the very upper end of the channel, where the flow is bordered by an old stone wall.
Your other option is to concentrate on the river side of the island. While quite shallow toward the upper end, farther downstream it has deep holes and fast currents. Through here you need to hug the shore, while presenting your flies into those areas.
While the upper delayed-harvest section on the Tuck is the most heavily stocked water in the Old North State, this lower section also gets plenty of trout. Releases of fish take place in October, November, March, April and May annually. These stockings are composed of equal numbers of rainbow and brown trout. However, unlike the bulk of North Carolina’s hatchery-supported flows, the lower Tuckasegee gets no brook trout.
The most recent stocking data from 2021 showed that the lower Tuck received 27,050 trout. Each of the five months 2,705 of each species were planted in the river.
While you are in Bryson City, you need to plan some time to also drop by the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. It is chocked full of great exhibits detailing the history of the sport in the surrounding mountains, fly collections and vintage gear. They also have an aquarium that is located near the island park.