This medium-sized creek is a relatively unknown gem in southwestern North Carolina. Lesser known, only because it is overshadowed by nearby larger and more popular waters.
On The Fly Freshwater
By Polly Dean
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
Located in the Hiwassee River drainage in Clay County, Fires Creek is about 16 miles east of Murphy, off of U.S. Highway 64. Anglers are familiar with the Hiwassee River in Tennessee, but relatively few have fished this tributary to the east. Fires Creek has 10 miles of trout waters on Nantahala Game Land.
Fires Creek begins on the western slope of Tusquitee Bald, running westerly through Clay County. Eventually it empties into the Hiwassee River northeast of the town of Hayesville.
Offering miles of wild trout water, Fires Creek also has a delayed harvest section (since 2013) that runs from October 1 to the first Saturday in June, and a designated Hatchery Supported section that is open April through February (closed in March). Wild consist of mostly rainbows, but browns can be found as well. The stream’s course is a tumbling one offering numerous drops, pools and deep runs.
Picturesque Leatherwood Falls, on the tributary Leatherwood Branch where it joins the main creek, greets visitors on the lower section alongside the parking lot at Fires Creek Picnic Area. Anglers will notice that most visitors using the park aren’t fishermen and you will often have much of the creek to yourself. Both the hatchery supported and the delayed harvest sections are easily accessible by the foot path originating in the picnic area. Signs mark the designated sections of the creek. The hatchery supported area is adjacent to the parking area and runs downstream from the pedestrian foot bridge that crosses the river. .
The author casting in front of Leatherwood Falls.
The DH area begins at the pedestrian bridge and runs upstream for two-plus miles to the bridge at the FS 340A crossing. The DH is catch-and-release only, single hook and artificial lure only during the season, but reverts to hatchery supported regulations in the summer. This section is stocked six times throughout the season with rainbow, brown and brook trout. Latest figures from North Carolina Wildlife Resources indicate that 1,600 fish comprising all three species are stocked in the months of October and November, and again in March, April, May and June for a total of 9,600 trout. The one mile of Hatchery Supported water, which extends downstream to the NC 1300 bridge, receives four stockings of all three species each month beginning in March and ending in June, for a total of 2,100 trout.
A stocked brook trout from Fires Creek
Although the managed sections of the creek get most of the attention, the upper wild trout area is well worth some attention, too. The rainbows and browns generally run a bit smaller than the stocked fish, but trout of 12-inches or larger do turn up.
Fires Creek can be accessed from Forest Service Road 340, which is marked by signs depicting it as Fires Creek Wildlife Road. With much of Fires Creek in a gorge, a foot path originating in the picnic area near the entrance, provides the best access to the creek along the DH section. For anglers preferring an extended stay for fishing Fires Creek, the Forest Service’s Huskins Branch Campground is located on the hatchery-supported portion of the creek, offering primitive camping conditions
Even with higher than normal amounts of rainfall and swollen water levels, Fires Creek can be accessed from the shore, when wading to the next fishing hole isn’t a viable option. Like when on any wild trout stream, stealth and using caution in not allowing the trout to see your movements are key, especially in the upper reaches of Fires Creek.
With multiple plunge pools in this stream fishermen may want to add a little extra weight to get their flies down to the bottom where fish like to hold, while exerting less energy. Clear water can make a deep section appear much shallower than it is, so be aware of this when wading.
One of upper Fires Creek’s wild and colorful rainbow trout.
Fly fishermen will find that much of this stream has plenty of room for casting. You can fish the entire creek with a 4- to 6-weight rod. If fishing heavy streamers, you may prefer a 6-weight Leaders should be at least 7 1/2 feet in length and up to 9-feet in a range of 2x to 6x, depending on whether fishing streamers or dry flies. Waders and felt soles are recommended. If a hot, dry summer, the water can get a little warm in some areas. Otherwise, Fires Creek should provide good fishing year-round.
As far as flies, the sky is the limit with plenty of stocked fish in areas and wild trout in others. Colorful streamers may be the ticket if the water is still high. I had luck with an olive Wooly Bugger. If fishing the upper sections for wild fish try your typical Smoky Mountain favorites or attractor patterns.