On The Fly Freshwater
Article and Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
For several decades the North Mills River was usually overlooked when it came to trout action in northwest Henderson County, North Carolina. It is a picturesque stream formed by headwater tributaries flowing down from the portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Elk Pasture Gap to the west and Grady Fork Gap on the east. Yet, still it was under-utilized.
That was due to the reputation of its sibling flow just to the south. The South Mills River had made the 100 best trout streams in America list from Trout Unlimited multiple times, thus the north fork languished as a hatchery-supported after thought.
That all changed when delayed-harvest rules were introduced on the North Mills River. Now anglers regularly visit the stream in the period from October through early June. That’s when the waters are heavily stocked. It also is when catch-and-release, single-hook, artificial-lure angling is mandated.
A North Mills River rainbow.
In total, 13,000 trout are stocked in the North Mills annually, with 12,000 of those released during the DH period. As with most Old North State plantings, the fish are 40 percent rainbows, 40 percent brookies and 20 percent browns. Most of these fish are in the 9- to 12-inch range, but some larger fish also are stocked.
The North Mills River flows out of the Hendersonville Reservoir. This water supply impoundment floods the junction of Big and Fletcher creeks, which also marks the actual start of the river. From there the North Mills flows southeast for four miles across North Carolina Game Lands and is open to public fishing. Because the outflow of the reservoir is over the top of the dam, the water in the river warms too mush to support summer fishing.
The river does hold some larger, deeper pools.
During the DH months, tossing dry flies on warmer days can work, particularly if you see fish rising. Attractor flies can fool the recent stockers. Also have a Blue-Winged Olive or Black Stonefly pattern on hand, since cool-weather hatches of those flies are common in this part of North Carolina.
Most fish, however, fall for streamers or nymphs, either dead drifted or swung across the current.
Access to the river is provided by North Mills River Road (County Road 1345) that leads to North Mills River Recreation Area. The water around the campground at this location gets the bulk of the stocked trout.
Overall the stream is small enough to wade, with a few deeper pools in the lower section, though most of the water around the campground tends to be broad and shallow. One particularly good pool is just upstream of where the river bends north away from Yellow Gap Road (FS 1206) as that road heads west out of the North Mills River Recreation Area. At that point, foot traffic is allowed on an old intersecting, gated road that runs up the west side of the North Mills.
Heading to the pool off Yellow Gap Road.
To reach the upper portion of the North Mills, take Wash Creek Road (FS 5000) north out of the recreation area. At its dead end at the Trace Ridge Trailhead, a steep, but well-worm trail leads down to the water, offering access to the portion of the river downstream of the reservoir dam.
Through here the stream is smaller, with foliage tighter along the shores. The fish are also fewer and a bit more wary than their cousins down near the campground. Up here, don’t ignore any water that offers 18- to 24 inches of depth.
Be aware that parking fees are required in the North Mills River Recreation Area and at the Trace Ridge Trailhead, so have some small bills on hand.