Easy Access and Plenty of Trout
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
The East Fork of the French Broad River is a trout stream that has benefited greatly from management efforts in recent times. For a number of years, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission did annual stockings of trout on the stream, but due to its location predominantly on private lands, it was not a valid public fishing destination. That situation, however, no longer holds true.
While the East Fork used to languish in the shadow of more popular nearby waters, the stream now has a regular following of anglers. As is often the case, that can make weekends a bit crowded on the water. But, with more that 3 miles available and lots of stocked trout, the East Fork can still fish very well.
Rising along the northern slopes of Turkey Mountain, the stream is located in extreme south Transylvania County, tight against the South Carolina border. The fork then flows westward, picking up the waters of the Middle Fork of the French Broad before emptying into the main stem of the French Broad just south of the village of Rosman. Along this course the East Fork is only a small to medium-sized stream, reaching maximum widths of 30 to 40 feet.
The management changes that have improved the East Fork are twofold. First of all, small signs are now positioned along a number of stretches of shore identifying private lands where the owners are cooperating with the NCWRC to allow public fishing. Note that the access is for fishing only, so don’t wander off the stream or plan to have a picnic lunch on the private land.
The second factor is the imposition of delayed-harvest regulations on the stream from its mouth upstream to the East Fork Baptist Church. North Carolina’s delayed-harvest season runs from October 1 to the first of June annually. This year the season closes 30 minutes after sunset on June 2. During this period only artificial lures with single hooks may be used. Dry-dropper rigs are legal as long as each fly has a single hook. Additionally, no trout may be harvested during this time.
Beginning at 6 a.m. on June 3 through September 30, general hatchery-supported water regulations apply, including a harvest limit of seven trout per day per angler.
Along this stretch the East Fork is composed of shallow riffles and sandy flats, interspersed with three small waterfalls and deep pools on bends in the river. In all, there are 3.7 miles of public access, with most right at roadside. Virtually all of the DH section offers easy wading conditions, since the river’s course is through a level valley. Be aware that there are also some posted stretches.
A total of 17,600 brook, brown and rainbow trout are slated for stocking in the East Fork in 2023. In March, 2,700 of those fish were planted in the river, with another 10,800 to be stocked through the end of July. Then in October and November the stream gets another 2,700 each month. All of those releases will be composed of 40 percent each of brook and rainbow trout. The remaining 20 percent will be browns.
The bulk of the trout you are likely to hook will fall in the 8- to 12-inch range. However, some of the fish stocked in the fall that carry over to spring may add an inch or two to those lengths.
Some sources mention that these DH trout get quite wary, having seen about every fly presented to them. When the On The Fly South crew has targeted this water, that was not the case. Especially since new fish are constantly being released in the river, there most always are a number of them that are more easily fooled.
Tossing dry fly attractors such as Royal Wulff or Parachute Adams patterns attracted strikes. If that surface action slowed, swinging bead-head Prince Nymphs, Red Copper Johns or Wooly Buggers across the current would turn the trick. Another option was dead drifting those sub-surface offerings either under a strike indicator or as the bottom link in a dry-dropper rig.
To reach the East Fork of the French Broad River take US 178 south from the town of Rosman. Turn left onto East Fork Road and follow it for 8 miles to the East Fork Baptist Church. All of the public waters are found downstream of the church. Watch for the public access signs, most of which are found at turnouts for parking along the road.