The Jacob Fork Conundrum

This North Carolina stream is a crowded fishery – but only some of the time!

On The Fly Freshwater

November 2021

Article by Jimmy Jacobs.

There are a number of things that set Jacob Fork apart from other waters that have delayed-harvest trout regulations in North Carolina. These range from its size, to its location and even the odd fishing pressure it receives.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

This stream rises in southern Burke County and the portion open to public angling is located completely in South Mountain State Park. Once out of the park it flows eastward to eventually join the Henry Fork in forming the South Fork of the Catawba River. Although technically in the foothills region, the upper portion of this creek more resembles a freestone mountain flow.

Jacob Fork was one of the early streams to get delayed-harvest regulations, being added not long after those rules were first applied to the Nantahala River. It also is one of the smallest creeks having that designation. From October 1 to June 3 only single hook artificial lures are allowed and no fish may be harvested.  No fishing is allowed at all after sunset on June 3, with the angling restarting at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of June 4 under regular Hatchery Support regulations, but only youths under the age of 18 may fish. At noon on that day, the creek then opens to all angler.

Even in the DH section Jacob Fork is not a big flow. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As to fishing pressure, the creek is only about 75 minutes from Charlotte, making it that metropolis’ closest trout stream. Thus, you might expect it to get hammered by anglers. Once the DH season ends, that is true, but during the catch-and-release period Jacob Fork draws surprisingly smaller numbers of fishermen. During the months of July to September, you likely will have the DH section to yourself, despite there being some holdover fish present.

Jacob Fork receives a single stocking of trout in each of the months of March, April and May, as well as October and November. Each of those releases consist of 800 rainbows, 800 brook trout and 400 browns, for a total of 10,000 fish for the year. These fall in the 8- to 12-inch size range.

Polly Dean with a DH section rainbow. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

South Mountain is the Old North State’s largest state park, stretching across 18,000 acres of highlands that range from 1,200 feet of elevation, up to peaks of 3,000 feet. There are two entrances to the park; the Clear Creek Access lies at the western end of the facility, but the one important to anglers is the Jacob Fork Access at the east end.

A trail system of 49 miles of pathways wind through this expanse, with some trails rated as very strenuous. On the other hand, the paths along the lower Jacob Fork where the 2.5-mile DH section is located are rated as easy. Those provide ready access to this fishing.

Some of the trails in the park follow the beds of the Upper and Lower CCC Roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Work crews from Camp Dryer in Enola laid those out, along with cleaning up the area’s stream beds.

In the wild trout section the water is small and casting conditions tight. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The DH portion of the creek runs from lower park boundary, upstream to the junction with Shinny Creek (pronounce Shiny). That is about half a mile from the Hemlock Nature Trail parking area, where the park’s entrance road ends. Above their confluence both flows are small and open under Wild Trout regulations. Here the fishing season is open year-round, but you still must use artificial lures with single hooks. A creel limit of four trout is enforced and those fish must be at least 7 inches in length. Most trout encounter in these upper areas will be small colorful rainbows. Roughly another half mile upstream lies 80-foot High Shoals waterfall on Jacob Fork.

The bridge over Shinny Creek. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As noted, even in its lower section the Jacob Fork is not a big flow. Its saving grace with regard to fly fishers is the extremely rocky stream bed spreads out enough to allow decent casting room. Many of the boulders along and in the stream are as large as ATVs. The water rushing past them forms lots of deeper pockets and pools. Still there are other section where the stream is composed of shallow riffles.

The trout in the wild section are mostly rainbows. Photo by Polly Dean.

During warmer afternoons, some dry fly action is possible. Most buoyant and easily seen attractor patterns, like Irrisistibles, Royal Wulffs or Adams Parachutes should work. The stocked brookies in deeper pools ordinarily pounce on small Wooly Buggers as well. But, as with most fall and winter fishing, nymphs work better through most of the DH period.

Don’t expect these stockers to be particularly picky or skittish. As long as you are not thrashing around in the water and you move slowly, they likely will accommodate you.

Access along the DH section is good starting at the parking lot at the bridge that leads to the Equestrian Campground. There also is a nice run just at the lower end of that camping area that usually holds fish. From the parking area you can follow the Turkey Ridge Trail upstream for good access, until it crosses the creek and heads up into the mountains.

Moving upstream on the park’s entrance road, the Family Camping area offers the next easy access. From here the River Trail follows the east side of the creek upstream to cross a bridge to the Hemlock Nature Trail parking area. From that point the Hemlock Nature Trail runs along the north side of Jacob Fork up to Shinny Creek. There the High Shoals Falls Loop runs south along the creek to its namesake waterfall.

The jump off point for the upper Jacob Fork. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

If you’re looking for a relatively uncrowded fly-fishing option in the Charlotte region, Jacob Fork can meet your need for most of the year.

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