This popular trout stream in North Carolina offers three styles of angling!
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
For most anglers the Davidson River near Brevard, North Carolina can provide a bit of a conundrum. This flow is rated as one of the southeast’s top blue-ribbon fisheries, as it begins at the junction of Rockhouse and Cedar Rock creeks in the Pisgah National Forest to the west of U.S, Highway 276. The upper catch-and-release section of the river spans the area from the headwaters upstream of the twin facilities of the Pisgah Center for Wildlife and Bobby N.Setzer State Fish Hatchery down to the mouth of Looking Glass Creek. It is not uncommon to spot some very big trout in this part of the river. On the other hand, fooling those fish into taking your fly is another matter. It can be frustrating.
Farther down river, along US 276 through the national forest property, the fishing can be easier. That area is stocked on a put-and-take basis, but most of the fish are cookie-cutter sized 9- to 12-inch trout.
So, is there another option on the Davidson? To answer that query, On The Fly South checked it out. The start of that search began at the Davidson River Outfitters shop that is on US 276 and the shores of the river. The reason for that stop is that DRO has a fishing lease on the Davidson from their location downstream for three miles to the river’s confluence with the French Broad River.
Along this fly-fishing-only stretch DRO allows a maximum of just 12 anglers. This part of the stream is full of trout averaging 14- to 17-inches in length. Add to that numerous fish in the 18- to 22-inch range, plus some even bigger ones, and you have a prescription for outstanding fly-casting action. To sweeten the deal even more, anglers can book half or full days of unguided fishing, or choose to be joined by one of the shop’s experienced guides.
For our day on the DRO portion of the Davidson, we opted to walk in just downstream of the Ecusta Bypass bridge over the stream. The trail took us from a parking area on the Davidson River Road, through a field overrun with kudzu and into the streamside forest. The pathway popped out on the river shore, below a low-head dam and water intake facility.
For the most part the river ran from knee to waist deep, with a gravel and sand bottom. Those factors made for easy wading condition, as the current flowed through mild riffles between deeper pools and runs.
Associate Editor Polly Dean started the action off by targeting some deeper water immediately below the little cascade coming over the dam. Drifting a bead-head nymph through the trough, she got the first strike of the day. Upon bringing it to hand, it turned out to be rock bass, rather than a trout.
Suspecting that the calmer flow in which she was casting was not the best trout habitat available, I suggested targeting some of the faster water. Almost before finishing my mansplaining, she was into another fish, this time a 14-inch, feisty and brightly colored rainbow. A few casts later, Polly pulled another strong ‘bow from the same run. At that point, I started asking her advice.
Over the next few hours, we targeted several other pools, some of which featured rising trout. A No. 14 Parachute Adams fooled some of these rainbows in the 14- to 15-inch sizes. A chartreuse Inch Worm pattern also put some fish in the net. Still, the bigger fish we knew were in the pools were eluding us.
Coming to a pool where the water coming out of the upstream riffle butted up against a large rock, then meandered slowly through a deep run beside the boulder, I decided to switch off to a No. 8 black bead-head Wooly Bugger. Tossing the fly out and letting the current sweep it into the pool proved the charm. A hard strike was followed by a 17- to 18-inch rainbow leaping clear of the water, then ripping downstream. In the process, the fish tossed the fly back to me.
Changing our tactics to offering these bigger flies and getting them down in the water column resulted in Polly and I netting several of these trout measuring from 16 to 17 inches long.
As we have now entered the summer months, a better rig for fishing these waters is likely to be a hopper-and-dropper. Such a rig gives you shots at trout that are watching the surface for the summertime terrestrial “hatch,” while also offering a tidbit deeper in the flow.
While you are in the shop signing up for a day of fishing, you’ll want to check out the full line of gear offered. Also, look over the board with suggestions for flies that have been working recently. If you see some listed that you don’t have, that is not a problem. Just browse the ample array of patterns in their fly racks.
Probably the most valuable thing you can take away from DRO is advice from owner Kevin Howell and his staff. They are all knowledgeable anglers with plenty of experience on the Davidson and surrounding waters, all of which they are glad to share.