Fishing the waters of the High Country is a practice almost as old as the High Country itself.
For generations, fishing has provided sustenance for early settlers and respite in modern times from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, as countless lines have been cast and hooks baited to catch some of the most prized fish the region has to offer.
North Carolina is home to hundreds of miles of fishing waters, with trout, in addition to smallmouth bass, walleye and musky, among others.
“Anywhere you see a stream, if it is more than about three-feet wide, it’s got trout in it,” Kelly McCoy, owner of RiverGirl Fishing Company in Todd, said.
Hot spots for landing the big catch locally are along the Watauga and New rivers, some portions of which are stocked. Local fishing shops offer a great opportunity for visitors and newcomers to the sport of fishing to get a leg up, with some companies offering tours and tips gleaned from their vast experience on the local waters.
“Probably half of the people we take fishing have definitely not fished before, and a lot of them have not fished at all,” Foscoe Fishing Company owner Slate Lacy said.
According to Lacy, his company leads most of its operation at the Watauga River, where an 8- to 10-inch fish is a prime catch, though it’s not out of the question to hook a fish as large as 16 or 18 inches.
Lending to the popularity of catching fish in the High Country is the picturesque scenery surrounding a day at or on the water, according to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission fisheries biologist Kevin Hining.
“I think a lot of it is just the scenery — for the same reason folks want to go to the mountains in general,” Hining said.
Besides the visual “hook,” High Country waters offer the chance to land three kinds of trout: Brook, brown and rainbow. NCWRC recommends that those interested in catching the trout varieties should try dry flies, streamer or nymphs that imitate natural foods. Worms or corn work well for hatchery-related trout, while spinners, spoons and crankbaits are also feasible options.
For those with other varieties of fish in mind, NCWRC officials are finding that smallmouth bass fishing continues to trend upward.
“Up here, what we’ve found historically has been trout fishing, but we’re finding more and more people that are getting interested in smallmouth fishing,” Hining said.
Rivers, including the New, the Watauga and the Nolichucky, all have solid smallmouth fisheries. Known for their “fight,” smallmouth bass will bite a variety of artificial baits, especially those in orange and brown patterns that resemble crayfish, according to the commission.
Safety and access are among the two most important factors to keep in mind when venturing out toward the waters. A vast majority of streams will require crossing private property, so keep an eye out for no trespassing signs. If you’re not sure where you are allowed on the property, check with the landowner first.
Those looking for a family-friendly adventure will find a number of local ponds and lakes during the summer that are stocked with fish, including some with piers.
In Watauga County, Price Lake outside Blowing Rock is stocked with multiple varieties of trout, as well as bullhead and redbreast sunfish. Lake Coffey on Beech Mountain also includes a pier for easy access.
Banner Elk’s Wildcat Lake and Grandfather Trout Farm, as well as Ashe Park Pond in Jefferson, also make for family-friendly spots to catch “The Big One.”
A number of fishing companies in Watauga and Ashe counties offer outfitting and/or guide services. Among those business (with phone numbers in parentheses) are Foscoe Fishing Company and Outfitters (828-963-6556), Appalachian Angler (828-963-5050), Elk Creek Outfitters (828-264-6497), RiverGirl Fishing Company (336-877-3099), Rock On Charters (540-520-9629) and Watauga River Anglers (828-963-5463).
What to know before you go
Before hitting the waters to land that record fish, it’s important to remember a few friendly pointers to make your fishing experience a memorable one for all the right reasons:
• Fishing licenses are a must. Licenses are required for most adults and range in cost from $10 to $20 for individuals, depending on the type of license sought. Licenses are available at local sporting goods stores, superstores, general stores and outdoor shops.
• A little research can go a long way. Some river portions allow only artificial, single-barb lures or require catch-and-release sanctions during certain seasons. Following the proper guidelines for a respective body of water will not only prevent any violations, but may prove helpful in knowing what baits work best in a given fishing hole.
• Take advantage of the information available about the area. NCWRC offers a searchable “Where to Fish” map online by clicking to www.ncwildlife.org/Fishing/WhereToFish.aspx. The map helps fishermen locate public fishing areas and trout streams based on location, fish species or by type of access (piers, boat ramps and/or universal access).
Western North Carolina is a sportsman’s paradise and generations of hunters have been coming to the High Country for our ample supply of deer, turkey, raccoon, and other game animals.
Of course, deer hunting is the most popular form of hunting in the High Country.
In Avery County, deer season is Sept. 12 through Oct. 1 and Oct. 17 through Nov. 19 for crossbows and bows and arrows, Oct. 3 through Oct. 15 for muzzleloaders and Nov. 21 through Dec. 10 for rifles and guns.
In Ashe and Watauga counties, deer season is Sept. 10 through Nov. 4 for crossbows and bows and arrows, Nov. 5 through Nov. 18 for muzzleloaders and Nov. 19 through Jan. 2 for rifles and guns.
You can read North Carolina Wildlife’s hunting restrictions, limits and seasonal use of different weapons here: http://www.ncwildlife.org/portals/0/Regs/Documents/2011-12/2011-12_Hunting.pdf