30 Great Places: Pisgah National Forest

Region: Southern Appalachia
Activities: Fishing
Species: Brook, brown and rainbow trout

Where: The Pisgah National Forest is a 500,000 plus acre wonderland of hardwood forests, mile-high peaks and rushi

ng rivers situated along the eastern edge of the mountains of western North Carolina. It was the first national forest established east of the Mississippi and is home to two of the first wilderness areas designated in the east—testament to its abundant resources and appeals.

Why: Trout fishing contributed $338 million to North Carolina’s economy in 2014. Without cold, clean waters coming off of the Pisgah, our trout fisheries would come nowhere close to generating this economic benefit. But ask any angler and they would tell you that the value of these fisheries and the Pisgah National Forest go far beyond dollars and cents.

The Pisgah offers abundant access to several of the Southeast’s premier trout streams and native brookies in countless “blue line” waters.

“The ecological diversity and attractions of nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park are well-known, and the Pisgah has many of the same attractions,” said Josh Kelly, Public Lands Field Biologist with the conservation group Mountain True. “In fact, Pisgah was included in the original plan for Great Smoky.”

There are some five hundred miles of fishable trout water in the three sections of the national forest; its best known river is the Davidson.

“The Davidson is known for its prolific hatches – midges, Blue-Winged Olives, Little Yellow Sallies, Light Cahills and green drakes – and the potential to produce really big fish,” Kelly continued. “Every year, trout of 28 inches or 30 inches are caught. But these fish see a lot of pressure, and the angling isn’t easy.”

Wilson Creek and its tributaries also attract anglers.

“The clarity of the water is off the charts,” Kelly enthused. “Fishing isn’t hatch-specific there, it’s all about a getting good drag-free drift. Many anglers go to dry and dropper combos and try different combinations until they find one that works. On the small streams, patterns don’t matter much, but you need to be stealthy. If the fish see you, it’s over.”

Inside Knowledge: Carry terrestrials—especially caterpillar imitations – in the summer.

“Many of our streams in the Blue Ridge are shaded by hardwoods, and caterpillars love the leaves,” Kelly explained. “If they fall into the water, the trout are on them. Most of the best patterns are green.”

TU Initiatives:
Trout Unlimited, in partnerships with American Rivers and the U.S. Forest Service, has been working to remove dams and replace culverts with fish-friendly passageways, thus restoring connectivity for streams in the Pisgah. This benefits brook trout migration, and other species, including the endangered hellbender salamander. TU has also partnered with the Forest Service and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to identify streams that historically held brook trout but no longer do, and to plan reintroductions where possible.

Make a Difference: Want to give back to the fisheries you love? Connect with your local TU chapter and help with conservation projects in your backyard, youth education and lots of other rewarding ways to ensure a bright future for our coldwater fisheries in great places like the Pisgah National Forest.

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…