Prospecting for New Water
It has been awhile since I last wrote a blog but one of my most requested topics to write about is how to find new water in Western North Carolina. I am happy to share my process as well as the methodology behind finding new water but please realize that these tips are specific to WNC although they should be applicable elsewhere.
First thing first, when I am prospecting for new water what I do and how I do it changes depending on what I am trying to target. Generally speaking, there are 3 types of stream prospecting that I typically do. What I look for changes depending on if I am looking for big brown trout, native brook trout, or just to add another wild water stream to my ever growing stream map. I will give a brief overview of how I approach finding these three things in the mountains of WNC, remember I am based out of Boone NC.
Let's start with the easiest of the 3, finding new wild water to add to your rolodex, shoutout to people who known what a rolodex is #oldpeople, of fishing spots. The best place to start for this goal is to buy some topographic or hydrological maps of your local area. Boone is my local area and I typically fish anywhere within an hour radius of my home. I bought three maps that show 3 different areas that I typically fish. The Grandfather Ranger District Map is excellent for finding small water streams on the backside of Grandfather Mountain as well as Lost Cove Creek area and down into Wilson Creek Area. I have a map for the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Lastly I have a map of where Southwest VA, TN, and NC all meet. You can find these maps at your local outfitters or online. To find a new wild stream I look for elevation, water flow, and how easy it is to get to. Generally speaking, wild streams are small to medium sized watersheds that start high up and trickle down and expand due to tributaries they gain as they descend in elevation. Water flow can take a bit of scouting to figure out but simply put if there is a healthy amount of water, riffles, and plunge pools you should have the habitat and oxygenated water to hold wild trout. Lastly, how accessible is the stream? I know plenty of wild water streams you can drive right up to, hop out, and start fishing. However, the majority of the quality wild water I fish is not easy to access. I find most recreational fly anglers in my area are not willing to bushwhack and hike a few miles to see if a creek holds fish when the option of the tailwaters in TN is only a hour drive away. If you are like me though, the journey there is a major part of why I enjoy fly fishing and what motivates me to find new water. In summation, if you get a good map look for more remote bodies of water that start high in elevation and cascade down, as they cascade down the amount of water should increase, and there should be good water flow and structure within the target creek. If you can check a couple of these off as you are prospecting there is a good chance you are in wild trout water.
Brook Trout are a scared fish in WNC, especially if you are not in the Smokies, as they are our only true native trout, and before someone comments… yes I know they are technically char. Nothing beats the riot of color and ferocious eats that Brook trout display in the fall. I have had some of my best fishing days throwing dries and micro streamers to native Brook Trout and as such it is always a pleasure to find a new hidden gem that contains these precious fish. Before I help you find these fish please use extra caution when fishing for native Brook Trout. Fish with barbless hooks, don’t wear felt bottom boots to avoid bringing parasites from another body of water, practice catch and release (there is a special place in hell for people who eat native brook trout, the ninth circle of hell to be specific) and lastly when you find a Brook trout stream keep it secret, keep it safe. The two biggest things I look for when searching for a Brookie stream is elevation and old growth forests. Brook trout typically live above 3,000 feet in elevation, although you can find them lower if the water is very healthy. Elevation also ensures colder water temperatures and oxygenated water. The second criteria, old growth forests, is more based off of a mixture of history and ecology. WNC was logged extensively in years past which had a devastating effect on Southern Appalachian Brook trout populations. So much so that in later years the Northern strain of Brook Trout was reintroduced into damaged areas for ecological reasons as well as sport fishing. The Southern Appalachian Brook Trout does not survive and breed well in captivity. After the deforestation by early logging companies legislation was enacted that required logging companies to plant so many trees for every tree they took. Old growth forests and the creeks they hold are a safe bet to hold native brook trout as they either avoided the effects of logging or have had time to rebound and become healthy again. Next time you a fishing in WNC pay attention to the size of the trees in the area you are fishing. If the trees are all small to medium sized trees the area you are in was most likely logged and the trees were probably all planted around the same time. However, if there are a lot of old, mature trees as well as free standing dead trees you are more than likely in an old growth forest. These are the tools and methods I use to find Brook trout streams, use them wisely and tread with care while fishing for them.
Lastly is how I find streams that hold big brown trout. This one is less of an exact science than the other two and aspects of how I find wild water as well as brook trout are used here as well. I usually look for medium to large size creeks that are not easily accessible. Another thing to look for is if the target creek runs into a larger river or lake. If it does there is a good chance there are residential browns of a larger size in the creek as well as some true monsters that venture up the creek for the colder water. The next step in a lot more time intensive and challenging than the previous steps, which is why Brown trout are my favorite to try to find. You have to go fish the water several times. If I am trying to assess if there are big fish in a stream I typically fish all day with streamers, not even necessarily with the intent of catching one. I want to move the big fish and see how many I move and in what sections of the creek I move them. This will give you a decent indication of the size and quantity of big fish the creek holds. This one is not a sure fire way of finding big browns in small water but it is the method I use. There is a lot of trial and error that goes into finding these big fish and when the stars align, the conditions are right, and you have put in the work, you might just find your new secret fishing spot.
There are always other factors and variables that you could and should consider when exploring new waters and prospecting for certain types of fish. I hope the brief glimpse into how and why I do what I do to find certain types of water or fish has been helpful. If you have any questions comment below. More importantly, if you have success using any of these tips please let me know!