NC's Top Smallmouth Rivers
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The four most commonly discussed Smallmouth Bass fisheries are discussed. The New
River is the most commonly fished.

Smallmouth bass provide one of the best stream fishing experiences and North Carolina's Appalachian Mountains and foothills provide one of the best Smallmouth fisheries. Smallmouth's love the cool waters, the structure and flow that these streams provide. An ideal Smallmouth stream will range range between the 50's and the 70's with rocky outcroppings, steep banks, ledges, drop-offs and deep pools. Floating the upstream New River for smallmouth bassWhen these conditions exist there is a guarantee of good baitfish, insects, and crawfish supplies and thus good catch-able fish. Luckily, our western NC streams have this and are easily fished too boot. We have an ideal fishery.

Our best NC smallmouth fisheries rivers are good to either float or wade. You will easily catch smallmouth from 8 to 12 inches in the 1/2 to 1 pound range. Larger smallmouth will be rarer and up to 15 inches long and 2 pounds with a few trophies in the 16 to 20 inch size and up to 5 pounds. Lake fish will be typically be even larger. The NC state record is a 10 pound, 2 ounce from Hiwassee Lake near Murphy. Unfortunately, lake fish rarely move out into the rivers according to fishery biologists.

Four rivers, the New, French Broad, Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers are ranked as NC's best smallmouth streams. Each river is productive for smallmouth with good public access. Some of the water is reachable but much of the most productive water must be floated with a canoe or kayak. This is good because these streams flow through beautiful country adding to the experience. There are a number of liveries that will help facilitate the trip plus good camping, etc.

Enjoy fishing for smallmouth be trying one of these four most productive streams.

New River Outfitters - U.S. 221 bridge for river conditions, fishing reports and canoe livery service.
(800) 982-9190 -- EMail

The New River is probably the best known, if not the most productive, smallmouth river in NC. The New has a South Fork and a North Fork. The South Fork is the more popular. Its most fish-able area starts in the New River State Park near Jefferson and then flows northward for more than 50 miles. There are several road right-of-way access to the water along this stretch. The Park itself offers three access areas sporting primitive campgrounds with tables and grills. These three are:

  • Wagoner Road Access Area - one mile north of Wagoner off State HW 88. There are nine campsites and a take-out ramp at the campground.
  • U.S. Highway 221 Access Area - three miles west of Scottville off US 221. Here there are 15 primitive campsites.
  • Alleghany County Access - in remote, northwestern Alleghany County. Here there are eight campsites which are accessible only by canoe and not be car.

The New owes much of it productivity to its low drop and mild rapids. Conditions are ideal during early summer but good year round. Shoals empty into long pools and these pools are where the best action for smallmouth. Also fish the current where they may be good drop off and similar structure. Float trips are fabulous fishing and beautiful as well. Float trips will also offer many good stop and wade areas near some very good pools.

There will commonly be 40-50 fish days. These fish will mostly be modest fish in the 8 to 12 inch range. Again, target the pools but do work up stream. These pools will contain abundant shiners, crawfish and sculpins. Cast small crawfish imitation (crank baits) toward the bank and retrieve with moderate speed. Fly fish with popping bugs and various streamer patterns.

Note that part of this river is in Virginia. Virginia recognizes a reciprocal fishing license agreement with NC for the New River between the Alleghany Access to the U.S. 221/21 bridge crossing near Independence, Virginia, in Grayson County.

The French Broad River is a larger water than the New and often will yield bigger smallmouth. The French Broad is large and often deep. It contains many boulders and has numerous gravel bars and sand bars. This habitat is why the French Broad contains so many smallmouth. Two pound fish are not totally uncommon and 3 to 5 pound fish are caught. For these bigger fish try crawfish imitations and minnow imitations (crank baits) in the slacker or deeper pools. This is very productive.

There are several nice stretches including:

His favorite stretch flows downstream from the Brown Road bridge, an impromptu right-of-way access in Madison County, a couple miles off U.S. Highway 25/70 near Walnut. For four miles north to the Stackhouse access, the river is a relatively remote float with little or no drive-in access. A few strong rapids are found here near Sandy Bottom, and the river is large.

  • Downstream from Stackhouse off of US 25 is Lonesome Mountain Road. This is rugged travel so do not try it with just any vehicle. You will need a canoe or kayak because of the swiftness, etc. Take out at the HW 209 bridge near Hot Springs. This is very good structure and channels and is thus very productive. There are places to camp but none are improved. I would check before I went.
  • Downstream from Hot Springs Route 1304 offers good public access. There are many good place to come out for a shorter trip. Longer trips may take you into Tennessee where SR 1304 turns away from the river at the Madison County line.

This can be a tougher river to navigate thus be prepared, careful, and safe.

The Little Tennessee River is also a larger river to float. Many feel there are lesser and smaller fish here although it has good fishing with some nice sized fish. Some also say it is not as pretty to float as some competing rivers.

The best know smallmouth fishery on the Little Tennessee starts Porters Bend Dam downstream of Lake Emory (north of Franklin) to the Tellico Bridge at Needmore Road off state Route 28. This is about 20 miles. Wading, rather than floating, is often better here. There many types of water and smallmouth will be caught somewhere on this river with nearly any kind of smallmouth bait.

The Hiwassee River is considered by many to be a less productive fishery. Catches of large fish will often be lower although smaller fish catches will be numerous. One of the larger drawbacks is that there is much private land.

Have fun with these wonderful resources, but check the regulations before you go. There are minimum keeper lengths and they change throughout the rivers flow. Please check with the "Regulations Digest" or the "Division of Marine Fisheries" to insure you have the right rules before you fish.

These tools are commonly recommended by our authors and readers. JRJ -- Feb. 13, 2003
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