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Trout streams in Western North Carolina are cold, clean streams swiftly moving under and over rocky terrain. The wild brook, rainbow, and brown trout are part of the culture and history of these mountains.

Fishing is a fun activity for the whole family, whether you choose to fish from the banks or learn how to wade into the rushing currents. New to fly fishing? Book a trip with The Catawba Angler and learn from the experts!

This region is home to a variety of trout streams, many of which are open for public fishing, subject to the rules and regulations of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission:

Public Trout Fishing Streams in McDowell County, N.C.

Click here to learn more about each of the stream classifications and their associated regulations, open seasons and signs.

Check out the N.C. Interactive Fishing Access Map for more information on specific locations, including driving directions and the fish species you’ll find there.

Catch and Release/Artificial Flies and Lures Only Trout Waters (more info)

  • Newberry Creek (game land portion)

Delayed Harvest Trout Waters (more info)

  • Catawba River (portion adjacent to Marion Greenway)
  • Curtis Creek (game land portion downstream of the USFS boundary at Deep Branch)
  • Mill Creek (U.S. 70 bridge to I-40 bridge)

Hatchery Supported Trout Waters (more info)

  • Armstrong Creek (Cato Holler lower line downstream to upper Greenlee line)
  • Catawba River (Catawba Falls Campground to Old Fort Recreation Park)
  • Little Buck Creek (game land portion)
  • North Fork Catawba River (headwaters to North Cove School at S.R. 1569 bridge)

Many of the streams throughout Pisgah National Forest also fall under the Wild Trout Waters classification.

Fishing in Old Fort — A Mountain Heritage Trout Town

The town of Old Fort is designated as a state Mountain Heritage Trout Town, which allows the public to access a 0.7-mile section of Mill Creek between Main Street and the I-40 bridge.

The creek is classified as a delayed-harvest trout stream. Anyone wishing to fish can purchase a special 3-day Mountain Heritage Trout Water license for $8, and anyone who already has an inland fishing license does not need to purchase an additional license.

Leave your rod and reel at home? No problem! Visit the Mountain Gateway Museum to take advantage of the Tackle Loaner Program where you can check out a rod and reel for the day, just like a library book! Youth under 16 can also receive a free mini-tackle box when they register with the program. Borrowed equipment should be returned before the close of business the same day.

Who needs a fishing license?

Youth under the age of 16 may fish without a license. Anyone 16 or older needs to purchase a license before heading out to the stream — even if you’re going with a guide.

Short-term, annual and lifetime licenses for inland fishing — as well as the Mountain Heritage Trout Water License — may be purchased online here or by phone at 888-248-6834, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Bonus tip: Your inland fishing license will also allow you to fish for many varieties of popular game fish at Lake James State Park.

Download the full guide to public mountain trout waters in McDowell County here.

Download the 2023 Public Trout Waters List here.

Participating Attractions