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Trout Capital, North Carolina: Soon To Be Jackson County?

leah kirk

Jackson County appears to be on its way to becoming the trout capital of North Carolina after county leaders unveiled a plan last week that’s been in the works since last summer.

“Anything that we can do to encourage tourists to come to Jackson County we ought to try to do, and I think we already recognize that we have this remarkable resource in Jackson County — the public waterways. It’s already being utilized and is such a treasure in Jackson County,” said County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan, who spearheaded the effort with Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Spiro. “It just makes sense to try to do what we can to further enhance it and to promote it.”

Jackson County has 4,600 miles of waterways within its borders and receives more than 92,000 stocked fish from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission each year — more fish than any other county. Jackson also contains three of the 13 towns in the state designated as a Mountain Heritage Trout Water City. Those are Sylva, Dillsboro and Webster, which are joined in the far western counties by Bryson City, Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

“All of the things that come together, it just seems to me like it’s a perfect fit for us to be the trout capital of North Carolina,” McMahan said.

Jackson County isn’t waiting for a General Assembly vote to start promoting the title. Last week Spiro unveiled a new website,, and a Facebook page to assert Jackson’s eminence for anglers. The site includes everything from fishing reports to information on where to fish and what to catch, to listings of restaurants and attractions for visitors to check out while they’re in town. It also links to the website for the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, an initiative the Chamber completed in 2009 to give visitors a single source to find the best fishing spots in Jackson County.

““This is not meant to be a replacement to the fly fishing trail,” Spiro said of the trout capital initiative. “This is meant to be an enhancement and a complement to an already-successful tourism product.”  The trail is here to stay. Since its inception, the Chamber has printed 175,000 maps — it’s proven popular.

“I foresee our community embracing this in many ways, from the creation of a new festival, to restaurants expanding their menus with more trout offerings, accommodations creating packages with guide services, outfitters and restaurants,” Spiro said. “This potential designation bolsters the success of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail and gives us another way to brand our area.”

The Trout Capital initiative has widespread support in Jackson County, but discussion was kept closely under wraps until leaders were ready to announce it last week. The announcement was timed to land right before the General Assembly’s short session began, with hopes that other counties eying the Trout Capital title for themselves wouldn’t have time to cobble together a case for the designation before Jackson County’s resolution found passage in the legislature.

“It’s been a long, painstaking process, and probably the hardest part was keeping it close to the vest — the fly fishing vest of course — before it got out because we have other places close by that had tried to copy the (fly fishing) trail and that sort of thing. I’m sure if the word got out, there would be others who wanted to try for trout capital,” said Alex Bell, a fly fishing guide who’s a board member of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority.