Carolina Steelhead Time

hookers-fly-shop One of the most debated subjects in Southern Troutdom is the existence of the steelhead runs at a number of Western NC lakes this time of year. In the late 1960s the state released steelhead (technically a sea run subspecies of rainbow trout) in a number NC mountain lakes. Regarded by most as a failed effort, until recently biologist have steadfastly held these big silverside running creeks this time of year are not steelhead – but spawning rainbows. Now some are admitting there might be some hybridization which is a bit weird to say when you consider rainbows and steelhead are genetically identical.

Local fishing guides know better. They know that big salmonids running up from the bowels of  Fontana, Nantahala (sometimes called Aquone), Lure and Santeetlah Lakes where they were released nearly fifty years ago have to many characteristics of steelhead not to be a steelhead. This includes the steelhead’s characteristic bright silver coloration. Carolina’s steelhead run into several streams including Hazel Creek and the lower Nantahala River out of Fontana Lake; the upper Nantahala River out of Nantahala Lake; and Big Santeetlah, Snowbird, and West Buffalo Creeks out of Lake Santeetlah. One of the best, most consistent runs is that up Big Santeetlah Creek. Runs peak between mid-October through  November, with the best fishing on the first couple of miles of stream.

Don’t take this old dog’s word for though. Call Jason Cole over Hookers Fly Shop in Sylva, North Carolina to get an up to date report on the steelhead run. He told me that last week he had a group on an overnight trip to Hazel Creek where a brace of 17 and 18-inches long steelhead were caught.

“These fish run now into December,” says Cole. “They are bright silver trout found in the same runs as browns and rainbows on the lower end of Hazel Creek. Steelhead in the 20 to 23-inches range are caught and these fish jump like crazy when hooked.”

Brookings Offering 4-Day Hazel Creek Trip

Grab your group and make your reservation for four days and three nights of camping and fishing Brookings-style. We will only do two or three of these trips a year, and they inevitably go down as some of our favorite fishing memories. This trip is great for groups of two to six people with pricing according to number of people and food menu, but it’s always a reasonable price for a no-worry laid-back camping trip full of fishing, eating, and stories by the fire.

Brookings Hazel Creek TripFirst of all, the fishing will be great. You can expect brown trout, rainbows, and brookies. Fish gladly take dry flies and nymphs, and anglers can use as light of tackle as they please. There are thousands of wild fish in Hazel Creek making for active days of fishing and some seriously good fish frying in the pan for supper.

The guided Brookings trip is scheduled for May 12 through 15 and will be their first Hazel Creek trip of the year. Contact Brookings now to get first dibs for your gang. Everyone will meet at Fontana Lake in Bryson City, NC. There all will load gear onto special off-road carts and hop on a pontoon boat to ferry us across the lake to the mouth of Hazel Creek. The trail to the campsite follows the river the whole way and is pretty much flat, a mild a pleasant hike. Once we get to the campsite, you unload and start fishing. There are miles and miles of fishable water right at the campsite, so you can go 10 feet or 10 miles.

The guides prepare all the food, so you just sit back and enjoy. There’s breakfast, snacks and sandwiches for lunch, and always a great dinner in the evening. You can count on good food made with fresh meat, eggs, milk, and fruits and vegetables. For more info call 828-743-3768 or contact Brookings’ Cashiers Village Anglers; 49 Pillar Drive, Cashiers NC 28717 or visit to save your place, and then gather your pals and get ready to do some fishing and some campfire sitting in a beautiful setting. The guides will be doing all the work: guiding, cooking, cleaning, setting up and taking down the campsite, and even pulling the carts. It’s a fantastic trip with great scenery, tons of wild fish, good food, and a fun and relaxing time to be had by all.