Cherokee Qualla Tribal Waters are located in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina, and adjoins the Great Smoky Mountains National Park . The Newfound Gap Road (US441) provides the link between the two. The Cherokee Tribal Waters include Straight Fork, Raven Fork and the Oconaluftee River after they exit the GSMNP. As soon as Raven Fork exits the GSMNP, it meets up with Straight Fork and then continues along the Big Cove Road until the confluence with the Oconaluftee River which is in the GSMNP. The Oconaluftee River remains briefly in the GSMNP, then after exiting the park, if flows through the town of Cherokee where it is accessible until it exits the Tribal Lands. In addition to these streams, there are two ponds that are regularly stocked with trout.
The Raven Fork is a beautiful freestone mountain stream that flows from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is extremely difficult to access inside the park but it is very easy to access from the Big Cove Road while in the Cherokee Tribal Waters. The Oconaluftee River is a wide easily accessible, easily wadeable stream as it flows through the tribal Lands. It can be accessed anywhere along the streets of Cherokee.
Today the 30 miles of streams on the Cherokee Tribal Waters are stocked regularly and managed by the Cherokee Fish and Game . Each year adds nearly 400,000 trout to an existing population of fish swimming in the crystal clear waters making it the most heavily stocked streams in the USA. The species that are regularly stocked in various sizes up to trophy sizes are rainbow, brook, brown, golden and Donaldson. Occasionally, a palomino trout which is a hybridized strain of golden trout and a rainbow can be caught as well.
All rivers and ponds are open every day from the last Saturday in March through the end of the following February. For 2010, the season begins March 27. A $7.00 tribal permit for each person 12 years of age and over is required to fish in Cherokee streams and ponds. Children under twelve are allowed to fish with a permitted adult. Two, three, and five-day permits are available at a reduced rate and a season's permit costs $150.00. Cherokee Reservation and North Carolina Fishing Permits can be purchased at locations throughout Cherokee including the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.No other type of fishing license is required nor accepted on the reservation.
There is a new catch-and-release section for fly fishing only. The stretch is more than two miles – from the Blue RidgeParkwayBridge on Big Cove Road to the River Valley Campground. An additional $20 annual permit is required in this section. The tribe offers three handicapped fishing piers that accommodate wheelchairs. One is located at the fishing ponds in Big Cove and two are along the OconalufteeRiver in downtown Cherokee.
Fishing the Cherokee Tribal Waters:
Fishing the Oconaluftee River and the Raven Fork in all seasons is much the same as fishing those same waters in the GSMNP with the exception being the greater stock levels and the “Catch and Release” portions of the Tribal Waters. The Catch and Release portion offers an excellent opportunity to catch a trophy trout.
Brook trout commonly feed on or near the surface at 40º water temperature, so you can fish year-round. Rainbows and browns get active at 45º and above making spring an excellent time to fish the Tribal Waters.
Summer provides good fishing due to the heavy stocking programs and the usual fly patterns will work well. Fly fishers are often seen in waders, which keep them warm and dry and can provide a good grip under foot. However, in the summer months, the waters are warm enough (in the 60º range) that wading in shorts can be very pleasant. It is an especially good place for the kids to fish and the Cherokees often have special events.
Fall and Winter:
The colder the water is the more sluggish the trout become. Since trout spawn in October, that would be a good time to enjoy the catch and release section of Raven Fork, and take the pressure off the other streams.
View Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fly Fishing Guide in a larger map