It’s never cold when you’re catching fish.
~ Rob Fightmaster
The Big Picture
“Delayed Harvest” is a regulatory term describing a stream with unique, seasonal restrictions. Many streams are stocked by the state throughout the year and are managed as “put-and-take” fisheries. In other words, they stock the streams with trout and expect anglers to keep the fish. Typically, a variety of angling methods are permitted on these streams, including the use of live and organic bait. I typically don’t like to guide these streams throughout the year because they get a lot of pressure and basically don’t provide an atmosphere that I find appealing.
However, a couple of these streams are located in beautiful mountain settings and managed under delayed harvest regulations from mid-October through March 1st. During delayed harvest, the state stocks these streams again, usually with large rainbow trout. They are catch-and-release, artificial only. This provides not only a great opportunity for large fish but also an excellent cold weather destination.
Type of Fishing
This is all frontcountry fishing in mid-size mountain streams. While fish size varies slightly from year to year, you can usually expect to be casting to large rainbows, some possibly as large as 24-inches! Some dry fly fishing is possible during the early stages of DH, but as we get into late fall and certainly winter, expect to mostly be nymph and streamer fishing.
Access and Physical Demands
Most of the places we’ll fish will be near the road so hiking will be minimal. These are still mountain streams so steep banks and rocky, sometimes slippery bottoms are common. These trips are in late fall and winter so it will likely be cold! These streams aren’t particularly close to anything so expect a little longer drive time getting there. Trips are available as full day only.
Best Times to Go
There is a little variation from stream to stream but most of these regulations begin in mid-October and end at the first of March. Unlike the wild trout of the Smokies, these stocked fish tend to feed well regardless of water temperature, so as long as the roads aren’t too icy to get there, good fishing is likely. The safest bet and probably the absolute best months to go are November and December. These streams see very few anglers during the week but can get a little congested on weekends. Book weekdays if you can.
What to Bring
I provide water and soft drinks on all guided trips, while full day trips also include a tasty streamside lunch. I recommend Rods in the 8’ – 9’ range for 4-6 weight lines. You need full waders this time of year and dress for the weather. Some days may be mild but mostly these are cold weather trips. Consider long underwear and warm socks, maybe more than one pair. Fleece pants can be great insulation under waders and you should plan on layers up top to adjust to changing weather through the day. Wool or fleece gloves and a warm hat should take care of the rest.