Illustration by Duane Raver
Scientific Name: Oncorhyncus mykiss
Classification: Game Fish
Abundance: Mountain region in the western part of the state.
Rainbow trout (Illustration by Duane Raver)
Rainbow trout (Photo by Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)
Rainbow trout state record (20 lbs, 3 oz; Horsepasture River, Jackson County on 1/28/06)
The Rainbow Trout is named for the broad, lateral stripe on its sides, which ranges from pink to red. Its back is olive-green, and its belly is whitish with heavy black speckling on all fins and the entire body. Rainbow Trout are native to the Pacific drainages of western North America but have been introduced throughout mountain streams in North Carolina. As with other trout, rainbows inhabit streams, rivers, ponds and lakes with good water quality and temperatures that rarely exceed 70 F. They have a tendency to hang out in faster currents, such as riffles and swift runs, more so than Brook Trout or Brown Trout. Young Rainbow Trout feed on small aquatic and terrestrial insects. Adults eat a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects, as well as crustaceans, fish and other small vertebrates.
Brook, Brown and Rainbow trout require cold, clean water and are therefore generally restricted to mountain streams and lakes. Those mountain waters that support trout and are open to public fishing are designated as “Public Mountain Trout Waters” by the Wildlife Resources Commission and are managed for public trout fishing. A significant number of trout fishing opportunities in western North Carolina are located on private property. These landowners have generously allowed public access for fishing. Please respect their property. Your cooperation is needed to protect fishing opportunities for future generations. The Commission conspicuously marks Public Mountain Trout Waters with regulation signs that indicate locations for public access. When anglers encounter “posted against trespass” signs along these designated sections on private lands, they should respect the property owner’s rights and choose another location along that stream to fish. Maps of trout water and their classifications may be viewed at ncwildlife.org/trout.
Inland Fishing Regulations
Regulatory authority between the Wildlife Resources Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries. Inland game fish regulations include Manner of Taking, Seasons and Using Trotlines and Set-hooks.
General Mountain Trout Regulations
Mountain Trout Regulations: Counties A-M
Mountain Trout Regulations: Counties N-Z
Fishing dry flies, streamers, and nymphs that imitate natural foods works well. This method is especially popular in North Carolina’s many streams that support wild trout. Fishing baits, such as worms and corn, are highly effective for catching hatchery-reared Rainbow Trout. Spin casting small spinners, spoons and crankbaits can be productive as well. Be sure to check the current trout fishing regulations on the type of lures allowed as well as the size limit and creel limit for a particular trout water before fishing.
Check out the interactive Public Mountain Trout Waters map to find good places to catch trout.
2020 - Public Mountain Trout Water angler survey: Exploring characteristics of recreational trout anglers and attitudes towards reduction of regulatory stream classifications (PDF)
2015 - Trout Anglers' Participation in and Opinions on Trout Fishing in North Carolina (PDF)
2015 - North Carolina Landowners' Attitudes Toward Trout Fishing Access
2015 - Mountain Trout Fishing: Economic Impacts on and Contributions to North Carolina's Economy
2009 - The Economic Impact of Mountain Trout Fishing in N.C. (Full Report - PDF)
2009 - The Economic Impact of Mountain Trout Fishing in N.C. (Executive Summary - PDF)
2009 - The Economic Impacts of Mountain Trout Fishing in N.C. (Two-page Summary - PDF)
2019 - Engaging North Carolina's Trout Anglers and other Stakeholders to Help Conserve Eastern Hellbenders (PDF)
2018 - Winter Trout Stocking in Community Fishing Program Ponds in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg Counties (PDF)
2017 - Economic Impacts & Contributions of Mountain Trout Fishing to North Carolina's Economy (PDF)
2017 - Mountain Trout Fishing: Trout Angler Opinion Survey (PDF)
2017 - Mountain Trout Fishing: Understanding Landowners' Views (PDF)
2016 - Persistence and Movement of Stocked Trout in North Carolina Streams (PDF)
2015 - Use of Trail Cameras to Assess Angler Usage on Trout Streams (PDF)
Trout Fishing in North Carolina
Mountain Heritage Trout Waters Information and Map
Trout Fishing Maps: N.C. Fishing Access Map
NC Freshwater Fishing State Record Program
NC Angler Recognition Program (NCARP)
The Economic Impact of Mountain Trout Fishing in N.C.
Trout Sign Maps and Regulations (PDF)