Cherokee Rainbows Munching on Salmon Eggs

By Chris Shaffer | 03/28/2014

Trout season in the Southeast is ready to blast off as soon as tomorrow in some states. And, while many states have been planting fish throughout the winter, the largest numbers of stocked rainbows, browns and brooks in this part of the country will take place in April and May.

This past week, Team Pautzke spent countless hours surveying the trout landscape in the mountains of South Carolina and in Cherokee, North Carolina, and quickly realized Cherokee belongs near the pinnacle of trout fishing in The South. The fisheries folks at the Cherokee Indian Reservation have done a wonderful job providing a fantastic resource for anglers.


In fishing hundreds of rivers and streams in The South the past decade this is one of a handful that rivals the great trout stocking programs in California’s Sierra Nevada, those in the Rockies, etc. These freestone streams are flooded with beautifully reared and plump rainbows and offer the chance at catching large holdovers and some browns. And, fortunately, the tribe stocks enough trout to manage the high demand here. Other tribes, fishing organizations and game agencies should study the Cherokee model. They are top notch here.

We fished the Raven Fork yesterday and pinned ourselves to one long hole near the upper end of the public fishing catch and keep waters. (By the way, 10-fish daily limits are crazy! Never seen limits that large before when it comes to rainbows.) Five is common in most states.


The purpose of our trip from the Pacific Northwest was to drive to a stream we’d never fished before and see how easy it would be to catch rainbows on our Balls O Fire salmon eggs. The goal was to locate a water that receives a tremendous amount of pressure and was extremely well known to anglers. This section of the reservation was just that. In the five hours we fished, about two-dozen anglers joined us on the 50-yard section of water.


The river hadn’t been stocked yet this week and had seen a massive amount of pressure over the weekend according to locals. The sunny weekend brought anglers out by the masses. We were told the odds to catching lots of fish were stacked against us, unless the stocking truck arrived that morning. Oddly enough, it did arrive near the time we stopped fishing, which worked well for us. These trout had seen every bait available locally the last five days. If we did well our eggs still packed the same punch they did in 1934 when we sold our first jar, and our newest jars were as dynamite as the past 85 million sold.


Keep in mind the weather has been inconsistent here in the Great Smokey Mountains. Spring hasn’t arrived yet. We were originally scheduled to fish here Tuesday, but altered plans as snow, 35-mph winds and temperatures in the 20s were present. Thursday morning it remained in the 20s and the fish were sluggish. Still, we managed 8 rainbows prior to Noon, all between 10-14 inches. As the day progressed and temperatures rose the bite picked up. We ended up with a few dozen fish by the time we left at 2pm, mostly all were released. I think we kept two for the grill.

Every fish we caught came on Orange Deluxe, Yellow Jacket and Gold Label Pautzke eggs, all of which you’ll see shortly on Pautzke Outdoors, as we filmed most of the day. We were very impressed with the vibrant colors on both wild and planted fish and the availably of planted trout even under an enormous amount of pressure, which is common here, we’re told.


A few things to consider if you’re headed to fish the tribal waters of Cherokee this spring. Most important is do use light line. Anything heavier than 4-pound test is too much. In fact, 2-pound is recommended. This water is gin clear. Fluorocarbon is helpful in overcoming the clarity. Another tip would be to use a single salmon egg hook and cover it with two-to-three eggs. A common mistake we saw on the river was anglers using worm hooks for salmon eggs and bigger treble hooks. Doing so will burst the egg. Size 10 and 12 salmon egg hooks are ideal.

With the consistent flows and volume of the streams here it can also be helpful to use a float. Doing so keeps your eggs free flowing throughout the strike zone and attains longer drifts. Slip bobber setups work best. Don’t be stubborn, either. If you toss a Gold Label (Premium egg with glitter) and don’t get bit after a dozen cast try an Orange Deluxe or Yellow Jacket egg. Oftentimes, changing colors (just like you would with dough baits) is the key to success.


As cold as the water is this early in the season keep in mind trout likely won’t be found at the head of pools and in fast moving water. We actually found them in tailouts and pockets early in the day before branching out into riffles and dispersing through the holes as it got warmer. Keep the temperature in mind. The colder it is the slower the water the trout will be in.


Editor’s Note: Pautzke Gold Label, Orange Deluxe and Yellow Jacket salmon eggs are available at Walmart. Team Pautzke will return to the Southeast in two weeks to trout fish West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Anglers don’t need a North Carolina fishing license to wet a line in waters of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. They do, however, need a valid daily fishing permit, which can be purchased at dozens of dealers on the reservation for $10. For more info please visit