Fishing | Cherokee, NC

How will Cherokee affect you?

Here, the waters run pure and ancient, and the fish are freshly stocked and plentiful.

Fish Permit Sales Will Be Suspended Monday, March 18th through Wednesday, March 20th for a New System Upgrade. Sales and purchase of tribal fish permits will not be available during this time as the system will be shut down in its entirety. Purchasing and sales will resume on Thursday, March 21st.

The Trophy Trout Enterprise Waters (catch & release fly-fishing section) will remain open during the permit system shutdown period. It is recommended that permits be purchased prior to March 18th for parties wishing to fish the trophy waters March 18-March 20.

The catch & keep general waters are closed to everyone March 16th through March 29th in preparation for opening day on March 30th.

Anglers may be required to re-register and obtain a new sportsman’s number when logging onto the new and improved permit purchasing website for the first time.

Today is your day, proud angler—30 miles of streams, arguably the longest stretch of managed private fishery in the eastern US, stocked to the gills with trout: rainbow, brook, golden, and brown. What are you waiting for? They’re here and they’re hungry. You will discover thousands of new favorite fishing spots, all collected into one jaw-droppingly beautiful place. From catch-and-keep to catch-and release calendars, you’re casting constantly. Yet in Cherokee, the memories you catch while fishing might be the tastiest of all.

We’re passionate about trout.

A precious natural resource, the abundantly trout-filled stream system in Cherokee connects 30 miles of freestone streams that include secluded forest settings, suburban roadside areas, and even the Cherokee town center. Over 40 shops and stores offer authorized fishing permits, and a growing number of tackle shops supply both expert and novice gear including flies, tackle, and bait.

What’s a freestone stream?

Paradise for fish; bounty for fishermen.

It’s alive, natural, and ever changing. Found only in high elevations and foothills, a freestone stream is formed by runoff rain or melting snow water that collects as gravity pulls it off mountaintops, forest floors, and isolated coves. As the water descends ever rapidly, chaos happens–trees are uprooted, rocks dislodge, boulders crash, and streams carve out their course as they form. Depending on rainfall, don’t be surprised if a favorite run is returned to rubble or a scenic bend has acquired an inviting new stretch of riffles and pocket pools. But that’s all part of the unfolding beauty of Cherokee fishing.

Trout Fishing Opening Day Tournament March 30, 2024 - March 31, 2024

Memorial Day Fishing Tournament May 25, 2024 - May 26, 2024

Tim Hill Memorial Tournament July 13, 2024 - July 14, 2024

Qualla Country Fishing Tournament August 24, 2024 - August 25, 2024

To experience the best NC fishing, you need to buy a fishing permit. Luckily, that’s as easy as catching a Cherokee trout.

With an easy-to-purchase permit, you’re ready to drop a hook for the first time or compete in the lucrative tournaments held throughout the season. You’re ready to Fish Cherokee. 

It’s more fun when you follow the rules.

Fishing in Cherokee, or within what’s known as the Qualla Boundary, is infinitely more fun when you do it the right way. Please review our Code of Ordinances Section 113, which provides an in-depth review of the rules and regulations that must be followed.

When do I need a Tribal Permit?

• Permits are required to fish all Cherokee Enterprise Waters on the Qualla Boundary (the Cherokee reservation).
• Only a Tribal permit is required to fish within the Boundary.
• If you are fishing outside the Boundary you must have a valid state fishing license.
• Many local businesses in Cherokee are authorized outlets for fishing permits.
• The permit applies to Enterprise Waters only, which are managed by the Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management Program.

How much is a Tribal Permit?

A Tribal fishing permit is required for each person 12 years of age and over, and applies to rivers, streams, and ponds. No other fishing permit or license is accepted. Children under 12 are allowed to fish free of charge when accompanied by a permitted adult.

Daily permits (catch-and-keep): 1-day $10 | 2-day $17 | 3-day $27 | 5-day $47 | annual permit $250

Tribal special use permit (2.2 miles of catch-and-release): 1-3 day $25 | annual permit $75 | must be purchased with a general Tribal fishing permit.

What’s a Catch-and-Release Special Use Permit?

This permit allows holders to use the designated (2.2 miles) catch-and-release trophy water area on Raven Fork. The cost is $25 for one to three days, or $75 per year. Please note that this section of fishing waters requires both daily Tribal fishing and special use permits. All general fishing regulations apply to the special use permit, as do the following special use regulations within the catch-and-release area:

• Tackle is limited to fly rods, reels, and line with a maximum of 18 feet of leader material or monofilament line attached.
• Only artificial flies and streamers constructed of natural or synthetic material on a single, barbless hook are permitted.
• Fishing with multiple flies attached to a single line (droppers) is permitted.

Is anything forbidden inside the catch & release area on Raven Fork?

• Catching and removing any live fish.
• Killing trout and/or keeping in your possession.
• Use of any spin-and-bait casting rods, reels, lures, or tackle.
• The use or possession of any natural bait, fish bait, bait paste, and similar substances; fish eggs (natural or molded); or any other edible substance.
• Fishing without a valid Tribal fishing permit.
• Snagging of fish.
• Grabbing of fish.
• Chumming of fish.
• Failure to produce a valid license and/or permit(s).

Where can I find the fishing rules and regulations for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians?

Click here to view Section 113 of the Cherokee Code.

When and how do I report fishing violations?

We encourage everyone to immediately report sightings of fishing violations by calling 828.497.4131. All anglers are subject to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ fishing laws and regulations, so please help to keep Cherokee a great fishing environment for everyone.

What if I have any concerns?

To report any resource violations contact Natural Resources Enforcement (NRE) at 828.359.6166 or 828.359.6168

To pay fines contact the Cherokee Tribal Justice Center at 828.359.1065

Read more about the Cherokee Code Chapter 113 Hunting & Fishing Laws. 

Cherokee Enterprise Waters. What are they?

The Enterprise Waters include most of the main stems of Raven Fork, the Oconaluftee River, and Soco Creek. They run through secluded forest settings, suburban roadside areas, and even Cherokee town center. 

When will the fishing season open in 2024?

This year, Cherokee’s catch-and-keep Enterprise Waters open on Saturday, March 30, and will be closed to everyone two weeks prior to that date. Cherokee’s Annual Opening Day Fishing Tournament is held during this weekend—two days of fishing fun and competition.

The 2.2 mile catch-and-release Enterprise Waters are open year round.

Is there a limit to how many fish I can catch?

The daily catch-and-keep fishing limit is ten (10) fish per permit holder (includes catch of children fishing under a supervising adult’s permit).

What types of fish are there? Meet your adversaries:

Regular stocking of the streams is the responsibility of Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management, which each year adds nearly 250,000 trout to an existing population of fish swimming in our crystal-clear mountain waters. That’s the highest density of fish in stocked waters in the east. These supplemental stockings include rainbow, brook, and brown trout of various sizes ranging up to trophy size.

Brook Trout:

The only native trout found in these mountain waters, the Brookie ranges between 6–18” when fully grown. It’s found in cold waters (bring your hip waders!), like those running through narrow streams. You’ll know it by its red spots and light red fins with white edges.

Brown Trout:

Don’t let the name fool you. This trout variety can be brown, but also olive, and often has green, orange, and red spots encircled in yellow or white. They like to live near fallen trees or boulders in large pools, and can be found under shaded banks. The big ones can reach 18–26”, weighing as much as 6–16 lbs.

Golden Trout:

The newest neighbor to our waters, Goldens were spawned in 1954 and are uniquely prized as a trophy fish. Known for their unmistakable bright golden hue, they’re similar in size and behavior to large browns and Rainbows.

Rainbow Trout:

The most commonly found stocked fish in these waters, the Rainbow displays a wide lateral pink to red stripe on its side, dark olive on its back, light colors on its belly, and is speckled overall. It’s predominantly found in riffles and swift runs, as well as in open waters.

Smallmouth Bass:

This stream-bred game fish can be found throughout the lower Oconaluftee River on Cherokee lands. Also known as “bronzebacks,” these wild fish are quick to take a lure or bait and are always ready to give you a very fun fight.

Where can I fish?

To learn about the areas where you can fish, please visit the Cherokee Fishing MAP.

What can I expect for the 2024 fishing season?

Currently, the EBCI Natural Resources Department plans to host a variety of special events and tournaments throughout the year. Those plans include several tagged tournaments, with individual cash prizes ranging from $25 all the way up to $5,000. There are also plans for fly-fishing events, events for kids, and more. Please check the Events page for full schedules, news, and details as they become available.

What should I do when I catch a tagged fish during a tournament?

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians currently hosts four annual tagged fishing tournaments each year. Many tournament anglers are familiar with this system, in which colored tags are used that contain the month and year, and are placed just under the fish’s dorsal fin. Once a fish is caught and the tags are claimed, the tags may be redeemed for cash at the Natural Resources Enforcement Office, 517 Sequoyah Trail, Cherokee, NC 28719. Please note that the redemption period for prizes is 4:00-6:00 p.m. each tournament day. Fish are not required at the tag turn-in location at this time. And please note that tags are not accepted outside tournament dates and times.

Before receiving your tournament payout, potential prize winners must:

1. Turn in a valid tag (fish not required).
2. Present a valid fishing permit.
3. Provide your proof of tournament registration.
4. Sign a W-9 form. (This requires a social security number. One form, per winner, per tournament. Parents may sign for minor children.)

Do you have a list of fishing penalties?

Fair warning, this is where things start to sound a little more technical and legal—well, because fishing penalties are. The following isn’t a complete list of violations and their corresponding penalties. (Please see the Cherokee Code for additional information, Appendix A, Schedule of civil penalties.)

Violations of the provisions enumerated here shall subject the offender to a civil penalty upon the issuance of a citation for such violation as provided in this Section. The civil penalty, if not paid to the Cherokee Tribal Court prior to the court date designated on the citation issued, may be recovered by the Tribe in a civil action in the nature of Tribal debt. Unless otherwise provided by a specific provision of this Code, such civil penalties shall be in the amount of $100.00 for each violation, and each day any single violation continues shall be a separate violation. The following civil penalties are hereby established:

Infractions §113-5(c)
Number Offense Fine for Violation
1. Exceeding creel limit (violation) $100.00
2. Fishing without a permit 100.00
3. Snagging of fish 100.00
4. Grabbing of fish 100.00
5. Chumming of fish 100.00
6. Fishing with more than one line 100.00
7. Setting of trotline 200.00
8. Fishing in closed streams, ponds, or waters 100.00
9. Fishing before or after legal fishing hours 100.00
10. Failure to keep individual’s catch separate 50.00
11. Failure to retain all trout caught, when fishing Tribally managed ponds 100.00
12. Illegally caught trout 50.00
13. An additional fine for each fish caught in violation of statutes 50.00
14. Camping in unauthorized areas 100.00
15. Failure to report a bait site, per bait site 100.00
16. Illegal cutting of wood or timber 75.00
17. Hunting on Sunday 75.00
18. Hunting or fishing without the proper license 100.00
19. Failure to produce valid license and/or permit 25.00
20. Failure to wear hunter orange while hunting (does not apply to fishing) 25.00
21. Use or possession of illegal bait 100.00
22. Use of improper equipment 100.00
23. Running dogs out of season 100.00
24. Failure to report to NREO 100.00
25. Bribing or attempted bribery of a Natural Resources Enforcement Officer 100.00
26. Removing and/or destroying tracking devices or identification collars from dogs 100.00

Note: In addition to all fines, court costs shall be assessed and added in amounts determined by the courts. All other offenses are criminal violations, and offenders within the criminal jurisdiction will be charged in Tribal Court; those outside the Tribe’s jurisdiction will be referred to the United States for prosecution. (Ord. No. 277, 5-12-2008; Ord. No. 427, 12-10-2010)

What about fish stocking? When does that happen?

Regular stocking takes place weekly and throughout the year, provided water conditions are optimal for the good health and longevity of the fish. You can learn more about stocking at

Are there handicapped-accessible areas to fish?

Cherokee offers three handicapped-accessible ramps conveniently located in Enterprise Waters. You can find the first ramp in Cherokee’s Downtown, near Oconaluftee Islands Park on Acquoni Road; another on Hwy 441 across from Paul’s Restaurant; and the last is located at the Big Cove ponds on Big Cove Road.

cherokee map


Handicapped-Accessible Fishing Piers

In Cherokee, we welcome fishermen (and women!) of all stripes, creeds, color, and ability. To that end, we continually try to improve the fishing experience for our fishing audience with special needs. There are a host of handicapped-accessible fishing spots throughout the Qualla Boundary. Have a look at the map for precise locations, drop a line, and enjoy. 

Fish Cherokee

Welcome to the most pristine, well-stocked waters east of the Mississippi. Here, you can fill your livewell or basket with more than just fish. This is where historic cultural stories and experiences enrich every vacation. Learn about the ancient fishing weir, which once served as a significant tool for the Cherokee to provide subsistence for their villages. Grab a multi-day permit at any of our 28 fishing license locations in Cherokee or online at

Sample Trips