Check out these spots in the Triangle to cast a line in the water after a short hike, a quintessential summer pastime or many.
by Joe Miller
Hiking and fishing go hand in hand — sometimes, a long walk in the woods is the only way to access a secret pool of crappie and catfish at trail’s end. And while hiking has assumed a recreational life of its own (especially in recent years, when regional and national parks saw more traffic than ever before due to the pandemic), intertwining the two is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to escape and relax.
Fortunately, there are a few spots in the Triangle where you can both hike and fish, and enjoy them together or separately. One note: For the type of fishing we’re talking about here — defined as State Inland Fishing by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission — you’ll need a license: an annual pass in North Carolina is $25 (you can purchase one online at ncwildlife.org).
Now grab your hiking boots, rod and tackle box, and go!
WILLIAM B. UMSTEAD STATE PARK, REEDY CREEK ENTRANCE, CARY
Fishing: Crabtree Creek
Hiking: Company Mill Trail
Company Mill Trail is the most popular trail in one of North Carolina’s most popular state parks. At least, it is for the first mile, over three ridges down to Crabtree Creek, where many folks turn around for a short out-and-back. There, the breached mill dam forms a pool where you drop a line. As you wait for a crappie, brim or bass to bite, contemplate the lively social scene that took place here more than a century and a half ago, when the mill would transform into a dance hall on Saturday nights. For a longer hike, cross the footbridge over Crabtree Creek and the 4-mile loop offers a look at how farmland that’s been fallow for nearly 100 years is gradually turning back into woods. Look closely for signs of old roadbeds, rock foundations and the remains of a Boy Scout camp that served the area around 1930.
Getting there: 2100 N. Harrison Avenue, Cary
NEUSE RIVER AT FALLS LAKE DAM, WAKE FOREST
Fishing: Neuse River
Hiking: Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Below the dam tailrace, the Neuse River pours over a rock garden that’s long been targeted for a whitewater paddling park. Among fly fishermen, though, it’s known as one of the ideal spots around to land a brim. “Some of the best fly fishing guides in the state have started here,” says Austin Hill, a Raleigh-based hunting and fishing guide and outdoor writer. The open space creates room to cast, while the preponderance of boulders creates eddies offering brim, perch and crappie shelter from the current — and a place to sit for lunch. Meanwhile, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail’s eastern terminus along Falls Lake climbs up to the Visitor Center (there’s also a bypass), then settles into the trail’s familiar pattern of ducking in and out of coves along the lake.
Getting there: Falls of Neuse Canoe Launch, 12101 Old Falls of Neuse Road, Wake Forest. For fishing, make your way upstream; for hiking, catch the MST on the north end of the parking lot and hike west (or head east on a paved trail, where the MST piggybacks on the Neuse River Greenway).
JORDAN LAKE EDUCATIONAL STATE FOREST, CHAPEL HILL
Fishing: Jordan Lake
Hiking: 3.5 miles on four loop trails
Considering that Jordan Lake covers nearly 47,000 acres, there’s surprisingly little hiking along its 180 miles of shoreline. It might also be surprising that the best hiking isn’t within the massive Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, but rather in the 900-acre Jordan Lake Educational State Forest along the lake’s western shore. There, four loop trails explore a variety of terrain, from wetlands to the lake to forests in various stages of development. The Forest Demonstration Trail (2.2 miles), Talking Tree Trail (0.5 miles) and the Low Lands Trail (0.5 miles) all snuggle up to the lake at some point, where you can try your luck at catching crappie, largemouth bass and catfish. There’s also a small pond a short distance from the parking area. Note that the Educational State Forest has different (and slightly quirky) hours than the State Recreation Area, so call ahead (919-542-1154) before heading out.
Getting there: 2832 Big Woods Road, Chapel Hill.
ELLERBEE CREEK AT FALLS LAKE, DURHAM
Fishing: Ellerbee Creek
Hiking: The MST, both east and west, from Red Mill Road
Romantic notions of the classic Southern fishing experience are dispelled at this stretch of crappie-happy Ellerbee Creek: finding a good spot here takes work. From the Red Mill Road Access at the Ellerbee Creek bridge, follow the MST downstream from either side of the bridge and watch for small “fishermen’s paths” darting through the dense understory toward the creek. You may get spit out onto a small beach, or you may find yourself on a bank 5 feet above the water. For hikers, the MST is easier to follow. For a short hike, take Day-Hike Section R on the south side of the bridge 1.1 miles through wetlands, past a massive man-made mountain (“Mount Fogleman”), and along a sizable farm pond to the Redwood Road/Tom Clark Access; for a longer ramble take Day-Hike Section S on the north side of the creek for 4.8 miles through meadows, wetlands, past abandoned railroad trestles and barns, and along the lake.
Getting there: Red Mill Road at Ellerbee Creek, a mile north of Interstate 85.
HOLLOW ROCK NATURE PARK/DUKE FOREST, DURHAM
Fishing: New Hope Creek
Hiking: Hollow Rock Nature Park/Duke Forest Korstian Division
Over the course of several years, cryptic conversations with a fly guide friend yielded only key descriptors about this spot, including “Durham,” “bluffs,” “overhangs” and “deep pools.” One day, hiking New Hope Creek upstream from Hollow Rock into the adjoining Duke Forest, I stopped atop a rock outcrop and had an “A-ha!” moment. (“So this is the place Jim’s been telling me about.”) Shortly after passing under Erwin Road, the creek cuts deep into bluffs rising 30 feet, forming deep, dark pools where brim and crappie are reported to reside. Getting to these holes is half the fun; the trail along New Hope is surprisingly wild, with rocky passages, tributary crossings and a climb up 446-foot Piney Mountain before hitting an impressive — for the Piedmont — cascade.
Getting there: Hollow Rock Nature Park, 692 Erwin Road, Durham (from the west end of the parking lot, take the Hanging Rock Loop Trail to the Duke Forest Access Trail and hike upstream).
This story originally appeared in the July, 2022 issue of WALTER Magazine