Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby: Free for Kids Ages 3 to 11 | Cherokee, NC

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Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby: Free for Kids Ages 3 to 11

Every year for the past 14 years, thousands of children gather with their families for a chance to catch fish and win prizes in the annual Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby at Oconaluftee River Islands Park, right in the heart of Cherokee.

Megan Yates has worked with the Derby for the past eight years, and by her estimation, it’s the largest free children’s event in the Southeast, with over 2,000 children registered to fish.

“The Trout Derby is more than an event. It’s a family tradition,” she says.

Each child that registers gets free bait, hooks, sinkers, a fishing pole, and a free T-shirt and hat. At the derby, they can catch up to five fish apiece to take home at no charge.

Prizes are awarded for the biggest catches in age groups 3-5, 6-7, 8-9, and 10-11. In addition to the age bracket prizes, a highly coveted grand prize is also awarded, which in past years has included four wheelers and even a camper.

“We stock the ponds so heavily that there’s no way the kids can’t catch a fish. Our guys actually fix the river so that the fish can be easily caught,” explains Yates. 

For the littlest kids, ages 3-5, portable ponds are set up and stocked to the brim with fish, just for them, with the bigger kids fishing in the shallow part of the Oconaluftee river.

“People are really thankful for the Talking Trees Trout Derby and we see the same families come back every year. It’s been fun watching a lot of these kids grow up over the years, and to see little ones try fishing for the first time,” Yates adds.

Schedule of Events

Friday, July 31st

  • 10 am - 6 pm. Pre-registration.

  • During the day, kids can participate in casting clinics by the US Youth Fly Fishing Team and enjoy a zip line, selfie station, 40-foot obstacle course, inflatables, food booths, and snow cones.

  • Animal and educational exhibiters from Pisgah Center Wild Life Education Division and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission will also be onsite.

  • 2 pm; 4 pm. Indian stickball competitions take place between the Big Cove and Wolf Town communities, with live commentary about the traditional Cherokee sport. At 2 pm, the 6-9 year olds play, and then children aged 10-12 compete at 4 pm.

  • As part of the annual tradition, the fire department is on site to talk about fire safety, and they release hundreds of keepsake ping pong balls stamped with the Trout Derby logo into the Oconaluftee River, which can be gathered in exchange for a prize.

Saturday, August 1st

  • 7:00 am to 10 am. Registration with free breakfast and lunch provided.  

  • 8 am to noon. Talking Trees Children's Trout Derby! Registered children ages 3-11 can catch up to 5 fish at no cost. 

  • 1 pm. Awards and prizes. 

Todd Solari who participated with his child last year rated the event five stars on Facebook, saying, “This was truly an incredible event for the kids and parents. Everyone was so kind and generous.”

For more information on Talking Trees Trout Derby, visit our event page or go

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