When anglers from other parts of the country consider South Carolina, mountain trout fishing isn’t what immediately comes to mind.
The Palmetto State is better known for its system of man-made impoundments that serve up world-class largemouth and striped bass fishing. Or maybe the superb saltwater fishing at the coast comes to mind. That’s just fine for those of us who seek wary mountain trout in our upstate streams. Being underrated does have its virtues, especially when it comes to fishing. There are only three counties in the state that have trout naturally, without the help of man-made cold water releases from hydroelectric dams — Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee Counties in the mountainous, northwest part of the state. Most of the trout streams are located in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area and the Sumter National Forest. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources stocks more than 400,000 trout into 200 miles of rivers and streams annually. More than 50 of these are found in the upstate mountain region.
At the risk of letting our little secret out, I have listed my top-five mountain trout streams.
The Chattooga River is the best-known trout stream in the state and the most productive. Listed in Trout Unlimited’s “America’s 100 Best Trout Streams,” it has gained a national reputation for quality trout fishing. That reputation is well deserved. The 15 miles of trout water that help create a natural border with Georgia is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. Stocked and wild fish roam throughout the river with brown trout the native denizens. Of course, there is always the possibility of tangling with one of the legendary trophy browns that lurk in the deep pools, which keeps things interesting. The daily creel limit is eight trout, except for the delayed-harvest section from S.C. 28 Bridge upstream to the confluence with Reed Creek. From Nov. 1-May 14 of each year, only single-hook flies or lures may be used and all fish must be released unharmed. The East Fork of the Chattooga River is a primary tributary and an excellent trout stream in its own right. A day spent fishing anywhere along the Chattooga River is a true wilderness experience.
The Middle Saluda River in Greenville County is one of S.C.’s most-beautiful mountain streams as it flows through both Caesars Head and Jones Gap State Parks. This upper section has an abundance of wild rainbow trout are always willing to hit a dry fly. A special-regulations section exists from the lower footbridge in Jones Gap State Park downstream to Hugh Smith Road. Only single-hook lures or flies may be used here and catch-and-release regulations apply year-round. Fishing is allowed only Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with a special daily permit available on site. Bigger rainbow and brown trout can be caught here, in part because of the feeding program implemented jointly by the SCDNR and the Mountain Bridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The Eastatoe is a quality trout stream located in northern Pickens County. General regulations apply, except for the Heritage Preserve lands, where the daily creel limit is seven trout and only artificial flies or lures may be used. The lower reaches of the river receive annual stockings from the SCDNR and several large fish are caught here each year. The headwaters are blessed with abundant wild rainbows, rare plant species, and amazing mountain scenery.
Matthews Creek traverses one of the most rugged mountain areas of the state. Wild rainbow trout thrive in the stream’s upper reaches while some stocking is done below the Caesars Head State Park boundary. The best fishing water is also the most difficult to reach. But with some effort, you can have several miles of quality trout fishing in solitude, deep within the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The creel here is seven trout, and artificial lures only from the lower boundary of Caesars Head State Park upstream.
The Chauga River is relatively large by S.C.standards and flows through a scenic area of Oconee County. It receives a generous stocking of trout each year and provides excellent fishing year-round. General trout regulations apply throughout the river. With every one of my trips to the Chauga, I catch quantity and quality fish. Most fish caught are in the 8- to 10-inch size range, but I’m always surprised by the occasional 15- to 18-inch brown trout that turns up as well. The general state-wide creel is 10 fish per day, 10 fish in possession. Artificial lures and bait may be used for angling and fishing is permitted year-round. The exceptions to these regulations published in the regulations guide. The SCDNR has downloadable regulations at its website — http://www.dnr.sc.gov/regulations.html