With turkey season in its final days, it's a perfect time to plan some great trout fishing. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources is actively stocking streams, and areas with natural reproduction are also beginning show some activity. The warmer-than-usual winter seems to be sparking some good early fishing.

SCDNR manages 34 coldwater streams, covering 200 miles of trout water. Some are too small to fish, and some are on private property, but we do have several good streams to enjoy.

If you ask anyone to name the best trout stream in South Carolina, the Chattooga River is sure to be a top choice. It offers more than two miles of delayed-harvest water and miles of stream stocked with brown trout fingerlings and mature brook trout, rainbows and browns. Due to the stocking of some brood fish, several state-record brook trout have been caught in recent years.

On a recent trip, guide Marcus Leach of the Chattooga River Fly shop and a guest fished the delayed-harvest section, upstream from SC 28. When fish are concentrated after a stocking, they are susceptible to egg patterns and other highly visible flies. After a few days or weeks, the abundant aquatic insect life causes them to become more selective, and you have to key on the insect size, color and type to be successful. Most of South Carolina's freestone streams do not support abundant aquatic insect life, but the Chattooga seems to be the exception.

After nearing the upper reaches of the delayed harvest section, Leach - who was using an 11-foot rod for nymphing with running line instead of fly line, and a caddis pupa under an indicator - quickly hooked a good fish in a fast riffle; the fish used the current to its advantage to put a nice bend in the fly rod. The rainbow put up a great fight but finally came to the net; it measured 16 inches long, with plenty of girth.

The caddis pupa produced most of the fish, which included a nice brown and a good number of rainbows, but a lot of fish were rising to hatching insects that included Early Black Stoneflies, Quill Gordons, a few mayflies and some caddis.

That section of the Chattooga is made up of a series of long slick pools, punctuated by riffles and tumbling chutes. Designated as the Chattooga River Wild and Scenic River Corridor, it is on U.S. Forest Service land, where primitive camping is allowed and where some remote campsites are great locations for "pack-in" camping and fishing trips.

The South Saluda River is a great success story among South Carolina streams. Last June 14, an administrative law court ruled that a permit for a trout-enhancement project on the South Saluda could continue.

The project involves the installation by heavy equipment of 15 rock vanes into a 2,964-foot stretch of the river. The rocks curve upstream above the water's surface, leaving a gap in the middle that creates a swift channel and a deep pool in the middle of the river with side eddies. It has taken a featureless stretch of river and created a viable stretch that has good holding water for trout, is more attractive and will be an asset to local sportsmen.

In addition to the vanes, naturally-appearing rock steps are installed at several locations for easy stream access. Previously, fishermen had to drive almost to the stream banks, causing erosion and siltation. The roads now have some gate access for stocking purposes, and the area has been reseeded to minimize erosion, so the recovery is well under way.

Guide Brandon Barber of RiverBlade Knife and Fly Shop in Spartanburg hit the water early one morning in late February, knowing that as close as the stream is to Greenville, and with a recent stocking having been made, the stream would be crowded later in the day.

With the air temperature 24 F at 6:30 a.m., Barber and his party had to clear ice from their rod's guides ever few casts. An egg pattern produced a chunky rainbow, the first fish of the day, but Barber, who had tied on a No. 10 white Wooly Booger as a "search" pattern took a dozen similar fish in two hours, including one brook trout in the upper reaches of the renovated stream.

The changes in the river were astonishing. Sections that were previously a foot deep and featureless now have pools that are two to three feet deep, with eddies and some long runs extending downstream. The installation of the rock vanes was done very selectively to utilize the natural features and existing rock formations to make the effect as natural as possible.

While this stream is basically a "put-and-take" stream with minimal carryover or natural reproduction, is a great asset, being convenient to the Greenville area and will provide untold hours of fun and entertainment for local anglers.

Rankin said the stream would be stocked with approximately 2,000 catchable-sized fish from late February through June and perhaps in the fall after the water cools. Some limited reproduction and holdover fish may occur.

Before the construction of Lake Russell, the Hartwell Dam tailwaters included about 10 miles of water that supported trout fishing. Unfortunately, when Russell reached full pool, the waters supporting trout were cut to about a mile, with some limited trout fishing in Russell's upper reaches during cooler months.

The Hartwell tailrace offers some interesting opportunities for taking a mix of trout, bass, stripers and even some walleyes. Rankin said SCDNR stocks around 14,000 trout annually, and Georgia meets or exceeds that number. Both states stock twice a month, alternating weeks, in the spring and fall, to maintain a constant introduction of new fish.

Changes have been made at the Hartwell Dam to vent turbines to increase dissolved oxygen levels in the water to enhance the fishery, especially important during warmer months. The abundance of food and fertility results in significant growth rates in trout in the tailwater.

"Stocking later than June was not an option in the past," Rankin said. "With the improvements in turbine venting, we are now able to stock trout as late as August, and we have plans to stock right through the fall months."

Chuck Dixon, the owner of Centerville Specialty Fly Shop in Anderson, has fished the tailrace with his son Chase for a number of years, and they have collected trophies that illustrate the rapid growth of trout in the tailrace. Several nice mounts decorate the wall of his fly shop, and the fish look like footballs, with small heads and huge bodies, due to the high nutrient level in the river.

Dixon and Rank stressed concern about wade-fishing in the tailrace. You need to check and fish when power generation is not taking place. If you are fishing when generation begins, a horn will sound, and you need to leave the water as quickly as possible as the water will rise rapidly. Generation schedules may be obtained by calling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 888-893-0678 or www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/hartwell/.

A fishing trail and three fishing piers are on the South Carolina side of the river. One of the piers is designed for use by the mobility impaired. Two fishing piers are located on the Georgia side.

The Hartwell Dam tailrace is unlike our mountain fisheries, but it offers a unique chance for some trophy-sized trout.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE - The delayed-harvest section of the Chattooga River is upstream from the SC 28 bridge. This highway runs northwest from Seneca, through Walhalla and Mountain Rest to where where it crosses the river into Georgia. SC 107 forks to the right before reaching Mountain Rest, and the highway parallels much of the river, providing access to Burrell's Ford, Ellicott Rock Wilderness area and the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery. The newly renovated stretch of the South Saluda River parallels SC 11/276 north of Marietta before you reach the fork at SC 276 to Caesar's Head. Signs will locate the parking pull-offs. The tailrace below Hartwell Dam is on US 29 southwest of Anderson and east from Hartwell, Ga. A small, unimproved road on the South Carolina side, offers access to the fishing trail and the piers. If you are planning to wade fish when generation is not occurring, the South Carolina side is the best choice.

TACKLE/TECHNIQUES - Fly-fishing equipment and a variety of nymphs, dry flies and attractors are the norm for fishermen on any of the three streams. Some insect hatches in the spring will include early black stoneflies, quill Gordons, a few mayflies and some caddis flies.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES - Marcus Leach, Chattooga River Fly Shop, Mountain Rest, 864-638-2806, www.crflyshop.com; Brandon Barber, RiverBlade Knife and Fly Shop, Spartanburg, 864-699-9433, http://www.riverbladeknifeandfly.com/; Chuck Dixon, Centerville Specialty Fly Shop, Anderson, 864-245-5775. Generation schedules for the Hartwell Dam tailrace may be obtained by calling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 888-893-0678 or www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/hartwell/.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-351-7180 http://www.greenvillecvb.com/; Mountain Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau, 877-685-3547, http://www.scmountainlakes.com/; Anderson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 877-282-4650, http://www.visitanderson.com/; Saddler's Creek State Park camping, 864-226-8950, www.southcarolinaparks.com/sadlerscreek/introduction.aspx.

MAPS - S.C. Department of Natural Resources "South Carolina Trout Fishing", www.dnr.sc.gov/fish/pdf/TroutBook.pdf.