My hip-boots did little to stave off the cold water that rushed by as I balanced on moss-covered rocks. Ahead of me, fast, rushing riffles faded into a deep hole that swirled in different directions. Large rocks deflected the current, forming small eddies of respite behind the rushing torrent.
My arsenal was simple: a 4-foot spinning road and Pflueger spinning reel spooled with 4-pound Trilene tied to a No. 0 Mepps spinner dressed with its famous squirrel tail. It didn’t take long to realize that casting upstream and swinging the lure down with the current was more effective than casting downstream and retrieving against the current. Feeding trout will always face upstream to grab food that is washed past them.
A 7-inch brown trout hit the Mepps as it tore past — something that happened the rest of the day, with browns and rainbows repeatedly succumbing to the flash and rotation of the spinner.
Many fishermen caught their first fish with the old, stand-by in-line spinner from their childhood. Famous lures, including Mepps, Roostertail and Panther Martin all bring smiles to faces, as memories of childhood afternoons spent casting and catching fish are brought to the surface. Other spinners, including the Johnson Beetle Spin and Road Runner, also filled many creels with panfish, but in the mountain streams of South Carolina, the in-line spinner dominates the take of fish.
Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties are home to streams that hold some populations of wild trout, but most of the opportunities are with stocked rainbows and browns. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources uses a hatchery in Oconee County to hatch, grow and develop trout to sustainable levels in order to supplement the population of wild trout in the historically native waters. These stocking regimens encourage anglers to fish for wild and stocked trout. It’s important for anglers to recognize that the intensely managed waters have strict creel limits and lure restrictions that are often different from stream to stream.
Access to these streams and rivers are available through public and private lands. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has worked with the state and local landowners to provide access to these streams. Dan Rankin, an SCDNR biologist based in Clemson, said, “We are very dependent upon these individuals to allow the public to benefit from the fishery. The more we can take care of these access points the better we all will be.”
In addition to the rivers of the Saluda in Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee, several smaller rivers and creeks provide fine fishing for wild and stocked trout: Matthews Creek, Eastatoe Creek, Laurel Fork, Oolenoy, Oil Camp Creek, the Chattooga River and others.
When fishing for mountain trout, the water temperature is key to everything. The best times to catch trout are between March and June when the water is warming to optimal levels, and again from September through November.
Rankin said that some of the best fishing is at the onset of summer before the water temperature peaks. While to many anglers, the water may feel cold; the trout thrive in water that ranges between 53 and 65 degrees. When the temperature rises above 65, they become much more lethargic and slow down their feeding and aggressive behavior.
Mountain trout won’t migrate too far to find suitable habitat. They are more homebodies and will spend most of their lives within a few hundred yards of where they were introduced or hatched. What this means for anglers is that when managed, good fishing spots can remain good for a long time. To preserve these high-quality fisheries, SCDNR annually stocks 500,000 fish in these streams and publishes a stocking schedule.
The good news is that light spincast and spinning is readily available to most anglers. Hip boots are optional, and the fun is contagious. A bag full of Mepps or Roostertails will make most of the days fun and exciting.
When it comes to colors of spinners, chrome and gold blades seem to produce good action. Whether or not the hook is dressed doesn’t seem to make a difference. In the Mepps a No. 0 works best. With Roostertails, the 1/16- and 1/32-ounce sizes are great. If you prefer dressed spinners, you’ll have to search for single hooks that are dressed or tie your own. When I replace the treble with a single hook, I prefer a No. 12 or No. 14 medium shank, barbless hook. This appears to cause the least damage and allows the fish to be released unharmed if you desire.
Ultralight angling is fun regardless of the species you are after, but when it comes to trout, there is something mystical about catching beautiful fish in beautiful places. As one author once penned, “The best part about trout fishing is where you get to do it.” Nothing more can be added.
WHEN TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE — Prime months for trout fishing in streams in South Carolina’s mountain counties — Greenville, Pickens and Oconee — are May, June, September, October and November, when water temperatures are moderate. All three counties are easily accessed from Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson via US 178, US 276 and US 25.
STREAMS — Trout Handbook, published annually by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (www.dnr.sc.gov/pdf/TroutBook.pdf) contains information on South Carolina trout fishing, including individual streams, access information and tips. For stream-specific regulations, visit www.dnr.sc.gov/fishregs/speciesregs.html.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES — Ultralight spinning tackle is the ticket: 4-pound line, tiny in-line spinners and curlytails fished on light jigheads. Cast upstream or quartering and retrieve with the current.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Several state parks offer RV camping, primitive camping and cabins: Table Rock in Greenville and Oconee in Oconee. Visit www.southcarolinaparks.com; see also www.greenvillered.com/parks/pleasant-ridge. For other lodging, visit www.scmountainlakes.com, www.visitgreenville.com; www.visitpickenscounty.com.