Lake Jocassee trout guide Russ Reynolds moved to the area from Buffalo, N.Y., almost 30 years ago.
"We immediately fell in love with this lake," he said. "It reminded us of a place you would find in Canada, not the Carolinas."
Ken Sloan, owner of the Jocassee Outdoor Center, hears similar comparisons to exotic locales from first-time visitors to Jocassee.
"Many of our customers have commented that Jocassee is similar to a place like Lake Tahoe or other mountain lakes in other parts of the world like Switzerland," Sloan said.
Lake Jocassee's shorelines are heavily-wooded with little or no development. Waterfalls plunge from terraced ravines straight to the lake' surface and stately blue mountains rise upward from the depths of its cold, super-clear water.
And in that water live some of the largest rainbow and brown trout that swim in the entire southeastern United States.
Lake Jocassee is well known as a legitimate trophy-trout fishery. The 7500-acre man-made impoundment boasts the S.C. records for the brown and rainbow trout - at 17.6 and 11.3 pounds respectively. Even an average-sized trout caught from Jocassee, about 3 pounds, would be considered a trophy if caught in any trout stream in the Southeast or beyond.
Finding the fish in this large lake is the first order of business for the angler. The time of year is the first clue.
"In late October to early November, the fish begin moving out of the main body of the lake and into the river arms to spawn," Reynolds said. "During this time, I like fishing the mouths of these rivers where fish might hold, 30- to 50-feet deep."
"Beginning in May, more fish can be found in the main body of the lake and in deeper water as the surface temperatures rise. I start out early in the morning near the intakes at the dam and fish some submerged tree tops at 50- to 80-feet deep.
"I like to find water with a lot of variety such as a deep river channels, underwater humps, and submerged tree tops."
Trolling lures and live bait deep with down-riggers is the most effective way to catch Jocassee browns and 'bows. Flat lining with sinkers and lead-core line can get lures and bait deep enough to catch fish during certain times of the year, but down-riggers allow the angler to place to lure or bait at precisely desired depths.
But there is much more to the art of trolling for trout than simply dragging lures around the lake all day.
"Most people put out their lines then sit back and enjoy the boat ride," Reynolds said. "You have to keep working, maneuvering the boat, changing speeds and lures, varying depths, watching the electronics - anything that might help provoke a strike."
Boat speed is critical to trolling success on Jocassee's big trout. Many beginning trout anglers at Jocassee troll their boats much too fast.
"Brown trout like the lure or bait presented very slowly," Reynolds said. "Rainbows like it just slightly faster, but it's still slower than most people realize."
Brown trout prefer lures and bait trolled about 1 to 1 ½ miles per hour while rainbows have a preference around 2 to 2 ½ mph. With wind speed and direction altering the pace, a good average boat speed that most anglers try to maintain is about 1 ½ mph.
Varying the boat speed can give the bait or lures some additional action that traveling a straight line at a constant speed can't accomplish.
"Steering the boat through 's' curves slightly speeds up the lures on one side of the boat while slowing down the lures on the other side," Reynolds said. "This sometimes can provoke a strike from a non-committal fish that is just following the lure.
"Sometimes I will purposely stall the boat for a second or two, let the spoon flutter downward like an injured baitfish, and restart again. Many times I have gotten strikes just as the lure takes off again."
Lightweight trolling spoons are the favorite lure of seasoned Jocassee trout anglers.
Trolling or flutter spoons are extremely and thin and lightweight. This makes them much too light to cast, but their lack of density gives them an amazing wobbling action when pulled through the water.
Reynolds prefers the Bad Creek Devils Fork Flutter Special in gold, hammered nickel/copper and fire-tiger colors in sizes 1, 2 and 3.
"I'm always experimenting with different colors and sizes for each set of conditions," he said. "But as a rule, I have found the smaller size No. 1 works best for rainbows and the No. 2 best for browns. Size 3 will generally produce fewer strikes but larger fish."
Sloan likes using a slightly larger spoon to improve his chances of connecting with larger trout.
"My personal favorite is the Bad Creek Fire Tiger No. 3," he said. "It has a great blend of colors with orange, green, and yellow and the No. 3 size generally produces big fish."
Sloan said the best-selling trolling spoons at his shop are the Bad Creek Devils Fork Flutter Special #3 in fire-tiger as well as green and purple. The Sutton Spoon No. 41 in copper and silver, Sutton Spoon No. 71 in copper and silver, and the blue Apex are popular with local trout anglers.
Trolling with live bait is another effective method for taking Jocassee trout. This technique will sometimes elicit strikes from sluggish fish when lures will not.
"Sometimes you have to practically drag the lure right in front of a trout's nose before it will hit," Reynolds said. "But I have seen trout come up 30 feet and take a live minnow or herring.
"By using live bait, you also eliminate many of the smaller, sub-legal fish from hitting. When trolling hardware, those small fish can be a nuisance - especially right after they stock the lake in November and December."
A sub-legal trout in Jocassee is one less than 15 inches.
"The absolute best live bait is blueback herring which is abundant in Lake Jocassee," Sloan said. "But it's against the law to use a cast net in Jocassee. In fact, it's against the law to even have on your boat."
Live herring can still be caught for bait using a Sabiki rig and lights at night.
"This is a rig of six No. 10 hooks that is used as a jig," Sloan said. "You can catch them at night using lights, by dropping the rig into the school of herring that are drawn to the lights. As it drops, they will typically hit the hooks, but if not, you can snag some bait as you jerk it up."
Because of how impractical it's obtaining and keeping live herring, most anglers opt for live shiners or minnows instead. If the bait is going to be trolled, it should be hooked through the mouth in order to be presented naturally. The hook should enter from the bottom lip and out through the top of the snout.
"Trout will typically attack the bait from the tail, so many times you miss the hit because it didn't take it all the way in," Sloan said. "To prevent a miss, we like to use a stinger, which is a treble hook attached to the main hook with a small leader. Just run the treble hook into the belly or back half of the bait towards the rectum. With a stinger, if the trout hits it from behind, the treble will give you a better chance at a hook-up."
The typical trolling setup for Reynolds during the winter or spring is seven trolled lines - four on down-riggers 30- to 50-feet deep and three flat lines, weighted or unweighted, 5- to 25-feet deep.
"This allows me to cover as much water and depth as possible, which is important during this time of year," he said.
A typical summer rig would include four lines attached to down-riggers fished deep.
Another method for fishing live bait for trout is drifting. After you mark some fish with your electronics, position the boat upwind and let the boat drift over the fish with the bait and a drop-rig at the desired depth. For drifting, the bait should be hooked in the back, just behind the dorsal fin.
Night fishing at Jocassee is another method for taking trout at Jocassee. It takes a special brand of dedicated angler to enjoy this type of fishing, but the results can be spectacular, especially for big fish.
"I like to find a deep cove near a river channel and position my boat with my back to the wind," Reynolds said. "After I double anchor the boat with ropes, I set out lights to attract bait fish to the cove from the main river channel. The trout move into my little cove and they think they are corralling the bait and trapping them there.
"Of course, I'm there waiting on them."
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources stocks 40,000 rainbow and brown trout stocked in Lake Jocassee every year.
No significant natural reproduction takes place in Lake Jocassee or its tributaries. Many of the tributaries have waterfalls too near the lake the trout cannot ascend or don't possess the right conditions for successful spawning and reproduction to take place.
However, trout will through the instinctive motions of spawning activity. In Lake Jocassee's eastern-most tributaries, fish may ascend the first few miles of these streams. In Howard Creek (from Corbin Creek upstream to Limberpole Creek), Corbin Creek (from Howard Creek to S.C. 130), and Devils Fork Creek, fishing is closed during spawning season, Nov. 1-March 30.
There is a 15-inch minimum size limit for Lake Jocassee trout with a daily five-fish limit. Cast nets aren't to be used or possessed anywhere in the lake. Corn, fish eggs, cheese or any imitations are prohibited as bait.
The upper reaches of the Toxaway and Horsepasture rivers are in North Carolina. It's important to be aware that North and South Carolina don't have a reciprocal licensing agreement, and a N.C. fishing license is needed to legally fish these areas.