In selected waters from Nov. 1 through May 15, only single-hook flies or lures may be used, and all fish must be returned to the water unharmed. After May 15, fish may be harvested under general regulations with no bait restrictions.
Delayed-harvest regulations were introduced to South Carolina in 2002; they have become wildly popular, even though only two stretches of water are managed under those regulations: the Chattooga River from the S.C. 28 Bridge upstream for 2 1/2 miles to Reed Creek, and a 1-mile section of Cheohee Creek at the Piedmont Forestry Center in Oconee County.
Delayed-harvest regulations are particularly popular with kids and beginning fly anglers. After initial stockings in the fall, the fish are plentiful and not difficult to catch. Early successes will boost the angler's confidence and enjoyment level, which usually leads to greater interest in the sport - and ultimately, return visits.
The practice of catch-and-release combined with heavy stockings by the S.C. Division of Natural Resources (SCDNR), creates a quality fishing experience during the late fall, winter and early spring. Catch rates are two or three times higher than in general-regulation trout water, and the average trout will be 9 to 14 inches long, with an occasional trophy 20 inches or better in the mix.
These trout are not selective feeders. Almost any well-presented fly that looks like food usually leads to a strike. I have found that adding an element of flash or sparkle to a fly increases the odds of success. Bead-head nymphs, for example, get more hits from these trout than similar flies without the bead.
Dead-drifting nymphs below a strike indicator will be the most-productive method undermost conditions. The distance between the indicator and the fly should be approximately 1½ times the water depth. This will insure that the fly is at or near the stream bottom where the fish are holding.
Dry flies will catch fish, but not with the same regularity or efficiency as subsurface offerings. Late-autumn hatches such as blue-winged olives or midges will bring some trout to feed in the surface, but these events are at best, hit-and-miss. Blind casting or prospecting with a big, bushy, dry fly will pick up the occasional fish as well.
Woolly Buggers and flashy streamers stripped through the riffles and deep pools seem to produce fish regularly. Again, a little added flash or a bright color that gets their attention will serve you well.
For the Chattooga River delayed-harvest water, the S.C. 28 Bridge in Oconee County is the only access point. Parking is available on both the South Carolina and Georgia sides of the bridge, but there is more space on the S.C. side.
The Chattooga River Trail follows the river closely throughout this section on both sides and makes for easy access the entire way. The trail actually begins at the parking area at the S.C. side of the river and crosses the river into Georgia at one point.
The delayed-harvest water continues upstream for 2 1/2 miles to the confluence with Reed Creek.
A reciprocal agreement between South Carolina and Georgia allows legal fishing with licenses from either state, no matter which bank one stands on to fish. The Chattooga is open every day of the week.
This is big water, and there is plenty of room for fly-casting. Long, deep pools in this section punctuated by intervals of riffles and broken water are common. The water is relatively easy to wade, and the river has a subtle gradient, After heavy rains upstream, the water can be heavy and dangerous.
Cheohee Creek in the Piedmont Forestry Center in Oconee County provides an intimate delayed-harvest fishing experience in a smaller stream.
The 1-mile delayed-harvest section is open for fishing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays and can only be fished with an issued permit, available at the Piedmont Forestry Center.
Due to the popularity of these regulations, the SCDNR has hinted at the possibility of expanding the number of delayed-harvest streams. This is good news for fly anglers in South Carolina who eagerly anticipate this annual fall tradition.