Thousands of rainbow and brown trout will be stocked in the lower Saluda River near Columbia on Tuesday (Dec. 13) using a helicopter and specialized lift bucket, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources announced.

The stocking, which is part of an annual program to create a trout population in the lower Saluda, is expected to begin about 9:30 a.m. just off Corley Mill Road (Frye Road) near Interstate 20 at US 378 west of Columbia in Lexington County.

If the stocking must be delayed, the alternate date will be next Wednesday (Dec. 14).

Helicopter stocking allows the SCDNR to better distribute trout up and down the river system, while also preventing the concentration of fish in any particular area.

Trout used in the stocking came from Walhalla State Fish Hatchery in Oconee County.

The Saluda River is unique because its popular trout fishery is essentially an artificial situation. Trout must be stocked there and can survive only because of the cold-water releases from the bottom of the Lake Murray dam.

The DNR stocks approximately 30,000 trout each year in the Saluda from December through April in what it calls a "put, grow and take" fishery that relies on stocking to maintain populations and the cooperation of anglers for success.

Young trout grow rapidly after stocking, if allowed to remain in the river. For young trout to reach their potential, however, they must not be removed from the river immediately after stocking. If given time to grow, they can reach up to 16 inches, considered trophy size for this type of fishery. If trout are to reach this size, anglers must practice catch-and-release fishing, especially during the winter and early spring.

DNR conservation officers also will be patrolling the river heavily to try and hold down over-the-limit catches.

South Carolina's trout fishery generates about $9 million annually for the state's economy in direct retail sales, with a total estimated economic output of more than $14 million, according to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Effects of trout fishing can be felt in many segments of Upstate and Midlands communities, from motels and restaurants to gas stations and sporting goods stores.

Approximately 400,000 trout are stocked into public waters in the state's upcountry each year by the SCDNR. The trout are stocked in more than 50 cold-water rivers and streams in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties, in Lake Jocassee and in the cool tail waters below the Lake Hartwell and Lake Murray dams.