An overlooked trout destination

South Carolina is known for a lot of things. Shrimp and grits and mustard-based barbecue. A religious obsession with college football. 

When you’re putting together a list of things to do in this state, trout fishing is not often at the top. When most anglers think of South Carolina, they picture chasing striper in Lake Murray or redfish along the coast. Bordering North Carolina and Georgia, with Tennessee nearby, South Carolina is typically an afterthought when you’re rigging up a fly rod. But there are plenty of opportunities in this small state to target great trout fisheries. 

Like much of the South, South Carolina is known for its intensely hot and humid summers. The kind that makes you want to jump head first into a river, not strap on waders to walk around in it. Outside of these hot months, there’s a diverse system of rivers that fly anglers can take advantage of. While these may not be the biggest trout you land, there’s plenty of reason to grab your gear and head to the Palmetto State. 

Finding the Fish 

Targeting trout in South Carolina is typically limited to the Upstate, which encompasses the region that borders North Carolina and Georgia. There is opportunity in the middle part of the state, but the climate for trout is most conducive closer to the mountains. 

The Saluda River is one of the more common rivers, with its many branches and creeks, that holds trout. Running from North Carolina down through South Carolina’s capital of Columbia, where it merges with the Congaree, the Saluda has great access and is stocked regularly. 

Upstate South Carolina sits at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, dotted by many rolling hills and valley. In the northern stretches of this are many small creeks and streams that are worth wetting a line. 

Like many of the locations in South Carolina, the trip is marked not only by the fishing, but by the scenery. Don’t forget to take in the landscape around you as head for the water. 

It can be overwhelming to identify where to start. Discoversc.com recommends the Middle Saluda River, best accessed from Jones Gap State Park. If you’re looking to make it a weekend trip, Jones Gap has primitive camping. There’s good access alongside the river, so wade fishing is possible. 

The most well-known trout water in South Carolina is the Chatooga River. It is one of the widest cold-water fisheries in the sate and serves as a border between South Carolina and Georgia.

As you head towards the middle part of the state, the Saluda continues to flow into Columbia. Considering the higher temperatures in this region, it’s incredible to see a thriving trout population. The river is wider here and you’ll likely need to float it in several places. There are good access points at Saluda Shoals and Hopes Ferry.  

Most all of the trout fisheries in South Carolina will have some form of public access. It’s important to research these (SC Department of Natural Resources is a good place to start). You’ll need to make sure that where you’re fishing is on public land, or that you’ve received permission from an owner to fish private property. 

Unlike North Carolina, South Carolina does not have a trout pass or trout specific license. However, there are regulations on the type of tackle you can use to target trout. In recent years, the laws around catch and release and size of trout you can keep have changed. You can check all of this out online at SC DNR. 

The Flies You Need in Your Box 

Spring is one of the most ideal teams to go after trout on the fly in South Carolina. The cooler water temps, combined with plenty of hatches, makes for ideal fishing. 

The spring season is generally considered to run from March until May. The weather can and will fluctuate, so you may have an early spring or a longer winter. The SC DNR guide recommends loading up your box with nymphs like Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Stoneflies, Pheasant Tails, and a few Wooly Buggers. 

It’s always good to have some split shots on hand to add a little depth in case there a few trout deep in a run. 

As the water temps rise, you’ll likely see surface activity from ongoing hatches. Go check out your local fly shop boards to see what’s on. It’s good to keep Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and Gnats on hand, according to SC DNR

The Strategy 

Typically, you’ll want to start early in the day or in the evening. When you arrive to your spot, take a few moments to watch for activity. This will give you a good indication if trout are feeding on the surface. 

Many streams in South Carolina are not so wide or deep that you need to wade. Try to avoid getting in the water much deeper than your ankles if you can help it. Your roll casting skills will be key. Like many streams in the Southeast, you’ll be dealing with overhanging branches. There will not be room for much back-casting, so be prepared to get line out and roll often. 

What you need to rig up 

A 4-5 wt. rod and reel setup should work just fine when targeting Carolina trout. Consider having a shorter setup (less than an 8’ rod) to help combat the trees and shrubs you could encounter. Having both of these rods on-hand is a good idea in case you want to toss some streamers. 

How to get there

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has put together a great guide on trout fishing in the state. One of the best features is the inclusion of maps and directions to public access points. As trout fishing has grown in popularity, there’s been more development of parking. Use their online guide to help you get to streams you want to target. 

A hidden gem

Don’t sleep on South Carolina. Often remembered for its coastal beauty and sportfishing, the state offers a great chance to fish for trout on less pressured water. License fees are reasonable and there are great places to eat, sleep, and enjoy a great weekend. When you’re planning your next trout adventure, add South Carolina to your list. 

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