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This beautiful sunny state calls to mind juicy, delicious peaches and some of the most important Revolutionary War battles that shaped this nation. What you probably don’t think of when you think about South Carolina is fly fishing. Yet the SCDNR works hard to make sure that the Palmetto State has plenty to offer anglers looking for a rewarding fishing experience, and they’ve certainly got the striking landscape to make your trip memorable. With plenty of trout – both wild and stocked – you’ll have your pick of scenic locations to cast a line and bring home a creel full of dinner.
South Carolina is like a compact, well-oiled machine when it comes to fly fishing opportunities. It isn’t overly saturated with traditional trout streams and other typical fisheries frequented by bug chuckers, but the areas it does have to offer are beautiful and rewarding. Check out some of the best places in South Carolina to cast your line.
This tributary of the Tugaloo dances through the Appalachian foothills and flows southwest from North Carolina to become part of the northernmost border between South Carolina and Georgia. Known as one of the best trout streams in SC, the Chattooga is a designated National Wild and Scenic River, traveling mostly through U.S. National Forest lands and serving as one of the most revered whitewater rafting destinations in the country.
Fly fishermen will enjoy the stocked rainbows, semi-wild browns, and brookies that occupy various parts of the stream, with particularly dense populations in the specially managed section between Reed Creek and the Highway 28 bridge. This three-mile stretch receives hefty stocking between November and May, and during this time is catch-and-release with artificial lures only.
While it can be challenging to get down to the water, there are access points at the bridge as well as at Burrells Ford, just south of the North Carolina border. North of the ford you’ll find only wild trout, which means they’re more easily spooked and present a fun challenge to the angler who thrives on a bit of a fight. For these you’ll want to match the hatch as closely as possible.
From the ford, about a mile downstream, you’ll find stocked rainbows that offer an opportunity to take home the limit of fish. Further downstream you’ll find mostly browns again, stocked from fall deposits. The stocked fish are more willing to take a generic fly pattern, as they have not had ample time to grow accustomed to the patterns of the native food.
One of the best parts of Burrells Ford is that it features a free campground with sites that are literally right on the water. Pitch your tent, get up in the morning, and cast your line right off the rip. Cherry Hill Campground is another nearby option, and costs about $10 a night. Whether you spend a weekend or just a day, the stunning, colorful scenery surrounding the river makes it a South Carolina fly fishing destination not to be missed.
Just west of Columbia sits a tailwater created by the Saluda Dam and fed by Lake Murray. The chill waters from the depths of the lake provide the ideal environment for the 40,000 trout stocked each year by the SCDNR. Sub-adult browns go in each autumn, while catchable rainbows are stocked each month from November to April.
Much of the 10-mile tailwater flows through private property, but there are some access points for waders. You can enter from the south bank, at Hope Ferry Landing, or from the north at Saluda Shoals Regional Park. There is carry-in boat access 3.5 miles downstream, at the Gardendale/SCE&G put-in, for anglers who prefer to float.
As with any tailstream created by a dam, fishermen must be ultra-alert of what’s happening with the water level. There are five generators and none to all of them could run on any given day. When wading, keep an eye on a focal point – if that spot starts to dip under water, you need to get out. You can obtain water flow information by calling 800-830-5253. This information can also help you plan if you’re walking in, so that you come during times of low flow.
This 14.6-mile tributary of Lake Jocassee begins in North Carolina, plunging over two spectacular 400+-foot falls – one in NC and one after passing into northwestern SC – before feeding underneath the waters of the lake. This waterway contains both rainbows and browns, some wild, and some stocked fingerlings.
There is public access to the Whitewater available via a trail beginning on Duke Energy’s Bad Creek Project land. The trail goes across a footbridge which offers good access to fish up or downstream. This area is good for wading because of the moderate grade. Take caution when going upstream from the bridge, as the NC border is just a mile up and so a NC fishing license would be required if you cross over the boundary. A mile downstream from the bridge sits the Lower Whitewater Falls, so you’ll need to be aware of where you are going that way as well – it’s a long fall.
Due to the mountainous region surrounding this river, the water is not exceedingly fertile, so the trout tend to be opportunistic feeders. Your stealthiness and drift are going to be much more relevant in this area than having an exact fly match.
South Carolina has year-round trout fishing. April is far and away the most productive month for fly fishing in SC due to the stockings that take place. During the fall, you might have good luck with larger holdover browns, and in winter the warmer days encourage action, although you’ll need to be a bit more patient as the fish are more sedentary during this time. Your best chance is to get the fly directly in front of them in deep pools.
While the Lower Saluda seems to get all the fanfare due to its popularity as a tailwater trout fishery, further up the Saluda River is a great place to be in October. Take in the breathtaking scenery and robust rainbow action along the Middle Saluda between Mountain Bridge Wilderness and Jones Gap State Park.
Care for a little striper action? In November you’ll find them coming into shallower waters on Lake Murray, in order to feed. Remember, anywhere a “regular” angler can fish, you can fly fish as well.
You’ll want your standard equipment, of course – waders, a brimmed hat, rain jacket, bug spray – and particularly for the southern states you might even want to have a mosquito head net, polarized sunglasses (these allow you to see further under the water’s surface), accessories – nippers, net, pliers, etc., and if you’re camping, a water purifier will save you from having to lug around a bunch of bottles.
If you’re venturing to the Chattooga you’ll want insulated waders in winter and lightweight in warmer weather, due to the year-round chilly water temperature. The rocks in this river are extraordinarily slick, so spiked boots are in order as well.
A 4 to 5 weight with 5X or 6X tippet and 9-foot leader should suffice for most of the trout streams around the state.
As for flies, you’ll want to keep a wide variety on-hand. A good selection of flies for South Carolina includes black caddis, blue-winged olives, grasshoppers, beetles, worms, streamers, woolly buggers, midges, pheasant tails, crawdads, sculpins, stoneflies, nymphs, emergers, and spinners.
South Carolina requires that people age 16 and up obtain a fishing license unless fishing on a privately owned pond. An annual license for residents costs $10, or you can purchase a two-week license for $5. You can obtain a saltwater fishing license for the same prices. Non-resident licenses cost $35 for an annual and $11 for a two-week.
You can trout fish year-round, however there are a few different regulations for various bodies of water – for example, November 1 to May 14 is catch-and-release and artificial lure only in the managed area of the Chattooga River. On May 15th the laws revert to normal. There is a five fish take limit, with no length limit except for the Lower Saluda – in that river you can only take one fish longer than 16 inches. You’ll want to review the regulations before you go just so that you can be sure you’re adhering to the law.
Even though the Palmetto State isn’t known for its fly fishing, it offers surprising variety to anglers. Whether you’re seeking the instant gratification of a stocked, cold tailwater, or the natural beauty of an untamed river, SC has options to fit every fisherman’s tastes. With the incredible beauty of the mountains as a backdrop you can enjoy your favorite sport while surrounding by some of the best scenery in the United States.