South Carolina doesn’t typically pop up on the national radar when it comes to trout fishing. While her lowcountry is well known as a world class inshore fishery, not much is reported about the small streams, rivers, and creeks that run through the mountains of her northern countryside.
The idea for exploring South Carolina’s various trout waterways was first floated over to me by What The Fin?’s National Sales Director, Drew Horton. With my road trip to Georgia and Michigan looming just over the horizon, he invited me to take a quick detour east, and spend a few days exploring the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with him in search of rainbow trout.
Since I didn’t know what to expect in the cold waters of the Palmetto State, I decided to do a bit of research before hitting the road. Although reports were not as voluminous as, say, North Carolina, I was encouraged by what I was able to come across.
Waterways, both wild and stocked, dotted the landscape, giving us ample opportunity to find pescatorial bliss. While rainbows would be our primary focus, we could also expect to come across wild brown trout, and if we were lucky, the occasional brookie.
After a brief stop in Savannah, Georgia, I made my way north towards Greenville, ready to test the waters of the Southeast’s forgotten trout fishery.
I begin my first day in the Palmetto State skulking along the banks of a small mountain stream, the name of which is better left unpublished. The air is still. I watch as invading rays of sunshine penetrate the canopy and slowly lift the morning’s fog from the water.
The rod in my hand is just a diversion from my true purpose, an empty threat in case I should find an opportunity too good to pass up. I’m here to introduce myself. A foreign body from a far away land, attempting to assimilate to a new habitat.
Cautiously I make my way downstream, paying close attention to any nooks and crannies that may hold fish. A sudden flash on the outskirts of a deep pool alerts me to the presence of my quarry. I make myself small in the hopes that he was not yet aware of my intrusion.
While not quite winter, a recent freeze brings out the streamer junkie in me. The trout are sluggish, in search of an easy meal.
I cast my weighted woolly bugger just upstream, allowing it to dead drift through the pool. With a few light strips the silvery flash reappears, signaling that I have his attention. I rinse, wash, repeat.
My efforts are greeted by a tug, and I raise my rod tip to set the hook. The 4wt fiberglass rod bends with satisfaction. He’s not a monster, then again, they’re not to be expected in a stream of this size.
While I needed the extra day to gain familiarity with my surroundings, Drew was already right at home. He was upstate South Carolina’s native son, a man already well versed in what the mountains had to offer. This was his territory, his knowledge earned since childhood.
Our eyes are glued to the water as we walk along a well tread trail. They dance back and forth, on the lookout for a promising pool or point of interest. Just below a half submerged boulder, we notice a deep impression in the riverbed. Cautious not to cause commotion, we position ourselves just upstream, and begin our assault.
After a few drifts through the pool with nothing to show for it, I decide it’s time to continue our journey downstream. To my surprise, Drew bluntly rejects my plan, calmly stating, “No, this pool holds fish.”
Since he was far more savvy to the tricks of Palmetto State trout, I follow his recommendation, patiently sending a few more drifts through the pool. Suddenly, I feel the familiar sensation of a fish gobbling up the fly.
The fight is frenzied as he darts around the outskirts of the pool. My 4wt wanes as he makes a run downstream. This is a good sized fish for public waters. Gradually I manage to corral him just close enough for Drew to slink his net underneath, and secure our first fish of the day.
He’s a shade over 12 inches, a borderline trophy for these public waters. His flank adorned with scars, the telltale sign of an earlier brush with death at the talons of a bird of prey. I make quick work of the fly protruding from his mouth, and give him a second to recover before gently sending him on his way.
Drew positions himself back to our original spot just upstream, and drifts his fly through the the pool again. Given the commotion from my fight, I’m not sure of what could be left in the confines of the depression. My doubts would prove to be misplaced. After two drifts he’s on, and raises his rod in victory.
The rainbow was a scrappy one, bested only by Drew’s grit and determination. I marvel at the bright sheen now occupying the bottom of his net. The woollies are dangerous today, the perfect treat for lazy, feeding trout.
As we trek farther downstream, our numbers continue to add up. Each pool seems to hold an eager rainbow just waiting to pounce.
While Drew concentrated his efforts on various pools, I made my way towards a small set of rapids. I’m a little more emboldened, the fast, busy waters don’t call for ambush tactics. I bump up my tippet. Not only are the fish here much less selective, they’re far more aggressive, and a little extra horsepower could make all the difference.
My bold endeavour is soon rewarded, as my rod bends at the whim of a small trout. I’m thankful for the beefier tippet, which allows me to strongarm him into my net, minimizing any concern for the small fish hurting itself on the rocks during our spirited tustle.
The water is cold as I slowly revive what would be my last rainbow of the day. With a roar, my stomach informs me that both dinner and dusk aren’t too far away. The timing is perfect, other anglers are occupying the waters downstream.
With that, we tip our hats, our time here has come to an end. We pack it in and make our way upstream, pausing to see if any opportunities were overlooked. After a brief moment of contemplation, we deemed our results satisfactory, and continue our trek back towards the Jeep.
I watch as the sun slowly fades behind the mountains as we meander our way back to Greenville. The heat feels good on my cold feet. My rumbling stomach is satiated by some snacks I stashed in the car just before hitting the water.
South Carolina put her best foot forward today, perhaps she realized it was her time to shine. While she doesn’t get as much fanfare as her sister to the north, fly fishermen looking to chase trout in the foothills of the Appalachians would be hard pressed to find a more inviting venue.