The S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Freshwater Fisheries Section stocked about 16,000 brown and rainbow trout in the lower Saluda River Dec. 6 using a helicopter and specialized lift bucket. The stocking benefits South Carolina’s $18 million trout fishery.
This year’s trout stocking is a cooperative effort between DNR and the State Law Enforcement Division with SLED providing the pilots and helicopter for the aerial stocking.
Helicopter stocking allows the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to better distribute trout up and down the river system and prevents the concentration of fish in any particular area. This will allow the fish more time to acclimate and disperse before anglers begin trying to catch them. The SLED aircraft also allows the DNR to be more selective in the type of habitat where the fish are stocked.
The helicopter stocked about 13,000 brown trout (averaging about 6 inches) and 3000 rainbow trout (averaging about 9-10 inches) over some 9 miles of the Saluda River, a total of approximately 3,000 pounds of fish. The trout came from the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery in Oconee County, operated by the DNR. The trout are transported by truck to a site near the river. The fish are kept in water and transferred to the lift bucket attached to the helicopter. The chopper then pulls away and carries the fish to the river.
The Saluda River below Lake Murray dam is unique because its popular trout fishery is essentially an artificial situation, according to DNR biologists. 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 normally stocks more than 30,000 trout each year in the Saluda from November through April in what it calls a "put, grow and take" fishery.
Annual stocking is necessary to maintain the trout populations, and anglers play an important role as well. Young trout grow rapidly if allowed to remain in the river. For young trout to reach their potential, 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. Conservation officers with the DNR will be patrolling the Saluda River in the winter and spring to hold down the number of over-the-limit trout catches. The daily limit is five fish from the Saluda River between the Lake Murray dam and the confluence of the Broad River.
South Carolina’s trout fishery generates more than $9 million annually for the state’s economy in direct retail sales, with a total economic output of more than $18 million, according to a study on the economic benefits of freshwater fishing in South Carolina. The effects of trout fishing can be felt in many segments of Upstate and Midlands communities, from motels and restaurants to gas stations, local bait and tackle shops and sporting goods stores.
The South Carolina DNR stocks more than 400,000 trout into public waters in the state’s upcountry each year. 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 tailwaters below the Lake Hartwell and Lake Murray dams.
The Sport Fish Restoration program and fishing license revenue helped fund the Saluda River trout stocking. The Sport Fish Restoration program is a major funding source for South Carolina’s freshwater fisheries’ program, and it represents the return of excise taxes collected from the sale of fishing tackle. Funds are allocated to states based on their relative size and the number of licensed anglers.
See raw video of the stocking.
DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.