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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

Dec. 13, 2011

Trout stocked by helicopter in Lower Saluda River

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Freshwater Fisheries Section stocked about 13,000 brown and rainbow trout in the Lower Saluda River Dec. 13 using a helicopter and specialized lift bucket. The stocking benefits South Carolina’s $14 million trout fishery.

This year’s trout stocking is a cooperative effort between the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the State Law Enforcement Division with SLED providing the pilots and helicopter for the aerial stocking.

Helicopter stocking allows 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 brown trout (averaging about 6 inches) and rainbow trout (averaging about 9-10 inches) over some 9 miles of the Saluda River. 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 DNR stocks approximately 30,000 trout each year in the Saluda from December through February 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 exceed 20 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 will also 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. The 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 South Carolina DNR. 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.

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.

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