Anglers who like to fish on a more than 2-mile stretch of the lower Saluda River will have to throw back the trout they catch starting July 1.
The S.C. Legislature approved a bill last month that bans people from keeping trout caught in a section of the river between the Interstate 20 bridge and Stacey’s Ledge, just up from Riverbanks Zoo and the popular Mill Race rapids.
State fisheries managers and Trout Unlimited say the prohibition will protect the lower Saluda's fragile trout population as Columbia expands a river walk that is expected to give people greater access to the scenic waterway.
“Our thinking is that, with all the new pressure on the river with the river walk opening up, and since we do know fish are spawning in there, it’s a very positive way to protect the fish,’’ said Ken Kinard, a Trout Unlimited member who supported the limits.
Some fishermen who like to eat trout may not be happy about the ban on keeping the popular game fish. But those working on the river walk haven’t voiced much opposition to the trout limit.
The new law doesn’t prevent people from fishing in the area from I-20 to Stacey’s Ledge, only from keeping trout. Fishermen also still will be able to keep a limited number of trout caught in the river upstream of the I-20 bridge.
Trout stocked in the river have in recent years begun to reproduce as power company SCE&G has modified how it operates the Lake Murray dam, which has improved the habitat. The Columbia area’s trout fishery is a rarity in central South Carolina, where rivers are normally too warm for trout to survive. Trout are more common in the southern Appalachians, which has more cold-water rivers.
But the lower Saluda has artificially cold temperatures because of water released through the Lake Murray dam, making the river suitable for trout. Preserving the trout population means there will be more fish for recreational anglers to hook, state officials said.
"The establishment of the catch and release zone between I-20 and Stacey's Ledge on the lower Saluda will provide an opportunity for anglers to experience a very good trout fishery in a very unique location,” Natural Resources fisheries chief Ross Self said in a news release Wednesday. “This area should have very good access and is the best area for anglers to wade and fish of any location along the lower Saluda."
The plan initially was to prevent fishermen from keeping trout caught on a 1.3-mile stretch of the Saluda between the Interstate 26 bridge and Stacey’s Ledge. But state lawmakers said expanding the no-take zone to I-20 would be a better way to ensure trout don’t disappear from the river.
The lower Saluda River is a state-designated scenic waterway that extends from Lake Murray to the Broad River, where the two rivers form the Congaree. The lower Saluda is known for its cold water, whitewater rapids and Spanish moss, making it an unusual intersection of the Lowcountry and the foothills.