South Carolina history books have stated for years that the Palmetto State stretches from the “mountains to the sea.” As that description implies, the broad range of topography also means a broad range of aquatic habitats, fish, and recreational fishing opportunities. With rivers formed as cold, southern Appalachian mountain streams and warming as they flow through the state toward the Atlantic Ocean, the aquatic habitats and fisheries change dramatically along the way. In addition to the state’s rivers, large lakes, small creeks, ponds, bays, marshes, and the Atlantic Ocean all provide for a remarkable variety of places and species for fishing.
Most of the mountain streams in the upcountry of South Carolina, such as the Chattooga, Saluda, and Broad Rivers, originate in the higher elevations of North Carolina. These are cold-water habitats perfect for rainbow, brown, and brook trout. The smaller streams and the headwater tributaries usually contain smaller trout that weigh less than a pound. The larger Chattooga, however, offers not only fish weighing several pounds but also scenic beauty worthy of its designation as a national “wild and scenic” river. Lake Jocassee allows trout to grow to trophy sizes of more than ten pounds because of the abundant threadfin shad population that the trout feed on. This deep, two-tiered fishery allows both cold-water trout and warm-water species such as bass and bluegill to thrive. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) supplements the trout populations in the upstate with stockings from their Walhalla Trout Hatchery, and with protective regulations.
As the rivers flow downstream in the state, water temperatures increase and the rivers support warm-water species such as the popular largemouth bass, yellow and white perch, crappie, catfish, and bream, the latter of which usually comprises the many varieties of sunfish. For sport and for table fare, these are all eagerly fished for with tackle ranging from simple cane poles to spin and bait casting rigs to fly outfits.
Large lakes such as Lake Hartwell and Lake Keowee in the upcountry, Lake Greenwood and Lake Murray in the Midlands, and Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie in the lowcountry all provide fishing for the above-named warm-water fish, plus the added bonus of striped bass. Stripers, or rockfish, as they are often called, are the official South Carolina state fish. They are stocked as three to five inch fingerling fish by the DNR and can grow to more than forty pounds. This large predatory fish can exist in both freshwater and saltwater, as was found by accident in the early 1940s. A freshwater, riverine population was trapped in Lakes Marion and Moultrie as the Santee and Cooper Rivers were dammed to produce electricity. The DNR began the first striper hatchery program in the country shortly afterward near St. Stephen. The agency has maintained that program to supply fingerlings for fisheries around the state and the country. Striped bass have a large following of fishermen, as the popular largemouth bass does. Most of these fishermen are armed with boats filled with electronic equipment to locate these migratory fish. Striped bass have even fostered an industry of freshwater striper guides on the lakes and are a major component of the tourism industry in the surrounding counties.
As rivers enter the lowcountry, their flow eventually meets the upper tidal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Fishing for all the fresh- water species found further inland is good even in the brackish stretches of slightly saline water where the flows meet and mix. A cast there may result in a hookup with a largemouth bass or with a redfish, flounder, sea trout, sheepshead, or one of the other saltwater species that inhabit the state’s inshore estuaries. Below the brackish river stretches, the inshore species of saltwater fish all thrive. Other seasonal, migratory fish such as tarpon and crevalle jack are possible catches in the warmer months.
To add another dimension to fishing along the South Carolina coast, there is also offshore fishing. From just off the beaches out to the artificial reefs there are other species such as black sea bass, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, bonito, king mackerel, grouper, and snapper. To add further to the fishing picture, bull dolphin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, and marlin roam the Gulf Stream waters more than forty miles out as they move along the Atlantic coast on their seasonal migration patterns. Numerous offshore charter boats, party boats, inshore fishing guides, and commercial piers are available for recreational anglers to fish for these saltwater species.