South Carolina authorities have noticed astonishing changes in the 9½-mile portion of the Saluda River below Lake Murray Dam, where trout have been stocked since the 1960s.
About 35,000 catchable sized browns and rainbows are released each year, with anglers encouraged to harvest them since they were unable to survive from year to year.
In recent years, however, the fish are surviving – and growing to trophy size.
“In the last year or two it seems there are a number of larger holdover trout being caught in the Saluda,” said Hal Beard, a regional fisheries coordinator and biologist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
“Some of them are 18 to 24 inches – we’re talking about some very large fish.”
Changes in water quality in recent years might be responsible. The river has more dissolved oxygen because of turbine and flow schedule improvements at the Lake Murray Dam.
“Some people have attritbuted it to the improved environmental conditions,” Beard said. “There could be any number or reasons, but I would guess it’s a combination of things.”
The larger trout have made the Saluda more popular with anglers – and some of them believe stricter harvest rules could make a good trout stream even better.
Groups including Trout Unlimited have approached state officials about modifying regulations to encourage even more trout carryover from year to year, especially among the larger, trophy fish.
The department has held two public meetings so far to gauge public opinion, but has not come up with any specific recommendations for change.
Currently, the limit is five trout of any size, with no seasonal or bait restrictions. One possible change would be to allow anglers to keep only one large fish.
“We’re trying to come up with a compromise here,” Beard said. “Some people just want to catch their five trout and go home, but if there was a way to enhance the trophy fishery, that isn’t necessarily bad either.”
Hydropower dams like the one at Lake Murray typically withdraw water far beneath the lake’s surface, where temperatures are very cold. Modern turbines include vents to inject oxygen into the tailrace waters, which in past decades were deficient in dissolved oxygen.
The Saluda River isn’t the only site where more oxygen is possibly influencing water quality and fish.
In May, PGA Tour member Vaughn Taylor landed a
56-pound, 2-ounce striper below Thurmond Dam, setting a new species record for the Savannah River.
Taylor’s fish shattered the previous record by more than 13 pounds, and was caught in a segment of the river that is not part of any striper stocking program. Biologists believe his fish survived a trip through the dam’s turbines as a fingerling.
Its stunning size was viewed as a possible indicator that water quality in that segment of the river has improved, due in part to the installation about a decade ago of oxygen-venting turbines in Thurmond Dam.
WARREN EXPO: Last weekend’s Wildlife Expo at Warren Baptist Church lured in plenty of hunting and fishing aficionados – and might even need a bigger venue in future years.
There were 1,450 people registered, and barbecue was fed to almost 1,700 people, said Adam Harris, one of the organizers. With more than 60 vendors and $21,000 in door prizes – including a golf car and Green Egg cooker – the night was a huge success, he said.
CRACKERNECK TO OPEN: Aiken County’s Crackerneck Wildlife Management Area will open to the public Sept. 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 to allow scouting, fishing and other activities.
The area includes 10,470 acres owned by the U.S. Department of Energy along the Savannah River south of Jackson. Access is off Brown Road near U.S. Highway 125. To request a map, call (803) 725-3663 or e-mail CaudellM@dnr.sc.gov.