A small government facility hidden deep in a valley of the Upstate South Carolina is responsible for producing some half a million items each year.
Let it be known, the trout anglers of South Carolina are very grateful.
Walhalla State Fish Hatchery ensures that trout remain in South Carolina’s waterways
Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared in the October 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.
By Michael Banks
Nestled deep in a green valley in the mountainous Upstate near its borders with North Carolina and Georgia is a facility that is of critical importance to the trout that swim the area waters and the anglers who seek them.
The Walhalla State Fish Hatchery is one of five public fish hatcheries that are overseen by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Freshwater Fisheries Management program, but it is the only one raising trout.
Because South Carolina is at “the southern-most extreme of suitable trout habitat, we’re really limited in the number of streams that we can stock. It is a unique fishery for being this far south,” says Scott Poore, the hatchery manager.
Currently, two trucks depart five days a week with an allotment of trout to stock streams and rivers in Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties, as well as the tail waters of Lakes Hartwell, Jocassee and Murray and the lower Saluda River in Columbia.
There are some wild populations of all three species of trout in the waters of the Upstate, but the only trout native to the area is the brook trout. The Walhalla fish compound plays a central role in making sure trout remain.
“There are so many anglers that target trout, if we were not able to supplement the existing populations or where populations are very limited, I think you would see angling pressure possibly decimate the fishery in some streams,” Poore says. “I think eventually it would come to a point where angling for trout in South Carolina would become non-existent.”
On average, there is a request of 475,000 trout each year from the biologists overseeing the program in the Clemson office. In the 12 years Poore has been at the hatchery, they’ve met that number and often exceeded it.
In a typical season, they are producing 600,000 to 650,000 trout, Poore said. Of that number, the rainbow and brown species are the predominate ones as there will be some 225,000 to 240,000 of each species produced. The rest are brook trout.
Poore, who grew up in the Upstate and graduated from Clemson with degrees in wildlife and fisheries biology, has been working at the Walhalla facility for the past 12 years.
It’s a job he loves.
“I love being outside. To be in the mountains and see all the seasons, it’s just an enjoyable experience. I feel rich in those non-monetary things that we see,” says Poore, who lives adjacent to the hatchery in a stone house with his wife and two sons.
“For me, growing up and enjoying the outdoors, this is a place where I come to where I’m not confined by four walls in an office,” he said. “As long as I’m producing the fish that’s been requested, providing an outreach opportunity for the visitors that come here, and the anglers are happy, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”
Want to visit the hatchery?
An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people visit the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery each year. The Mountain Rest facility, which dates back to the 1930s, is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no charge for admission and hatchery employees are available to answer questions.
“The kids love to come in and see all the varieties of fish,” says Scott Poore, hatchery manager. “During our peak time, we can easily have 1.2 million fish on hand.”
1. Outstanding fishing. The 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell is inhabited by striped and hybrid bass, largemouth, crappie, bream and catfish.
2. Camping. In addition to 115 paved campsites for RV or tent camping along the lake shore, the park is the only one in the state to offer unique, single-room camper cabins.
Looking to combine a room with a view along with your college football? Well, Lake Hartwell State Park may be the option for you as the park sees a large number of people setting up camp on Saturdays in the fall.
“A lot of people come in for Clemson football games,” says Brooks Garrett, who has served as the Lake Hartwell park ranger for the past three years. “They’ll bring their campers in, stay for the weekend and go tailgating.”
He also suggested that birdwatchers visit Lake Hartwell during the week when the park is less crowded.
“We get a lot of migratory birds, especially warblers, during the fall,” he said.
Oconee State Park
Address: 624 State Park Road, Mountain Rest, SC 29664
1. History. This park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and many of those structures can still be viewed. A CCC monument at the park honors the 3 million-plus people who served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942.
2. Wildlife. Black bear are sometimes seen and there is also a family of foxes who live at the park.
Bring a good pair of closed-toe shoes and some energy and you’ll be rewarded with an awesome view of a 60-foot waterfall.
Assistant park ranger Savanna Kelley, who has been at Oconee for the past five years, says a three-hour hike along the Hidden Falls Trail is a perfect outing for the fall.
“You can see the waterfall more in the fall than any other month with the leaves down,” she said.
Kelley also suggested renting a paddleboat or canoe.
“It’s gorgeous to take boats out on the lake with all the leaves changing,” she said.
1. Lake Jocassee. Four mountain streams and several waterfalls feed into the 7,565-acre lake, making it cooler than others and one of the state’s top trout fishing spots, as well as a fave of anglers seeking bass and crappie. The park offers the only public access to the lake.
2. Scuba diving. The clean and clear waters of Lake Jocassee make it a favorite for divers. Swimmers also delight in the cool waters.
Those looking for a unique study of leaf color can find it here, especially during the park’s peak viewing during the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November.
“Just get out on the lake and look at all the levels of color change,” said park ranger Kevin Evans, who has been the manager at Devils Fork for 12 years.
“To me, that’s one of the neatest parts. You can see the progression of fall by viewing the different elevations and the best way to do that is to get out on the lake itself.”
Evans also said Monday through Thursday is the best time to visit.
“You can have the entire lake to yourself. That’s just a great feeling, to have that feeling of being by yourself and that wonderment of really being immersed in the resource because there’s nobody else around.”
1. Lake Keowee. The 18,500-acre lake offers something for nearly every outdoor enthusiast surrounded by some of the most stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those looking for an access point for their canoe or kayak should arrive early as there is a small parking lot.
2. Wildflowers are abundant at this state park, especially in the spring. Two rare species that can be found are Alleghany spurge and ginseng.
One of the smaller state parks in the area, visitors should get out of their vehicles to experience Keowee-Toxaway.
“It’s a pretty park, but you really have to get out on the hiking trails as far as the views,” says park ranger Kevin Blanton, who has managed the 1,000-acre site for the past 12 years.
He suggests the No. 3 trailside camping site for those seeking a neat experience.
“It’s located out on a finger of land surrounded by Lake Keowee. To spend the night out on the point out by the lake is really something,” Blanton said.
1. Table Rock. The towering mountain offers up breathtaking views and serves as an access point for hikers on the 80-mile Foothills Trail.
2. Bluegrass music. The “Music on the Mountain” program takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. the second Saturday of each month.
There’s something special about hiking three miles to the top of Table Rock and seeing a full moon disappear and watching the sun rise, says Scott Stegenga, interpretive ranger at the park for the past 29 years.
“To take in the transition from night to dawn is pretty special. It’s a long hike, but it’s worth it once you get up there. To sit and take in all the surrounding wilderness, watch the sky change, hear the birds awake, to witness the breaking of a new day. It’s just an exhilarating time.”
There is a $25 per person fee and those interested should call the park to register. The next hikes will be Sept. 22 and Oct. 19.
Autumn is a perfect time to visit, Stegenga says.
“You get the foliage peaking at the end of October. The air is cleaner and crisper, less humid. Altogether, it’s a better hiker-friendly atmosphere in the fall. It’s one of the special places in South Carolina that’s still preserved.”
1. Bird-watching, specifically hawks from September through November. During Hawk Watch, visitors can observe the raptors as they migrate to their South American feeding grounds. On one past September day, 11,048 birds passed through the park.
2. Sixty-plus miles of challenging hiking trails and trailside camping. Hike the Raven Cliff Falls Trail and see the tallest waterfall in the state.
Tim Lee has spent the past 19 years working as the interpretive ranger for the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, 13,000 acres of pristine southern mountain forest encompassing both the Caesers Head and Jones Gap state parks.
He has seen a lot of visitors and one of his favorite quotes was from a child as she stood atop the overlook at Caesers Head, which sits some 3,200 feet above sea level with a spectacular view that extends into North Carolina and Georgia.
“She said, ‘You can see the whole world from here.’ And I think that’s a great quote,” Lee said. “Through all our different eyes, you can see the whole world from there.”
And if visitors will look down at the ground, they’ll also be in for a treat.
“One of the things that people don’t think a lot about, but there are a lot of beautiful fall wildflowers that bloom along our trails,” said Lee, mentioning New England asters, various goldenrod species and the beautiful but toxic milk sick, which is also known as white snake root.
1. Beautiful waterfalls. At least five waterfalls can be viewed from this state park. Hikers can work up a sweat on the Rainbow Falls Trail and then cool off in the mist of the falls.
2. The Eastern Continental Divide. Rain falling on one side of this divide runs into streams that eventually end at the Atlantic Ocean, while rain falling on the other side ultimately runs into the Gulf of Mexico.
Some of the best fishing for wild trout in the state can be found on the Middle Saluda River, a designated scenic waterway that runs through the park.
Lee, who is a fishermen himself, said the state stopped stocking the river back in the 1970s and those fishermen seeking wild, natural-born trout come to the park.
“You get a true wilderness experience where you feel that you are the only person out there… it’s just you and the river,” Lee said. “It gives you an opportunity to reconnect with the natural world, the river, the forest. I’ve heard many people say how relaxing and calming the sounds of the river