If you’ve been lucky enough to catch a trout from one of South Carolina’s Appalachian Mountain streams, chances are it came from the Upstate’s Walhalla State Fish Hatchery.
The facility has been stocking area waters with the freshwater fish since the mid-1930s. That’s because the bedrock where the streams originate create a low alkaline environment not conducive to fertile trout production.
To sustain good stream fishing, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources
releases approximately a half-million brown, brook and rainbow trout each year. That’s a lot of seafood dinners!
Most of the trout are grown to a catchable size of nine to 12 inches, but some very large 15-pounders are on display at the hatchery for your viewing pleasure.
I recently visited the hatchery on Highway 107 in Sumter National Forest to gawk at the current populace of tasty trout. Visitors are welcome to tour the Walhalla hatchery from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free.
The growing cycle begins in a beautiful old stone building constructed by the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.
Because trout eggs are easily damaged, the incubator room where they are hatched is normally not open to the public. Once the fingerling trout grow to two inches, they are moved outside to 100-foot long concrete tanks called raceways.
This time of year, you can see the many stages in the life cycle of trout from two-inch fingerlings to foot-long fish ready to be released into the wild. They are kept in different tanks in the raceways, along with the broodstock. It’s quite entertaining watching them swimming in mass in the tight quarters.
It takes 14 to 16 months for the fish to reach the stocking size of nine inches. Distribution typically begins in mid-February and runs through mid-November. A kiosk at the hatchery lists the streams that are stocked with the trout each year.
Visitors are welcome to fish for some of the releases in the East Fork, which runs through the hatchery grounds. I saw a woman reeling in a nice-sized brown trout the day I toured the facility.
For directions or more information on the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery, click here
or call (864) 638-2866.