If you’ve been lucky enough to reel in a prized trout from one of South Carolina’s cold-water streams, chances are it was born and raised in the Upstate’s Walhalla State Fish Hatchery. One of five hatcheries managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), it is the only one dedicated to the delectable cold-water species.
The facility was built in the mid-1930s to improve trout fishing opportunities in South Carolina where trout habitat is limited. While the streams of the Appalachian Mountains are generally pristine, the waters are not as fertile as streams in other areas of the country.
To increase the population of trout, the SCDNR releases some 500,000 brown, rainbow and native brook trout each year in an array of areas across the state. Approximately 14 mountain streams in the northwest corner of the state are stocked between March and June and again throughout October and November. In the more remote backcountry streams, the fish are released by helicopter.
Several state and county park lakes, as well as U.S. Forest Service lakes, also are stocked with trout. You can catch some of the homegrown fish in Oconee State Park, Table Rock State Park and Pleasant Ridge Park. In addition, year-round trout fisheries have been developed in the Upstate’s Lake Jocassee and the tailraces below Lake Hartwell in Anderson County and Lake Murray in Lexington County.
Most of the trout released in these waters are a catchable size of 9 to 12 inches. But at the hatchery, you’ll see some weighing as much as 15 pounds.
Located on Hwy 107 in Sumter National Forest, the Walhalla hatchery is open to the public for self-guided tours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free.
The first phase of the fish’s life cycle begins in a beautiful old stone building constructed during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. To protect the easily damaged trout eggs, the incubator room where they are hatched is normally closed to the public.
Once the fingerling trout grow to two inches, they are moved outside to 100-foot long concrete tanks called raceways. In the fall, you can see the many stages of trout, from 2-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 takes 14 to 16 months for the fish to reach the stocking size of 9 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.
You don’t have to leave the hatchery to try your hand at catching some of Walhalla’s tasty trout. Among the Upstate streams stocked by the SCDNR is the East Fork of the Chattooga River, which runs through the hatchery grounds and provides most of the water used to grow the fish. There’s also a pier in the Chattooga Picnic Area adjacent to the hatchery.
For directions or more information on the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery, click here or call (864) 638-2866.