Kind of weird -- in a good way. That's the only way I can describe trout fishing on the Lower Saluda River Tailrace in Columbia, SC. While I'm used to fishing in the cool, shaded streams of the mountains, Columbia, SC, located in the Piedmont 100 miles from the mountains, is one of the hottest cities in the entire region. It was 94 degrees (not bad for the first week of May) when we stopped fishing in the afternoon, yet the water temperature was 58 degrees throughout the day. We saw everything from fly fishermen to out of control kayak renters to bass boats on the river. I've never seen a bass boat going up rapids before, but it looked like the driver had done it a time or two. Where else can you fish for trout, pickerel, and stripers all at once? Also, the trout are stocked via helicopter. And all this is going on only a few miles away from alligators in the Broad River Canal. Trout fishing within a few miles of alligators – weird, indeed.
The first key to fishing the Saluda is to check for the water release schedule and flow. Though the water level can come up dramatically and quickly at any time, you can check current water flow conditions and planned water releases before you go.
The second key to fishing the Saluda is finding adequate access. Most of the land along the river is private, and access is limited. Furthermore, between the depth and the weeds, wading is also limited. Floating the river is probably the best way to access the Saluda River, as long as the water release permits. You can always beach the canoe or kayak and wade, where possible, such as around the islands. Saluda Shoals Park offers canoe/kayak rental and launching, as well as sidewalks/trails that follow the river for some distance. Alternatively, the Saluda River chapter of Trout Unlimited has its own private access point to the river.
The third key is tactical. The rainbow trout usually die off during the summer, and probably only a few of the browns make it through the warm months. After May, there is a reduced trout presence in the river, until the fall re-stocking. Best bets include lures, and streamers (such as our Big Brown Trout Fly), and caddis imitations for fly fishing the Saluda River.
My nephew (who's doing some cool things creating stone memorials) and I floated the river from the Saluda Shoals park, down to the Gardendale community/Radio Lane takeout, where we were picked up by the park's shuttle. The park employees were very friendly and helpful, even to the point of waiting on us at the takeout point after we missed our deadline. You can rent a canoe or kayak at the park, or bring your own. Keep in mind, there are fees for park admission, the shuttle service, and canoe/kayak rental.
Most of the flow of the Saluda River in the vicinity of Saluda Shoals Park (during low levels of release from the dam) is slow-moving, and the water is clear, allowing you to see the bottom in most cases. The slow moving water also makes it easy to paddle upstream, so that’s where we headed to start off our fishing. We canoed upstream to an island, with just a small flow on the north bank (on the right, as you look upstream). The main flow on the south side of the island formed some rapids that reminded me of a “regular” trout steam. We beached the canoe, and waded in the area of the island.
We each caught tiny pickerel in the small flow around the island, and nothing in the rapids, though we did see some fish rising. We then floated and fished downstream through the calm water, back past the canoe launch at the park, dodging rented kayaks as we went. Along the way, Tommy caught several average sized pickerel, and I hooked a good fish of some sort that took my lure down deep and got off.
We floated downstream to another island, which can also be accessed by a trail from the Saluda Shoals park. Once again, we beached the canoe and waded in the river to fish.
I was surprised, when just after a few minutes, Tommy emerged from the backside of the island with a 13” brown trout. It turns out that fishing the lesser flow on the backside of the island was a pretty good idea. Afterwards, we each had a small trout on in the rapids on the main side of the island, only to get off, while Tommy also caught a small trout in the rapids. By then, it was time to paddle like mad to the takeout point at Radio Lane, as designated by a red and white sign. It was a good 45 minutes of constant paddling to get from the island to the takeout point, with just a couple more slight rapids along the way.
We were using Rapala countdown lures throughout the day. If we had more time, I would have tried some flies. Maybe next time.
See the embedded, narrated video for a look at our day on the river. Check out the map below for some key points on the Lower Saluda River. Visit our Lower Saluda River Tailrace stream description and on blog on fishing South Carolina Tailwaters for more information on the Saluda River in Columbia, SC.
View Low Saluda River Fishing/Canoeing/Kayaking Map in a larger map