Recently, I was given the chance to fish the far western highlands of South Carolina, in the heart of the Sumter National Forest of Oconee County. This included the upper Chauga River and some smaller creeks in the Tugaloo and Savannah drainages. The landscape is pierced by the fast flowing trout streams, but many of the rivers hold a different fish, one who has only been spotlighted by science quite recently. It's one of the several species of Redeye Bass (Micropterus coosae), the Bartram's Bass (Micropterus sp. cf. coosae), technically still a relegated subspecies but still being studied by science. Ever since the black bass slams have been started and the species have been unearthed by science, I have been yearning to get my hands on one. Back in my home state I had only ever added Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) and Spotted Bass (Micropterus punculatus) and was looking to add the elusive and exclusive Bartram's. Moving to South Carolina for school turned out to be the perfect segway into my desire and soon I learned of several places within a few miles of where I was living that were reportedly crawling with the beautiful Redeye Bass cousins.
Once I got access to transportation the fishing was on. It had been almost a month before I had tossed a line, ever since the pickerel trip, and my rod and the lure had remained unchanged since that expedition. I decided to stick with the omnipotent and ever-consistent Joe's Flies short striker, in all black coloration. The lure had absolutely slayed fish across the great state of North Carolina and I fancied my chances to add my first freshwater South Carolina denizen pretty high with the bantamweight spinners.
The first spot is a park on the Chauga River and Ramsey Creek outside of Westminster, South Carolina. I started by fishing Ramsey Creek, a beautiful tributary of the Chauga River that empties into it from a massive waterfall. It began fishing a rather shallow, but fast moving part of the creek under a bridge, right before the run emptied into the river.
It didn't take long to start getting bites on the Joe's Flies; those faithful to it know that it never does. Soon enough I landed my first fish, and although small, it was exactly what I had came for.
It was small but a lifer's a lifer and no matter the size I was happy, especially nailing my target species within the first five casts I had been there. It was almost like it was too easy at first and continued to get bites up and down Ramsey Creek, before heading to the pinnacle of the little highlands flow: A 30-or-so foot waterfall that dumped into a small pool.
Sure enough, the pool was bountiful, and I got several more Bartram's Bass and a Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus).
I wanted to see if there were any bigger Bartram's or Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) lurking the bigger Chauga River so I finished up at Ramsey Creek and began casting my spinner into the crystal clear waters of the river. It was a hot day today, and many people were taking advantage of the cool running water of the river. This made a lot of good fishing spots unfishable but I still found a way to get on some fish.
Soon I added an unknown chub, at the time, but later with some advice deduced it to be a Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus).
I was in the range of River Chub (Nocomis micropogon) as well as Bluehead, and it did look like most Bluehead Chub I catch, it was necessary I clear up any confusion between two species of the same Genus who have overlapping range.
I had watched some videos on YouTube and had seen some really beautiful Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus) being pulled out of this river. I didn't know if it was a fluke or a regional thing, but I had to find out for myself, and was eventually satiated.
It was just what I had prophesied, a Redbreast with such stunningly unique coloration. It was hardly a Redbreast, and I pondered the possibility of identifying my own species here, the Redunderside Sunfish, but decided just to take a picture and appreciate it before releasing it. Fishing was overall slow on the river. Most of the promising holes were occupied by people and I ended up fishing more slack water than I would have liked. I added a couple more chubs and eventually some more sunfish and bass, but eventually decided to ditch the park and head further into the remote highlands, where bass country ended and trout country began.
Eventually we ended up at the Chauga River again, only this time the wide, flowing, deep-pocketed Chauga had been replaced by a thinner, bristling trout haven. As we pulled up, careful to dodge two meth-heads, we passed an older man leaving with a stringer full of trout, but he said he'd spent the hole time at one whole off the parking lot and the action wasn't hot. I tried fishing the hole he had been at, but it was clear he had put in good work on it so I decided that if I were to make something happen I had to find some deeper troughs to work with.
For a while the creek showed little in terms of rapids or deeper pockets, but eventually I came upon a small bit of rapids with some good depth that looked like perfect trout territory. Now, keep in mind, this was my first time ever targeting trout. I had little to no idea what I was doing, I just knew my plan was to throw a spinner into a mountain stream and pray that it worked.
The trail to this spot had been pockmarked with spiderwebs, low branches and heavy tangles. I was fairly certain no human had fished this exact pool recently. It took several casts before I produced the first fish, a small chub that bit next to a rock in shallow water.
Eventually though, things got interesting. I'll reiterate again: I had absolutely no idea how to catch trout besides tactics I employed on other fish. But eventually I just began throwing my lure into the current and slowly, slowly retrieving it. It took a while, but I finally got a follow. Almost like magic, a tapering, snakelike shape moseys out from the current and follows my spinner all the way to shore, tracking it to my feet before sticking his nose in the air and disappearing into the current. I had made almost a hundred casts so far and finally I knew there were trout here. I knew, or at least thought they would probably be lethargic in the summer.
The fishing was truly exhilarating though. I got several more action-less follows before getting broken off on a couple solid hits. Eventually though, I found one willing to bite and hold on under an overhanging branch. The creek was small and in turn the fight wasn't lengthy but man these were strong fish. They rivaled the pickerel in terms of slipperiness and holding onto them was a much harder challenge than actually catching them. Besides basic etiquette like wetting my hands, I was trying to keep him totally in the water to reduce as much stress as possible. I had read a lot about the effects summertime temperatures can have on these fish and I wanted these guys swimming off strong when I was done with them. Eventually though, I got him unhooked and he took off into the whitewater.
Eventually I handed my dad the rod, because he was anxious to get on a fish. He got several follows before letting me keep fishing. First cast, boom, another powerful hit and a darting run and I had landed my second trout. Protocol was the same, got a quick picture and he swam off to the rapids.
Eventually, we had to head back to civilization, but not before stopping and getting some scenery pics in from the high altitude vantage points.
I had a spot in mind outside the town of Walhalla and we decided to check it out. I had no reports or confirmed catches from this place, all I knew was that it looked promising from Google street view, a common tactic of mine for finding fishing spots.
The creek was called Little Cane Creek, and although there was a good parking area on the shoulder and the creek looked very fishable, the access was tremendously adverse, as I was also unable to do any wading in the attire I was in. My dad stayed behind but I was dying to try some rapids I saw from the bridge. There were almost no places at all to cast, and when I did I got a couple small bites but nothing stuck. I got to the end of a rudimentary trail, but I could see a clear boulder out on the river in front of me that looked perfect for casting into. I army crawled under some brambles before getting some breathing room on the other side. I had no clue if my efforts were to be rewarded, but I soon found out.
Quickly the waterfall produced a fish. I am always happy to catch fish in a new location, regardless of the species that I catch, in this case, the ubiquitous Bluehead Chub.
Eventually I kept trying, and fishing between some boulders in some running current produced a very strong hit, amplified by the water, and a spirited fight. I was elated when I saw what had bit.
It was not a massive fish, but Bartram's Bass aren't massive bass to begin with, but I had gotten a real decent specimen from a random creek after bear crawling a dirty passage. I'd say my day had just about reached its crescendo so I packed up satisfied with the two-lifer haul and called it quits.
You might notice the lack of microfishing of any kind here, and although its something I would have loved to do some, its just more practical to target bass and trout sometimes and targeting species like that on ultralight setups will beat any other type of fishing in my book on any given day. I feel a shout out is also owed to the sturdy Joe's Flies spinner used in the past two trips. It was a funny thing to think, while unhooking a trout, that the same exact lure had been in the mouth of a swamp muskie not a month earlier. So basically, yes, I recommend this for ultralight fishing. It will not let you down.
Overall, I hope you guys enjoyed this one, because there will be plenty more fishing from these types of areas to come in the following weeks and I hope I'll be able to add some more lifers along the way. Be on the lookout for some more trout fishing, some beautiful locations, and a surprise trip with a special guest come October.
Total Species Count:
Bartram's Bass (Micropterus sp. cf. coosae): 4
Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus): 4
Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus): 4
Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus): 1
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss): 2