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The S.C. Department of Natural Resources' Freshwater Fisheries Section stocked about 16,000 brown and rainbow trout in the lower Saluda River Dec. 8 using a helicopter and specialized lift bucket. The stocking benefits South Carolina's $18 million trout fishery.

Helicopter stocking allows the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to better distribute trout up and down the river system and prevents the concentration of fish in any particular area. This will allow the fish more time to acclimate and disperse before anglers begin trying to catch them. The aircraft also allows the DNR to be more selective in the type of habitat where the fish are stocked.

The helicopter stocked about 13,000 brown trout (averaging 6-7 inches) and 3,000 rainbow trout (averaging 9-10 inches) over some 8 miles of the Saluda River. The trout came from the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery in Oconee County, operated by the DNR. Department of Natural Resources' trucks transported the fish to a site near the river. The helicopter gets a scoop of water from the river with the lift bucket, and then hovers near the truck as DNR personnel pour a container of trout into the bucket. The chopper then pulls away and carries the fish to the river.

The Saluda River below Lake Murray dam is unique because its popular trout fishery is essentially an artificial situation, according to DNR biologists. Trout must be stocked there and can survive only because of the cold-water releases from the bottom of the Lake Murray dam. The DNR stocks about 30,000 trout each year in the Saluda from December through April in what it calls a "put, grow and take" fishery, which relies on stocking to maintain populations and the cooperation of anglers for success. Young trout grow rapidly if allowed to remain in the river.

For young trout to reach their potential, however, they must not be removed from the river immediately after stocking. If given time to grow, they can reach lengths exceeding 16 inches, which is considered trophy size for this type of fishery. If trout are to reach this size, anglers must practice catch-and-release fishing, especially during the winter and early spring. Conservation officers with the DNR will be patrolling the Saluda River in the winter and spring to hold down the number of over-the-limit trout catches.

South Carolina's trout fishery generates about $9 million annually for the state's economy in direct retail sales, with an estimated total economic output of more than $18 million, according to a study on the economic benefits of freshwater fishing in South Carolina. The effects of trout fishing can be felt in many segments of Upstate and Midlands communities, from motels and restaurants to gas stations and sporting goods stores.

The South Carolina DNR stocks more than 400,000 trout into public waters in the state's upcountry each year. The trout are stocked in more than 50 cold-water rivers and streams in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties, in Lake Jocassee, and in the cool tailwaters below the Lake Hartwell and Lake Murray dams. For information about the DNR's freshwater fish stocking program, call (803) 734-3891 in Columbia.

The Sport Fish Restoration program and fishing license revenue helped fund the Saluda River trout stocking. The Sport Fish Restoration program is a major funding source for South Carolina's freshwater fisheries' program, and it represents the return of excise taxes collected from the sale of fishing tackle. Funds are allocated to states based on their relative size and the number of licensed anglers.
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