Back in the early 1970’s, The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources dreamed of a trophy trout fishery in a mountain lake setting to pair with the impoundment of Lake Jocassee. After a glitch or two, namely establishing a forage base to feed the trout and the realization that the lake would have to rely on regular stockings for recruitment, the dream became a reality and by the mid 1990’s regular catches of brown and rainbow trout exceeding ten pounds was fairly common.
Although the lake remains as pristine as ever, lake usage and knowledge of the fishery by local anglers grew by leaps and bounds. Many thought the heyday of the local fishery was over when anglers, who used to only fish for trout in the spring when they were easy to target, learned how to pursue these fish into the 100 foot depths year round, leaving them nowhere to hide.
In response to what was seen as a decline in the overall size catches in the lake, new regulations specific to Lake Jocassee were enacted to decrease the impact of increased fishing pressure. In July of last year, the daily creel limit of five trout was reduced to three and only one of these three may exceed 20 inches in length. The 15 inch minimum size limit that had been in place for several years remains and applies to the new creel limit but will be suspended from June 1 through September 30 when no minimum size limit will be in place.
The idea behind the changes was to support a trophy fishery for tournaments and trophy anglers who are only looking to catch one big trout per angler while maintaining the ability to enjoy a few fish for harvest. Suspending the size limit during the hotter months will help reduce hooking mortality since even released trout of any size rarely survive in warmer water.
“I see these changes as being the best of both worlds,” said fishing guide Steve Pietrykowski of Seneca who operates Fishski Business charters. “Typically I take groups of friends or families out, three to four anglers. Each of those guys can catch a 20 plus inch fish and they can keep two more that are over 15 inches. That’s a great day of fishing.”
Pietrykowski also likes the caveat that the size limit is lifted during the warmer months. The state stocks close to 40 ,000 trout in Lake Jocassee on an annual basis, breaking the stocking efforts into spring and fall portions. Removing the size restriction allows anglers to harvest fish without having to cull through smaller fish, which typically don’t survive release in the summer, just to get to larger fish they can keep.
“These trout fight so hard and we catch them so deep during the summer, it’s great that we can now keep them,” said Pietrykowski. “Otherwise we’re wasting fish that could one day grow to be trophies.”
Clemson-based fisheries biologist Dan Rankin agrees with the guide’s sentiments. Rankin has overseen the Jocassee fishery through the last 20 years and has witnessed the varying ups and downs of the lake’s trout fishery.
“I think we’ve struck a great compromise between what the anglers wanted and what was best for the resource,” said Rankin. “This is a beautiful, rugged lake, that’s not without its challenges. But I think we’ve helped guarantee her future for the next generation.”
Fishing guide Steve Pietrykowski can be reached at 864-353-3438 or on the web at www.fishski.info