The success of a fishing trip doesn’t always depend on catching fish — especially when it involves the fun of exploring a new area.
Text and photos by Sarah Chabaane, SCDNR Aquatic Education Coordinator
This is not a great fishing story, but it is a great story about fishing.
About a year and a half ago, I met Amy at a professional conference and learned about her PhD research at Clemson University utilizing side scan sonar to study sturgeon. We got on the topic of fishing and we were both excited to meet another female that fly fishes and decided that we needed to head out to the river together. Amidst a global pandemic and navigating the schedule of two busy adults, we were finally able to land a date to meet halfway for a fishing trip together.
Amy did some asking around and discovered a spot on the Saluda River outside Laurens that is is about halfway between us, is potentially wadable and that should potentially hold a wide variety of freshwater species. This would be a totally new river section for both of us. Eager to shake the dust off my fly rod and head out for some time in the outdoors, I wholeheartedly agree to the plan of meeting up for an adventure.
The day before our trip, we checked in with each other to make sure the plans were still a go, even considering heavy recent rainfall in the area. I also took a moment to study satellite images of the river (thanks Google Earth!), which told me that it’s a wide section and that we’d need to walk a ways upriver to access the two sets of shoals we planned to target.
But beyond studying the map, I have to admit, I was not well-prepared for a day of fishing somewhere new. I packed up the truck with what felt like all of my fishing gear — a 5 weight and 8 weight fly rod, sturdy spinning reel, a tackle box with larger and heavier lures, waders, fly bag, and of course snacks. Driving over the Saluda River on the way to our rendezvous point, I immediately realized, “Oh no, the water is super high and doesn’t look wadable.”
The pink 5 weight fly rod will definitely be staying in the truck. I decide to pack my waders, 8 weight fly rod, spinning combo, small tackle box, fly box, forceps, nippers, water, and an apple.
Amy did a little bit of scouting before I got to our meeting spot and spotted a trail that we can take upriver towards the shoals. After navigating the muddy trail along a high bluff and striking outcroppings, we came upon a cove right above the shoals. Perfect!
We took a few minutes to assemble our gear and I can’t help but ogle at Amy’s fly box with envy, thinking that I need expand my repertoire. The water in this section of the river was moving quickly and close to the color of chocolate milk. Amy decided on a white heavy articulated streamer. With my fly collection curated for smaller rivers and trout, I pulled out my biggest fly, a trusty green and white Clouser Minnow. On my spinning combo, I rigged up a white soft plastic worm.
With the water moving so quickly and cloudy, I at least had the foresight to know that there was a good chance I’d take a fall or two at some point and would be safer wet wading. Plus, in the summer, wet wading can feel glorious! I headed out towards the shoals, cautiously walking on a rock and feeling out a step ahead before shifting my weight. In just a few steps, I found the edge of the rock I was walking on, and sure enough, I went down fast into deep hole. I used the momentum to help me get further out towards the top of the shoals and get my footing, but the water was pushing strongly against me, and I knew from experience it would be an exhausting struggle to stand with so much pressure pooling around my feet. Just one misstep and I would be downriver.
This is why having a fishing buddy and letting someone know your plan is important, especially when exploring an unfamiliar place. I decided that it wasn’t worth it and made my way back to the cove. Amy concurred, and she heads back up the trail to try her luck at the smaller smaller set of shoals upriver. Staying in the cove, I used my spinning rod, chunking the soft plastic worm out into the river hoping for a smallmouth bass nibble.
After a while I began to get antsy and wandered up the trail to check out Amy’s spot. When I got there, I saw that she had scaled down a significant drop off and there is no way she’s getting back up. She says, “I was planning to float back down river.”
Wow! she is way more bold than me. I decided to sit on the edge of the drop off and observe her casting beautifully across the river. I optimistically try to see if I can use the height to spot fish, but I don’t see anything. After a while, I get antsy again and head back to the cove.
I decided to break out my 8 weight fly rod to try some roll casting in the tree-shrouded cove. It felt good to get my line out there, at least for a little bit before switching to a white buzz bait on the spinning combo. It isn’t too long before Amy expeditiously came floating downriver with her fly rod held out of harms way.
After talking it over, we decided the conditions just weren’t ideal for wading. We considered scouting on a map to see if there was somewhere else close by that we could check out, but decided that, with all the rain, local rivers and creeks are all likely swollen with high water. Instead, we decided to just hang out and enjoy the river’s natural beauty.
When leading Family Fishing Clinics for SCDNR, I often remind first-time anglers that we can’t measure the success of our days spent fish by the amount of fish we catch, but rather in the quality of time spent outside. When the fishing isn’t great, there are still many valuable takeaways from a day on the water. I like to take the time to relax, listen to the water move, watch for birds, hunt for blackberries, swim, and enjoy spending time with a new fishing buddy.
Now, it’s time for some even more real talk. Throughout our hike in and along the shoreline there was a lot of trash leftover from visitors before us. This access clearly sees a lot of usage and provides a recreational opportunity for the surrounding community. However, leaving the shoreline littered with bottles, diapers, old food containers, and drug paraphernalia is not a way to show your love and appreciation for the environment. The actions we take on land impact the overall health of the river and in turn the resilience of the animals that live there, that many of us rely on. Take care of the resource for everyone to enjoy.
Some tips on planning a fishing outing to a new place:
I have two styles of planning that are often in conflict with each other. I will either do exhaustive research or I will wing it. Unfortunately, the nonchalant side came out for this trip, which is a great opportunity to think about lessons learned from the experience. One of the key components of prepping for a fishing trip is setting your expectations, especially in new territory. For this trip, I had low expectations and no lofty goals of landing a slab of a bass (a gal can dream though). The point being, expectations can play a large role in the success of a fishing trip. For this adventure, I simply wanted to see a new river and spend time with a friend and it was 100% successful!
1. Utilize USGS’s network of data loggers to study the river flow, height, and temperature. This free resource can be incredibly helpful in knowing the river’s trends. The website shows historical data and you can also go to daily stats. https://maps.waterdata.usgs.gov/mapper/index.html?state=sc
2. Review satellite imagery to look for fishable areas and trails, and make sure you aren’t accessing private property.
3. Visit a local outdoor shop that sells fishing supplies, they tend to have the best insider’s knowledge.
4. Ask around and do some googling, it’s possible that someone has posted on a fishing blog or made a video about their experience.
5. ALWAYS make a safety plan and ensure that someone knows where you’ll be and your window of time on the water.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.