Upcountry South Carolina is the Best Place to Drop a Fishing Line This Spring
Get hooked on the great outdoors in Upcountry South Carolina.
By Hope S. Philbrick
You don’t need a formal invitation to have fun in Upcountry South Carolina: Come kayak in our crystal blue lakes, hike to our rushing waterfalls, dig into our local cuisine, attend our family-oriented events and festivals, and breathe deep our fresh mountain air any time you want to feel refreshed. But when you hold a valid South Carolina fishing license, it feels like an official ticket to enjoy the great outdoors.
Fishing is an activity that anglers of any age can enjoy and whole families can do together. Whether sitting on a boat or standing on shore, you can relax into the simple pleasure of holding a rod surrounded by beautiful green mountains and blue water. There’s a jolt of excitement with each pull on your line and you spring into action to reel in your catch. Only minimal equipment is needed and no specific skills are required, so fishing appeals to novices as readily as pros.
A valid South Carolina fishing license is required for all types of fishing on state waters for all anglers age 16 and older. Getting one is simple, whether you need a new license or renewal—purchase a fishing license online or over the phone at 1-866-714-3611. There are several types of in-state and out-of-state licenses that last from two weeks to three years, so you can choose what you need.
Fish are biting year round in the lakes, rivers and streams of Upcountry South Carolina, located in the state’s northwestern corner in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountain. Try reeling in a world-class catch at Devils Fork State Park in Salem, where Lake Jocassee holds state fish records for rainbow trout, brown trout, redeye bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, and yellow perch. Or try your luck in Lake Hartwell, at Lake Hartwell State Park in Fair Play and Sadlers Creek State Park in Anderson, three-time host of the Bassmaster Classic (2008, 2015 and 2018). The Chattooga River, ranked as one of the nation’s best wild and scenic rivers, boasts healthy wild trout populations plus is regularly stocked by Oconee County’s Walhalla State Fish Hatchery. You can fish for brown trout, rainbow trout, redeye bass, catfish, bluegill, brown brook and bream in the Chattooga River. The Whitewater River above Lower Whitewater Falls is another great option for wild trout fishing. Lake Keowee at Keowee-Toxaway State Park in Pickens County swims with largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass as well as crappie, bluegill, yellow perch, catfish, brown trout and rainbow trout.
Pick up everything you need to ensure a great angling experience—including advice—at local fly shops or book a guided fishing trip. Sam Jones of Jocassee Charters knows the best locations on Lake Jocassee to hook trophy trout year round. Buster Green’s Guide Service reels in stripers, hybrids and largemouth bass on Lake Hartwell and Lake Keowee. Chattooga River Fly Shop leads catch-and-release fly fishing trips for trout and redeye bass on the Chattooga and Chauga Rivers.
Of course you can get out on the water even if you don’t plan to fish. Jocassee Lake Tours offers tours of the 9,000-acre Lake Jocassee and of the Jocassee Gorges, which National Geographic ranks as a “Destination of a Lifetime.” Some of the most amazing spots can only be reached by boat. Several different tours are offered, so you can learn from a naturalist while riding on a pontoon or paddling a kayak through quiet coves and under waterfalls. Some tours boat then hike to remote swimming spots, South Carolina’s highest point, or other surprises. If you prefer to stay on solid ground, some road vehicle tours are available, too.
Prefer to captain your own boat? No problem! Several rental companies, including Tri-County Boat Rental, operate on Lake Keowee, Lake Jocassee, Lake Hartwell, and other lakes to make it easy to get out on the water. Whether you prefer kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, water skiing, or tootling around in a pontoon boat, it’s invigorating to navigate clear water while surrounded by great mountain views.
If you’d rather be under the water than on it, go scuba diving in Lake Jocassee—that’s right: You can scuba dive in the mountains! Lake Jocassee is a world-renowned freshwater diving destination that boasts visibility of more than 50 feet at depth on warm clear days. Dive down to see the “wall” created when the side of the mountain was blasted during construction of the dam. You can also swim through a 40-foot wooden sail boat. Lake Jocassee Dive Shop offers lessons if you’re a novice or hope to refine your diving skills.
For a thrill that doesn’t require going to great depths, walk under a waterfall near Lake Jocassee. Upcountry South Carolina is home to more than 100 waterfalls in Oconee County alone! Some falls (like Wildcat Branch Falls on Hwy. 11) are so easy to find you won’t even need to step out of your car to take a picture. Reaching some others requires effort that ranges from easy strolls of a few hundred feet (like Issaqueena Falls at Stumphouse Tunnel) to moderate treks (like King Creek Falls) to strenuous climbs (like Rainbow Falls at Camp Greenville). Some waterfalls have multiple access points. You can reach popular Laurel Fork Falls, located at the tip of the Toxaway River arm of Lake Jocassee, by boat from Devils Fork State Park or by hiking a strenuous 8.4 miles from US 178 on the Foothills Trail. Raven Cliff Falls, one of South Carolina’s most photographed waterfalls, can be seen from the official viewing deck about a quarter-mile across the falls or from a rocky outcrop at the start of the Dismal Trail.
From fishing to boating, hiking to camping, biking to bird watching and more, the Upcountry’s South Carolina State Parks are a great place to come and play. Dip into the swimming hole at Oconee State Park. Hike past mountain streams to the tops of Pinnacle and Table Rock mountains at Table Rock State Park. Explore the 13,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area at Caesars Head State Park. Scuba, swim or fish at Devils Fork State Park. Or create your own adventure at any of the Upcountry’s 13 state parks, with enough fun to fill a trip of any length.
There’s so much to explore, it’s best to plan to stay awhile. Upcountry South Carolina is packed with a range of comfortable overnight accommodation options. Stay in a rustic mountain cabin, at an upscale bed and breakfast, a lakefront villa, a city hotel in Spartanburg or Greenville, or even a treehouse.
For more information to help plan your escape to the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, explore UpcountrySC.com or call 864-233-2690.