Sportsmen Suffering Through Fall Drought

Upstate Outdoors
November 15, 2016 - 4:37 am
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At its last meeting on October 26, the South Carolina State Climatology Office changed the status on three upstate counties – Oconee, Pickens, and Anderson - from moderate to severe while the majority of remaining Upstate counties were changed from Incipient to Moderate. 

That is the state’s official way of stating “We need some rain”. While the brief rain events last week-end may help take the edge off the drought status, it is not expected to change it. While officials try to cope with reducing water usage in the wake of the drought, sportsmen are also suffering from exceedingly dry conditions.

Probably first and foremost on the list of natural resource concerns are wildfires in the piedmont areas of the Appalachians that have been burning over the last couple of weeks. Area residents are reminded of this situation even if they can’t see the flames by plumes of smoke and smoke odor that has descended on the Upstate. 

Visual confirmation of the drought can also be seen on local bodies of water as water levels drop. Lake Hartwell is reporting levels of nearly 10 feet below normal while Lake Jocassee and Clarks Hill are at similar low levels. Area stream flows throughout the Upstate are reported as either Low or in the 10th percentile. 

Fishing forecasts for the Upstate waters remain fairly consistent for this time year. Many reservoirs are experiencing fall turnover when water that has stratified during the heat of summer moderates causing waters from the bottom of the lake to rise and replace water at the surface that has cooled in response to overnight temperatures in the 30’s. 

According to a recent report from Brandon Barber, fishing guide and owner of Riverblade Knife and Fly in Spartanburg, the lower water levels on area mountain streams have made the trout that live there particularly spooky.

“No rain means exceedingly clear water in our trout streams,” said Barber. “That doesn’t mean you can’t catch fish, but you won’t have the benefit of off-colored water to help camouflage your presentations. I’m finding the fish are less forgiving of mistakes and there are some areas where the trout just aren’t going to go because of the shallow water.”

In the woods, deer hunters are seeing reduced deer movements associated with the drought because deer are not traveling to some food sources that never matured. According to Bart Littlejohn, manager of Carolina Farm and Wildlife Supply in Pauline, deer are still keying on acorn crops that have seen a bumper crop this year and are still available to deer. He said even acorns that fell some time ago are still available because the ground moisture content that normally facilitates decay in fallen acorns has kept old crop edible for deer.

“A lot of hunters who planted food plots back in the summer or even early fall are reporting nearly total losses of these food sources for the deer,” said Littlejohn. “Around Thanksgiving is normally the time of year that deer would move from eating acorns and move into food plots. But the acorns aren’t gone yet and there’s not much planted food available. It’s really going to get bad the longer this drought persists.” 

Probably the hardest hit of sportsmen will be area duck hunters who are counting on finding some resident ducks when the first segment of waterfowl season opens tomorrow and runs until November 26.

“The drought can go two ways for duck hunters,” said Littlejohn. “If you can find water, especially anywhere near some oak trees, you could be looking at a potential honey hole, because a lot of areas that count on having water naturally are dry due to the drought. On the other hand, low water conditions are also going to concentrate duck hunters, especially on any available public land.”

Littlejohn stated that warmer conditions so far this fall have not pushed any number of migratory ducks into the state as far as he has seen or heard from his efforts and those of customers. Both he and other hunters are hoping that cold fronts forecast for the coming days and into the winter will help push waterfowl into our area, but with no water, where will they land?


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. Online broadcasts and recorded podcasts of the show can be found at Contact Gentry at


Recent drought conditions means increased risk of wildfire and no water for deer, fish or ducks. Area sportsmen will need to modify their efforts around reduced water to be successful this season. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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