Top Spots for West Virginia Spring Trout Fishing
August 31, 2011
The approach of spring means it's time for some trout fishing action. And these options can provide a lot of variety of angling this month!
The author took this brown trout from Elkhorn Creek in McDowell County. Photo courtesy of Bruce Ingram.
Last May, after battling unsuccessfully with three different McDowell County gobblers in the surrounding mountains, it was time for me to return to the Elkhorn Inn, which lies along its namesake creek. As inviting as the inn is, I didn't even stay inside long enough to change into fishing duds.
Intent on going trout fishing, I gathered my gear, found my wife Elaine relaxing in the inn's parlor, and asked her if she was ready to go down to the stream, which literally flows within a few yards of the inn, which itself lies along U.S. Highway 52. Elaine quickly agreed and we stepped outside of the inn and quickly were fishing in the creek.
If you are not familiar with Elkhorn Creek, you may not be able to understand my enthusiasm for this wild trout stream in the heart of southern West Virginia's Coalfields. Elkhorn has never been on the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources trout stocking schedule, but the agency did, in effect, once "stock" the stream.
In the early 1980s, a DNR hatchery truck suffered mechanical problems while driving along U.S. 52, which parallels the stream in many places. The trout were bound for other Mountain State waters, but the driver faced with either letting his load of rainbows and browns perish or releasing them into Elkhorn, chose to do the humane thing.
From that random decision, a marvelous trout stream has come into existence. Dan Clark, who operates the Elkhorn Inn along with his wife Elisse, related that visitors to the inn have caught and released numerous rainbows and browns that topped 20 inches and some that eclipsed the 2-foot benchmark.
Elaine and I only had time to fish about 90 minutes before it was time to return to the inn for dinner, but in a 150-yard or so stretch of water downstream from the establishment, I battled with a half dozen or so fish -- impressive action for the middle of a hot May afternoon. One of the reasons the stream holds up well during warm weather and even in the summer is that it receives cold water infusions from deep mines, plus, of course, its mountainous setting.
On this particular visit, I only fished near the inn, but on a previous sojourn Elaine and I drove down U.S. 52 and stopped at numerous bridges and pull-offs in order to wet a line. Indeed, high quality fishing exists throughout the stream's length in McDowell until it flows into the Tug Fork.
As big and as numerous as the creek's trout are, this is by no means a pristine stream. Elkhorn Creek does have issues concerning sewage and trash, and I strongly recommend against entering the creek without wearing hip waders. The stream is only a few feet deep in many places and an angler wading along either side can easily cast to both banks, so there's no need for chest waders.
I have fished Elkhorn with both a fly and spinning rod, and the fish, perhaps because they are so numerous, are not very choosy. For spin fishing, I prefer a medium action rod, 8- or 10-pound test, and a supply of Mepps spinners. Many trout anglers don't like to use line this heavy, but given the size of the trout, you may be glad you have some strong strand.
For fly-fishing, my favorite patterns are generic streamers, while many other long rodders opt for various caddis and nymph patterns. Really, lure and fly selection here are not complicated.
Dan Clark strongly recommends catch and release, so as to maintain this remarkable fishery. Given the stream's pollution issues, I'm not sure I would want to dine on fish from its waters. Rather, I'd recommend dining at the Elkhorn Inn as Dan and Elisse are extremely cordial hosts, and the former is famous nationally as a chef.
For more information on the Elkhorn Inn go online to www.elkhorninnwv.com or call (800) 708-2040.
A month after Elaine and I visited Elkhorn Creek, we headed for Babcock State Park in Fayette County with our daughter Sarah and her husband David Reynolds. David's and my missions were to fish the waters of Glade Creek that flows through the park. When I called the park to arrange for reservations, I talked to superintendent Clinton Cochran. Since my primary goal was to fish the creek, Cochran recommended Cabin 4, one of many that lie along this highland rill.
Babcock State Park features what is generally considered the most photographed subject in West Virginia, the Glade Creek Grist Mill. The mill is a good place to start your fishing odyssey, especially if the creek has been stocked recently. Glade receives trout once in February and every two weeks from March through May.
Given its reputation and location in the heart of the park, the mill area is generally not a good place to fish after a few weeks have elapsed since the last stocking of the year, which was the case when David and I arrived in mid June. The other option, though, is an outstanding one regardless of whether you visit in the spring or early summer.
That option involves trekking into the gorge that Glade Creek has created over the eons. Cochran warned that anglers hiking into the gorge should be prepared for some very strenuous fishing. The stream is characterized by mammoth boulders, steep mountainsides, lush vegetation, and one plunge pool after another. One angler that David and I encountered also warned, "Rattlesnakes are everywhere."
Timber rattlers exist along the stream, as they and copperheads probably do along every waterway in West Virginia. Fishermen who wear hip waders will be fine, as far as being protected from snakes. In truth, the most dangerous aspects of fishing this gorge are falling while moving from boulder to boulder or making an ill-timed slip while wading and being swept downstream.
Despite the time being mid June, I hooked a number of rainbows while fishing the gorge -- and lost every one of them. It was one of my worst displays of ineptitude in recent memory, although I have probably subconsciously tried to forget many similar snafus.
The point is, despite my incompetence, the fishing was good in June. Imagine the high quality that exists during the prime spring season.
Given the difficulty of accessing the gorge, fishermen can expect to have a number of prime pools to themselves. And the farther one ventures away from the cabins that line both sides of the upper part of the gorge, the mor
e the chances for solitude increase.
Roads run along both sides of the upper gorge for a short distance and allow access. A swinging bridge also crosses the creek at Cabin 5 and will aid in your descent into the gorge. When David and I had fished downstream until we were tired, we ascended the mountainside to the left, walked along a dirt trail until it met the road, then re-crossed the swinging bridge. I highly recommend this experience, as Glade Creek is one of the most intriguing stocked trout streams in the Mountain State.
Fishing tactics for these trout are very simple. The angler that David and I met had caught a number of rainbows by merely drifting nightcrawlers through plunge pools. I had wanted to fish with both a fly rod and a spinning outfit while at the park, but high water removed the former as an option. In fact, the water was so muddy that I resorted to using mini-crankbaits, which were my most effective lure. However, the trout kept leaping and dislodging these lures, just as bass are prone to do.
For more information on Babcock State Park checkout www.babcocksp.com, or telephone (800) 438-3004.
NATIVE BROOK TROUT
As much as I relish working wild trout streams like Elkhorn Creek and stocked waters such as Glade Creek -- as both categories of streams offer the opportunity to catch 12-inch-plus fish -- by far my favorite way to angle for trout is to visit the native brookie streams in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. This is true even though the longest national forest brookie I have ever caught was only 9 inches and most of the fish are only between 5 and 7 inches.
The WVDNR has a longstanding policy of not mentioning specific native streams for publication -- a policy that I heartily agree with. These streams are too small and vulnerable to be listed in this or any other magazine. If you are unfamiliar with the national forest streams closest to your home, your best bet is to contact the main U.S. Forest Service Web site. Select a ranger district that looks promising, obtain some maps of it from the Forest Service, and then begin some on-the-ground exploring.
On one such occasion, I was interested in checking out some streams in the Potomac River watershed. I marked four that looked like they had possibilities, but only one of the quartet had enough water volume to hold fish. However, I ended up catching a fine 8-incher that fell for a No. 8 grasshopper that I drifted through a rhododendron-shrouded pool.
My most recent visit to a national forest stream was in late June last summer. I have visited this highland rill on a number of occasions and have always found the fishing to be quite satisfactory. During my two hours of fishing, I caught a pair of 6-inch brookies, lost another one, and spooked quite a few more, which is often the case.
For these tiny streams, I like a 5 weight, 8-foot, 6-inch Fenwick Eagle GT rod, paired with a Blackhawk 5/6 reel. Regarding flies, I have never cared much for attempting to match any hatch. What is more important, at least for me, is to be able to spot a dry fly as it drifts through a pool. On the aforementioned outing, I used a No, 16 Elk hair Caddis the entire time and saw no reason to switch.
While fly patterns are relatively unimportant, time of day seems to be very important. Most of my success on these national forest creeks has come during low light conditions. On the June trip, which took place the last two hours before sunset, I did not begin to get strikes until the second hour when the entire stream was in heavy shade.
For more information on fishing the George Washington or Jefferson National Forest streams visit www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal, or call (540) 265-5100.
One of the most exciting recent developments on the trout fishing front is the WVDNR and MeadWestvaco partnering to create the MWV Trout Adventure. This program involves 146,000 acres of MWV owned forests in Greenbrier, Nicholas and Fayette counties and will eventually 538 miles of streams.
A major goal of the program is to enhance native brook trout habitat and populations, as well as water quality and the physical quality of the streams. Liming stations will be built in order to improve stream pH, which is acidic on many of these upland streams. Plunge pools will be created and other holes deepened by placing native materials at strategic places.
The two agencies are encouraging voluntary catch and release, a sound policy anyway for our fragile wild brook trout waters. This is an exciting development; look for additional information from the WVDNR and MWV in the future.
West Virginia features numerous wild, stocked, and native trout streams for us to explore this spring and even summer. And by no means are the ones mentioned here the only options.