Our State's Best Put-And-Take Trout Fishing
September 29, 2010
From Anthony Creek to the Williams River and beyond, here's where you'll find some of our state's finest catch-and-keep trout waters. Is one near you? (April 2010)
A cold drizzle had begun to fall last March by the time Craig Miller and I arrived at Anthony Creek in Greenbrier County. Even though the weather conditions were miserable, I was surprised to see a number of vehicles parked along the stream. However, Miller, who operates Serenity Now Outfitters in Lewisburg (www. serenitynowoutfitters.com), was not at all astonished to see people out and about along this tributary of the Greenbrier River.
After all, Miller pointed out that it was a weekend and that's what people do in West Virginia on Saturdays and Sundays -- enjoy the outdoors. With all the folks plying Anthony Creek, a well-known put-and-take trout stream, wasn't the guide just a little bit worried that we would have quite a bit of competition for the stream's fish. Indeed, he wasn't.
"Here's a little secret on fishing West Virginia's put-and-take trout streams," confided Miller. "Everybody knows where the trout are released, and everybody knows where the popular holes are. And most everybody is going to fish those holes or their favorite spots where they have been going to for years.
"So what I do is park where everybody else does, then take off walking through the woods to look for isolated holes. The trout don't all stay where they were released, and someone who is willing to walk a little bit doesn't have to compete with other fishermen for the popular holes. Throughout the spring, I can find plenty of unpressured fish on put-and-take waters, just by going to off-the-beaten path sweet spots."
So after debarking from Miller's vehicle, sure enough we began hiking through the woods. After a reasonable amount of walking, we came to a beautiful sylvan setting. Sycamores shrouded one side of the pool, which was fed by a riffle. Great rhododendrons and speckled alders rimmed the other side. And true to Craig Miller's word, we had the area all to ourselves.
As no surface action was occurring, and given the numbing rain and temperature in the 40s, a topwater bite was not likely to take place, the outfitter suggested that we both nymph fish with generic bead-style offerings. Although the weather could certainly have been considered miserable, I soon forgot all about the inclement conditions and became absorbed with attempting to make accurate casts to the boulders that lined the pool and toward the vegetation that covered the shorelines. A pleasing natural contentedness occurs when one's mind becomes absorbed with making delicate casts with flies.
My reverie ended, though, when Miller shouted that he had on a nice trout, and I waded over to him to catch the action with my camera. Soon Miller landed and released a recently stocked rainbow. No, the fish did not flaunt the brilliant hues that stream-born fish do, but give the fish a month or two in Anthony Creek and maybe it would begin to do so.
Miller considers Anthony Creek one of the premier put-and-take trout streams, not only in southern West Virginia but also in the entire state.
"Anthony Creek has it all," says Miller. "Part of it flows through the Monongahela National Forest, part of it flows near main roads like state Route 92, part of it is very isolated and part of it isn't. It's a big stream and heavily stocked, so you can just about always come here and find trout willing to bite."
Anthony is a "W-F" trout stream, meaning it receives stockings once in January, twice in February, and once each week from March through May. The creek also receives stockings once a week for two weeks in early October when many folks like to pair trout fishing with scouting for deer.
The Elk River is famous throughout the East Coast for its special regulations waters, featuring a catch-and-release section of two miles from the Elk Springs Campground downstream to Rose Run Bridge. Similar regulations are in play on the Back Fork of the Elk for four miles, beginning two miles upstream from Webster Springs and extending downstream. Then there's the 4.6-mile section on Slatyfork of the Elk from the junction of Big Spring and Old Field forks downstream to the mouth of Dry Branch and including Props Run and Big Run.
But there's also some fetching put-and-take water as well, emphasizes Gil Willis, who operates the Elk River Touring Center (www.ertc. com; or call 866-572-3771) and an Orvis-endorsed guide service in Slatyfork.
"The Elk below Whitaker Falls is a very good put-and-take stream," he says. "The falls are about 300 yards below the catch-and-release section and are a popular place for spin- and bait-fishermen. Older folks will like the accessibility at Whitaker, and everyone should like the fact that for miles down to Webster Springs, people can catch stocked trout.
"Below Webster Springs, the water is not great for trout, but that section does contain some very big brown trout that are true holdovers. Browns are better able to do well in warmer water, so there aren't many rainbows and brookies below Webster Springs."
Annually, the Elk receives health infusions of rainbows and browns, and Willis states that native brook trout find their water into the river via the many mountain rills that empty into the stream. Please, Willis emphasizes, release any wild brook trout that you catch while fishing the stocked section. The brookies have hard times aplenty, he says, not only because of environmental dangers but also because of predation from the stocked rainbows and browns.
Interestingly, continues Willis, some natural reproduction apparently is occurring in the put-and-take section. The outfitter says that he and other local anglers have noted minnow-size rainbows and browns in the Elk. More natural reproduction seems to occur above Whitaker Falls than below. The Elk is a fairly substantial stream, and in the spring, anglers can use canoes to fish in its lower reaches.
The river is on the same W-F stocking schedule as Anthony Creek.
The Williams River is one of the most beautiful streams anywhere, featuring plunge pools, riffles and runs, heavily shrouded banks, undercut shorelines with alders lushly growing, and rhododendron copses that light up the forest when in bloom.
"The Williams is a great put-and-take stream for a lot of reasons," enthuses Willis. "The Highland Scenic Highway offers great access, the Forest Service and DNR have a nice relationship to manage the area, and the stream offers great habitat, not to mention the beauty.
"Another thing that people will like about the Williams is that it is not a techni
cal stream to fish, like many sections of the Elk are. A beginner or intermediate fisherman can come to the Williams and have a good chance to do well. The fish just don't seem as educated as they are on the Elk."
Willis relates that boulders in the plunge pools often harbor rainbows and browns, and brook trout find their way into the river from the stream's tributaries. The Williams is yet another W-F water. Please note that a two-mile section beginning two miles below Tea Creek and extending downstream is under a catch-and-release regulation.
WEST FORK OF THE GREENBRIER RIVER
Gary Ransbottom operates Glady Fork Outfitters in appropriately enough Glady; he offers guided trips on a dozen or so quality trout streams. The Orvis-endorsed outfitter maintains that one of his favorites is the West Fork of the Greenbrier in Pocahontas County.
"Thanks to the Rails to Trails program, access is great along the West Fork because of the Greenbrier River Trail," says Ransbottom. "And the West Fork is just a beautiful stream to fish: The rhododendron and mountain laurel along the banks, and every now and then you'll see those overhanging shelf rocks the stream is known for."
The outfitter says that April and May are some of the best times to visit the river, as the West Fork receives heavy stockings of rainbows, browns, and brooks -- many of which run between 11 and 14 inches, plus a few brood trout in the 18-inch range.
Ransbottom emphasizes that trout-fishing action is good throughout the river, but that several areas stand out. He particularly likes the stretch above and below where Little River enters, which is also a stocked stream. Another productive section is the stretch north of Durbin. Both these sections feature riffles, pools, and what the guide calls "heavy water." That is those pools that run 4 or more feet deep and are lairs for jumbo-sized fish.
Another plus is that the river is floatable later in the spring. Ransbottom says that below Durbin, he likes to take clients on canoe trips beginning usually in May. In April, the West Fork is often too high and discolored for float trips to safely take place.
For April and May action, Ransbottom suggests the following patterns: Black Woolly Buggers (sizes 6 and 8), Dark Olive Woolly Buggers (same sizes), Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymphs (sizes 10 to 14) and Prince Beadhead Nymphs (sizes 12 and 14).
"In late spring on the West Fork, look forward to the Sulfur dry fly hatch," confides Ransbottom. "That's when some of the best action of the entire year will take place."
For the Sulfur hatch, the outfitter suggests sizes 16 and 18. The West Fork is another W-F trout stream. Visit www.gladyforkoutfitters.com and www.gladyforkcabins.com; or call (877) 636-6574 for more information.
BIG CLEAR CREEK
Another southern West Virginia put-and-take stream that Miller rates highly is Big Clear Creek, which also courses through Greenbrier County. Among our quintet, Big Fork is the first stream not to bear the W-F mantle, instead being a BW-F. That means it receives trout stockings once in February, once every two weeks from March through May, and once each week for two weeks in October.
Midstream boulders, Class I rapids and riffles and pocket water characterize Big Clear Creek in the spring. As such, wade-fishermen should exercise caution as the swift water can easily cause one to lose his balance. A quality pair of wading shoes would definitely be a plus here.
As a bonus, visitors may want to visit Big Clear Creek's sister stream, Little Clear Creek, which is a BW water; that means it does not receive fall stockings. Both streams are easily accessed off state Route 60 near Rupert.
Like many West Virginia trout fishermen, I revel in fly-fishing for wild trout in catch-and-release streams and stalking native brook trout in mountain rills. But I also like to take some fresh fish home for dinner from time to time. The Mountain State's put-and-take trout streams are certainly superb destinations for those who like to do the same or just have fun outdoors.