West Virginia offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
In an outdoor-oriented state like West Virginia, fishing is often at the top of the list, at least for some family members. Fortunately, the state has numerous places where fishing can be combined with other activities, enough to keep everyone happy, a chief objective in any adventure that includes the entire crew. The Mountain State offers fishing, hiking, camping, birding and more throughout its borders, with many catering to families.
Located in north-central West Virginia, Tygart Lake makes a great day-trip destination for folks from the nearby Morgantown, Fairmont and Clarksburg. Those from a bit farther away will appreciate the choices in overnight accommodations.
Tygart Lake’s 1,800 acres support a quality fishery comprised of a wide variety of species. The lake holds good numbers of panfish, crappie and channel cats, generally willing biters to keep less-patient anglers interested. It’s also home to good bass and walleye fishing; the former should still be holding in the shallows spawning, with relatively accessible. Adult trout are stocked in Tygart Lake’s outflow, providing yet another angling alternative.
During summer weekends Tygart Lake is a popular boating lake with unlimited horsepower, so plan fishing activities accordingly. The most peaceful fishing experiences will occur during weekdays, and early and late in the day, away from the peak pleasure boating period. The lake’s coves are no-wake zones, providing tranquil refuge and good fishing habitat.
Shoreline laydowns will likely hold crappie and bluegills. A small minnow or light jig-grub combination suspended under a float near wood cover will likely entice bites from crappie. When targeting bluegills, consider switching from small minnows to red worms.
Tygart Lake State Park takes up a portion of the shoreline of this federal flood-control reservoir. The state park offers boat rentals and a campground. Boat rentals, arranged at the marina, offer both fishing boats with 9.9 horsepower outboards, and pontoon boats with 50 horsepower outboards. The marina is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Both half-day and full day rentals are offered, as are multi-day rates.
The park’s campground features a total of 40 sites, 14 with electric and 26 standard sites. The campground bathhouse provides showers and toilet facilities. Families preferring not to rough-it can opt for either a room at Tygart Lake Lodge or one of 11 modern cabins. The lodge also has a restaurant.
Five separate hiking trails provide a great means to stretch young legs when the fish aren’t biting. Hiking duration ranges from around 30 minutes to an hour.
Along The Way
A visit to Tygart Lake can also include a stop at Prickett’s Fort State Park, where a re-creation of a rustic log fort overlooking Prickett’s Creek and the Monongahela River sits. The original fort, built in 1774, served as a refuge from Native American war parties on the western frontier of Colonial Virginia.
Valley Falls State Park, located on the Tygart Valley River below the lake, is a nearby day-use area, with the central attraction being impressive waterfalls. Fishing, picnicking, kayaking and 18 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails are found in the park, which opens at 7 a.m. and closes at dark.
Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area contains not only Tygart Lake, but Pleasant Creek and Doe Run Impoundment as well (limited to electric motors). Here one can find a variety of warm-water species, including rock bass and panfish.
PLUM ORCHARD LAKE
Found in southern West Virginia’s Fayette County, Plum Orchard Lake is a gem of a location, one offering fine fishing for panfish, channel catfish, crappie and bass. The surrounding wildlife management area offers a variety of attractions, with many others nearby.
Of the wildlife management area’s 3,200 acres, Plum Orchard Lake takes up over 200 surface acres. It’s a clear water impoundment, one that drops off into depths of around 40 feet. Its clear water, coupled with a stable pool, provides the right situation for submerged and floating vegetation, with 6.5 miles of shoreline present.
Anglers should expect to see some twitching bobbers from presentations offered around this fish-attracting cover. Minnows are not permitted on Plum Orchard, so plan live bait choices accordingly. Plum Orchard is known for its productive night fishing, a strategy for the more series anglers in the bunch.
Boats of unlimited horsepower are permitted on Plum Orchard, though one section — the Doris Creek Arm — is limited to the use of electric motors. The use of jet skis and water skiing is prohibited, and the upper half of the lake is under a no-wake zone restriction.
Camping is available at the Beech Bottom Campground, which has 20 rustic sites for tents and trailers. Each site features a tent pad, grill and picnic table. There is no electricity or running water. A centrally located vault toilet and a well for drinking water are available. Rental is on a first-come, first-served basis.
If target shooting is something the family enjoys, Plum Orchard WMA includes a rifle range with a 175-yard maximum distance. Six covered shooting benches are present. The range is located near the dam, off the north side of the lake.
Along The Way
Few states, if any, have as rich a coal-mining history as West Virginia, making a stop at the nearby Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine both interesting and appropriate. Among the attractions is a tour of the vintage coalmine, guided by veteran coal miners. One can also tour coal camp buildings throughout the grounds, including the Coal Company House, Superintendent’s Building, Pemberton Coal Camp and the Helen Coal Camp School, giving visitors a true representation of early 20th Century coal camp life.
Nearby Pipestem Resort State Park features two mountain lodges that overlook Bluestone Gorge, rental cottages, golf courses, campgrounds, restaurants and more.
NEW RIVER GORGE
The New River, particularly the section that flows through the New River Gorge, offers high-quality fishing for smallmouth bass and channel catfish, and contains a host of other family friendly attractions.
The New River Gorge is not a do-it-yourself fishing adventure due to the whitewater element, particularly within the lower portion of the gorge. Rather, it’s best accomplished with the aid of a professional outfitter/guide. But this is true whether the party is a family unit or a group of buddies. The upside of doing a trip as a family is that it can be fishing combined with a whitewater adventure, with a seasoned guide to aid the less experienced anglers. Bank fishing is available in more placid stretches, particularly at public access sites.
About 53 miles of river flows, south to north, through the New River Gorge National River area, part of the National Park Service. Smallmouth bass and channel catfish highlight the list, as both are available in good numbers and size. Currently, the state record (for length) smallmouth bass came from the New River, a 25.5-inch trophy taken in 1976.
A host of seasoned outfitter/guide services offer services on the New River Gorge, such as the West Virginia Experience (www.wvexperience.com), owned and operated by longtime New River guide Larry Nibert.
Few places boast the assortment of activities, such as whitewater rafting, hiking, rock climbing, bird watching, camping, picnicking and biking, as does the New River Gorge. Experienced canoeists can tackle the river, particularly the gentler upper stretch that features Class I though III rapids.
All camping within the national park is primitive. There are seven camping areas within the park, as well as one in the nearby Gauley River National Recreation Area.
Hikers will find an interesting array of trails, organized into six separate areas, ranging in length from a half mile to seven miles, and feature superb overlooks and historic scenery. Trail recommendations and maps are available at Canyon Rim, Grandview and Thurmond visitor centers.
Several of the trails within the park allow biking, with a range of difficulty. Guided tours and equipment is available through bike shops and outfitters.
Along The Way
Any trip to the New River Gorge National River must include time to admire the New River Bridge, the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States. The Canyon Rim Visitors Center, found on the north side of the bridge, provides an overlook of the bridge. The Fayette Station Road winds down the canyon and up the other side in a twisting ride of hairpin turns, furnishing outstanding views of the gorge and the bridge.
Babcock State Park, located within the boundaries of the National River, includes a working gristmill on Glade Creek. The stream offers trout fishing. Camping and cabins are also located in this park, which is West Virginia’s oldest.
THE CABIN AREA
In a state seasoned with unusually named towns, it’s fitting that the one named Cabins is indeed blessed with cabins, ones found close to some of West Virginia’s best trout fishing waters.
The town of Cabins is located near the merger of the South Branch of the Potomac, and its North Fork. Within this area is the Smoke Hole Section of the South Branch, which is heavily stocked by the state DNR, weekly March through May. The North Fork also offers quality fishing for stocked trout, with access provided by Route 28/55, as well as from River Road.
For inexperienced anglers, trout might not be as easy to catch as panfish or catfish. However, this area is somewhat unusual in that it has a couple options for folks to fish heavily stocked waters as guests, such as Harman’s Log Cabins (www.wvlogcabins.com) and Smoke Hole Outfitters (www.smokeholeoutfitters.com). Both provide guided trips and/or fishing lessons for new trout anglers on waters loaded with trout, many of them large.
Those interested in more challenging fishing should consider an adventure into the backcountry of Seneca Creek, a tributary to the North Fork of the South Branch. This stream offers sport for native brook trout and wild rainbows, but expect a hike to reach the best fishing. Like many streams, Seneca’s heavy fishing pressure takes place at the easy access spots.
Nearby tracts of the Monongahela National Forest provide camping options, such as those found at Big Bend Campground and Blackwater Falls Campground (the latter about an hour away). The national forest offers a long list of hiking and biking opportunities.
Along The Way
Seneca Caverns offers cavern tours that dip 165 feet below the entrance, which take about an hour. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park provides rides on stream-driven locomotives. Built in 1901 to haul lumber to the mill in Cass, the railroad and namesake town remain largely unchanged.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Green Bank, features the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable dish in the world. The facility features a science center and tours.