Mountain State anglers are passionate about catching catfish. Beyond being excellent table fare, catfish are fun to catch. Even better West Virginia has numerous locations where anglers can pursue the fish of the deep water.
According to Tommy Cundiff of River Monster Guide Service, the Greenbrier River in the southern reaches is one of his favorite destinations.
“I don’t think that many people realize that the upper Greenbrier has really good fishing for channel cats,” Cundiff said. “There’s a lot of good size eating fish running 3 and 4 pounds and fish up to 10 pounds are possible.”
One of the best floats on the upper river is Marlinton to Seebert (11 miles). In its upper reaches, the Greenbrier is very clear, so the are often most active during low-light conditions and at night. Although this is a long excursion, Cundiff says the steady current enables float anglers to complete the trip in about eight hours.
The Marlinton junket features a lot of islands, which are characterized by dead falls, drop offs and shoreline cuts. Those locales and the mid-river rocky pools are where anglers should concentrate efforts.
Another favorite is Alderson to Talcott Bridge (13 miles). Average water depths are deeper than on the Marlinton float, making the former a better bet in late summer when the river can become low. In summer, the channel cats on this section are more likely to locate in runs, riffles and Class I rapids — the same places where anglers target smallmouths.
Of particular interest is that flatheads, though rare on the upper river, become much more common in the lower Greenbrier. This is especially true downstream as far as Alderson where riffles feeding into deep, rocky pools is more common. The flatheads and channels typically haunt the same areas on the lower Greenbrier, but they do hold differently.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
“The Greenbrier’s channel cats will chase after crankbaits and jerkbaits while the river’s flatheads seem to prefer to take up behind some kind of wood or rock and wait in ambush for something to drift slowly by,” said Cundiff.
Another superb float is the most downstream one on the river, Barger Springs to Willow Wood Bridge (6 miles). The Greenbrier flows very gently through most of this section with lots of riffle/pool habitat. Finally, wade fishermen should consider the mouth of the Greenbrier in downtown Hinton. The river flows slowly through here, and wading opportunities are numerous.
District IV fisheries biologist Mark Scott says that flatheads are native to the river and channel cats have moved into just about every body of water these days. Interestingly, Scott claims that few folks target flatheads on this river. For those who are interested in the two species, the biologist suggests fishing with live rock bass or suckers if they are after flatheads. If channels are the quarry, he recommends nightcrawlers and chicken livers.
Herschel Finch, a pro staffer for Jackson Kayaks, says that he has seen massive schools of channel cats on the main stem of the Shenandoah and some really large specimens in the deeper holes when the water becomes clear as is often the case as summer continues. These fish especially like to school where springs or tributaries enter the river come the dog days.
Flatheads are considered an invasive species on the Shenandoah, and Finch has not seen them above the dam at Millville and, frankly, he emphasizes, he hopes that they do not make their way upstream by means of “bucket biologists.” If this were to happen, the event would be very bad for the river’s other gamefish. From his experience, one of the best places to target flatheads on the Shenandoah is below Millville Dam in a large pool before the Virginia Staircase series of rapids.
Regarding float trips on the Shenandoah, the first excursion entirely within West Virginia is Avon Bend to Bloomery Road (8 miles). As a whole, the float features one Class II rapid, several rated Class I and numerous riffles. However, the focal point for cats is near the end where Bloomery Road parallels the river left shoreline. Another hot spot is near the end of the junket — the Big Eddy on river left at Mouton Park. A ramp exists on river left; Millville Dam lies downstream.
The other float is Bloomery Road to Potomac Wayside (6 miles), the latter of which lies on the Potomac River. However, anglers, especially those after flatheads, should only target the still water below Millville Dam. Two miles below the dam begin a series of major rapids (the Virginia Staircase), which are best run only by expert paddlers in rafts or kayaks.
District 2 Fisheries Biologist Brandon Keplinger reports that the Shenandoah hosts a solid population of channel cats and it’s not uncommon for fish to top 30 inches.
“The river’s channel cats get a lot of fishing pressure from folks in the area, but very little from outside the Eastern Panhandle,” said Keplinger. “I agree with Finch that if somebody were to release flatheads above Millwood Dam, that could be very bad for the upper river’s channel catfish, smallmouth, redbreast sunfish and pumpkinseed sunfish populations. Flatheads are major predators of other fish.”
What’s more, flatheads could especially have a negative impact on the river’s channel catfish, likely causing them to decrease in both numbers and size. When an alpha predator, like the flathead, is introduced, a lake or river’s other fish are negatively impacted.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE
Stonewall Jackson Lake is known for its largemouth bass fishery, but the 2,630-acre also contains channel and flathead catfish.
Matt Yeager, district administrator for state parks, says the Little Skin Creek area is known for its catfish. Other reliable locales, include the impoundment’s creek arms, such as Glady Fork as well as the West Fork River arm. But really, any of the lake’s tributaries have the potential to offer catfish. The reason is because Stonewall still conceals large amounts of downed timber left over from when the impoundment was created.
Cundiff’s best summertime pattern is probing these tributaries at depths of between 6- and 12-feet deep, using live minnows or cutbait from bluegills or sunfish. The other key is to go at the night. Bank fishing is also part of the Stonewall Jackson catfishing experience. Possible spots to try include the Vandalia, Jacksonville and Glady Fork access areas.
District 3 Fisheries Biologist Jim Walker adds that the impoundment offers 81 miles of shoreline, with openings for folks to bank fish, along with roads (such as Routes 19 and 30) that parallel or cross the lake.
Walker says that District III does not monitor either the channel or flathead fisheries but fish 15 to 24 inches are common for channels and reports from the WVDNR Trophy Fish Citation program always have a few Stonewall Jackson cats in the 6-pound-plus range every year. Channel cats must weigh 6 pounds or measure 25 inches to quality for a citation. The biologist also receives angler reports about flatheads but they are always in the smaller range of 15 and 20 inches. The flathead catfish population appears to be low.
Regarding the channel cat contingent, Walker relates that the population remains stable and some natural reproduction occurs. The DNR supplements by stocking yearling channels every few years. The DNR also installed 75 catfish spawning boxex to promote natural reproduction in the Jacksonville area of the lake.
According to District 1 Fisheries biologist Dave Wellman, the Ohio River is not only the premier catfish destination in his region but also in the Mountain State.
“Iwould agree that the Ohio River along with [its main tributary] the Kanawha River are tops in West Virginia for blues and flatties,” Wellman said. “Nate Taylor (assistant fisheries biologist) is doing a very interesting telemetry study and is also starting to evaluate our blue catfish stockings.”
The DNR first released blue cats in the mid-2000s into the Ohio. Anglers should know that blues are native to the Ohio Watershed, but pollution, dams and other obstructions largely eliminated them from the watershed. Now, anglers are catching blues again, particularly around the Willow Island, Belleville, Racine, and R.C. Byrd Locks and Dams.
“On the Ohio, the best places to fish for catfish are right below the locks,” said Jim Bevins. “This is a great bank fishery, where the fish concentrate along the cement walls and riprap, and inside the eddies that form from water being released.”
The standard approach is for bank fishermen to dangle live shad and skipjack herring (or cutbait) while standing above the cement walls or on the riprap. Anglers who probe these eddies often employ surfcasting rods to hurl these baits some 50 to 75 yards. Doing so requires a herculean effort and precise casting.
“People are catching blues weighing 40 pounds or more and some fish are topping 50,” said Bevins. “A 30-pound blue is no big deal anymore. The flatheads often run 20 to 25 pounds.”
Downstream from the locks, where the water slows, boat fishermen are more likely to be found. Bevins likes to target tributary mouths where sandbars and deep holes form. If a tributary mouth is big enough for anglers to run up the creek, more quality catfishing can often be experienced. Bevins emphasizes that anglers should work the mouth of any tributary, no matter how small. These are real hot spots on the Ohio and some 120 miles of river exist from Willow Island to R.C. Byrd.
Finally, Bevins emphasizes the importance of fishing deep whether an angler is bank-bound or in a boat. The Ohio is a two-story fishery, especially right below the locks, and anglers using live bait are likely to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as walleyes and sauger if baits are not close to the bottom.
Of course, numerous other catfishing areas exist. Biologist Mark Scott says Bluestone and Hawk’s Nest lakes are marvelous fisheries, and the South Branch of the Potomac and the Main Stem of the Potomac have fans, as do Beech Fork, East Lynn, Tygart and Burnsville lakes. No matter where you live in West Virginia, sublime summertime action for catfish is seldom far away.