JANUARY – OHIO RIVER WALLEYES
Frigid water temperatures concentrate Ohio River walleyes in defined areas. Fish run up the river in the late fall, so expect to find lots of fish below the lock and dam systems. Other places that tend to collect walleyes are the mouths of feeder streams, where rock bars and scour holes create quiet pockets for the fish to lie in wait for an easy meal.
The upper most dams on West Virginia’s portion of the Ohio tend to hold the most walleyes. More specifically this is the New Cumberland, Pike Island and Hannibal locks and dam systems.
Other Options: Gauley River Walleyes: Concentrate on the deep holes of the lower portion of the river. Mount Storm Bass and Hybrids: A hot water discharge keeps the lake open through the winter, and concentrates the bass.
FEBRUARY – CRANBERRY RIVER TROUT
West Virginia has one of the most aggressive trout stocking programs in the country, planting trout in state streams and lakes on an annual basis. Streams like the Cranberry River — which flows through Nicholas, Webster and Pocahontas counties — receive trout on a frequent basis, beginning in January. Weather permitting, the Cranberry River is stocked once in January, twice in February and once a week in March, April and May. It also gets two fall plantings in mid-October.
The Cranberry River has easily accessed areas, as well remote sections, such as the portion that flows through the Cranberry Wilderness Area. Anglers planning a February trip would be wise to hit the accessible waters, saving the backcountry stretch for more moderate weather later in the year.
Other Options: Stonecoal Lake Trout: Worms, salmon eggs and Power Bait will dupe these trout. Ohio River White Bass: Cast jigging spoons in tailrace areas to catch aggressive whiteys.
MARCH – STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE CRAPPIE
Unlike most federal flood control lakes, Stonewall Jackson wasn’t given cleared before being filled. As such, substantial amounts of flooded timber remain, particularly in the lake’s many bays and coves. This cover, along with shoreline laydowns and brushpiles, should be where early season casts go. Cover like this sucks up the sun’s rays, warms quickly and attracts both baitfish and crappie.
Other Options: White Day Creek Trout: Anglers from the Morgantown area can cash in fishing threaded minnows. Kanawha River Hybrids: Swim a soft-bodied swimbait near creek mouths when targeting hybrids.
APRIL – WILLIAMS RIVER TROUT
In the warming water of April, the trout should be on the bite. Like the Cranberry, the Williams River is stocked with trout in January and February. But while the Cranberry has significant remote areas, the Williams is easily accessible throughout much of its length.
One of the more popular sections lies between the Tea Creek Campground and the Three Forks of the Williams. A one-mile delayed harvest area is located two miles below the Tea Creek Campground.
Other Options: South Branch of the Potomac Trout: If flows are up, fish a Woolly Bugger close to the bank. Upper Elk River Trout: Be prepared for early season hatches of Hendrickson’s.
MAY – SUMMERSVILLE LAKE WALLEYES
By May walleyes will have completed their annual spawning run, and be in the mood to feed to make up for lost energy. The warming waters of Summersville Lake provide a great place for Mountain State walleye anglers to test their skill on a lake setting.
At over 2,700 acres, Summersville is the largest lake in West Virginia and enjoys the reputation as being the state’s finest walleye lake. Its steep dropping shoreline is rich in rocky habitat. Anglers will find boulder fields, rocky point and cliff-like outcroppings along its extensive shoreline.
Other Options: New River Smallmouth Bass: Target shallow points and incoming creek areas with sinking stickbaits. Monongahela National Forest Brook Trout: Small Woolly Buggers and Green Weenies score big on native brook trout.
JUNE – CHEAT LAKE LARGEMOUTH BASS
It wasn’t that long ago that Cheat Lake was relatively lifeless due to acid mine drainage. Liming devices placed within the Cheat River watershed upstream of the lake have improved the water quality to the point where Cheat Lake is now one of the state’s most productive largemouth bass lakes.
Cheat Lake’s proximity to Morgantown makes it a favorite for anglers from this area. But its location just off Interstate 68, a few miles from the I-68/I-79 interchange, makes it accessible to anglers from many directions.
Other Options: Burnsville Lake Channel Cats: Fillets cut from a sucker or chub make good bait for summertime cats. Elk Fork Lake Largemouths: A seductively fished soft jerkbait will lure Elk Fork’s post-spawn largemouths into biting.
JULY – POTOMAC RIVER SMALLMOUTH BASS
River smallmouths are very popular with anglers, as a 12-inch river smallie has no idea it is only a foot long because they fight like a 3-pound lake largemouth. A good place to put such a comment to the test is the North Branch of the Potomac River.
The Cheat River has a history of acid mine drainage, but has benefitted greatly from cleanup work. Reintroduced in the 1990s, smallmouth bass now thrive all the way to the North Branch’s merger with the South Branch.
Perhaps the best smallmouth bass portion of this border water is the section that runs from Keyser to Cumberland, Md.
Other Options: Stonewall Jackson Lake Largemouths: Target Stonewall Jackson’s abundant wood cover with flippin’ jigs and spinnerbaits. Buckhannon River Muskies: The wood-rich Buckhannon Pool is a perfect place to lure a musky out of hiding with a gliding bait like the Glidin’ Rap.
AUGUST – KANAWHA RIVER CATS
Though the tough fishing associated with the “dog days of August” is a bit exaggerated, now is a good time to slow the pace down and enjoy some relaxed fishing. An evening of soaking baits for channel cats and flatheads is in order. And the Kanawha River is a good place to do it.
Most effort on cats takes place on the lower end of the river, where navigational lock and dams, such as Winfield, London and Marmet, form a slower, deeper river.
Other Options: Monongahela River Channel Cats: Seek out the deeper river holes, and figure on fishing at night to catch the biggest forktails. Tygart Lake Bluegills: Tiny under-spin jigs like the Blakemore Road Runner excel when prospecting for Tygart Lake’s bluegills.
SEPTEMBER – BEECH FORK HYBRID STRIPERS
Just about any time is a good time to chase hybrid stripers. These striped bass/white bass crossbreeds are one of the hardest fighting freshwater fish available.
At 720 acres, Beech Fork is one of the state’s smaller reservoirs. But it makes up for size by way of healthy fish populations. This includes hybrid stripers, a fishery maintained by regular stockings by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Beech Fork has a substantial gizzard shad population, one that the hybrids make good use of. Keeping in touch with shad location will assist in finding these eating machines.
Other Options: Greenbrier River Smallmouth Bass: Fish a small jerkbait to get reaction bites from the smallies. Mountwood Lake Muskies: Trolling crankbaits over 10- to 15-foot depths should get the attention of muskies.
OCTOBER – TYGART LAKE SMALLMOUTH BASS
Although river smallmouths are something special, taking them from lakes isn’t too bad either. Especially when surrounded by the colors of the season on a scenic water like Tygart Lake.
Located near Grafton, Tygart Lake is a good choice for those from the Morgantown and Fairmont areas. Its proximity to I-79 make it an option for anglers greater distances away, especially from the north and south.
An impoundment of the Tygart Valley River, its nearly 1,800 acres (summer pool) feature a predominately rocky shoreline. The shore’s irregular features create plenty of points and cuts for smallies to relate. And there are good numbers of smallmouth. Tygart Lake is considered one of the top bass lakes in the state, and one with a strong smallmouth population.
Other Options: South Branch River Smallmouth Bass: Slowly work a soft swimbait to trigger smallmouth bites in the cooling water. Hughes River Muskies: A West Virginia classic, 200 series crankbaits excel on small musky rivers.
NOVEMBER – ELK RIVER MUSKIES
Muskie fishing has always had a strong association with late fall. In a state where anglers have several options on where to cast a lure, it can be difficult to make a choice. But if one were to pick the Elk River, it would be difficult to argue with the decision.
Muskies are present in the entire stretch of the Elk River from Sutton Dam down to its merger with the Kanawha River. But the best habitat lies in the portions that flow through Braxton and Clay counties.
Other Options: Sutton Lake Largemouth Bass: Target deep drop-offs with a finesse plastic bait fished on a drop-shot rig. Tygart Lake Crappie: Hit the rocky ledges with a small minnow presented under a slip bobber.
DECEMBER – SHENANDOAH RIVER SMALLMOUTH BASS
December is a great time for smallmouths, especially the biggest ones in the river. Even though all but the most dedicated of river rats will have hibernated for the year, those hardy souls that stay out on the river catch the biggest brown bass of the year.
West Virginia’s portion of the Shenandoah is short, the extreme lower end that runs from the Virginia state line, into Jefferson County to the river’s merger with the mainstream Potomac at Harper’s Ferry. Access areas are numerous, though, and include Bloomery Bridge, Harper’s Ferry, Meyerstown, Millville, Potomac Edison (ramps both above and below the dam) and Shannondale Springs.
Other Options: Kanawha River Sauger: Though very similar, sauger often hold in slightly deeper water than their walleye cousins. Monongahela River Walleyes: Try pulling a jig and minnow upriver in slackwater pools to catch big walleyes.