Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
It’s not uncommon for fishing destinations in the Mountain State to be considered remote. But the term would typically be used to describe some out-of-the-way trout stream, or perhaps a section of smallmouth or muskie river located off the beaten trail. However, this is not so much so for a quality largemouth bass impoundment covering hundreds of acres. But that’s what Upper Mud Lake is: a topnotch bass reservoir that sees relatively light fishing pressure; one that contains not only good numbers of largemouths, but nice-sized ones as well.
Lincoln County is the home of Upper Mud Lake. The 307-acre reservoir is found within the 1,425-acre Upper Mud River Wildlife Management Area. As such, the land surrounding the lake is publicly owned.
“Upper Mud Lake is an impoundment of the Middle Fork of the Mud River,” explained Jeff Hansbarger, an assistant district fisheries biologist. “It’s very long and narrow, with its primary purpose being flood control. In contrast to some of the better-known reservoirs in the state, it doesn’t have a lot of surface area.”
The reservoir was completed in 1995. An earthen dam impounds the Upper Mud, providing protection for the towns found within the watershed as it proceeds downstream, eventually joining the Guyandotte River.
Anglers new to the area can expect to find forested hillsides. In general, the reservoir reflects the terrain that surrounds it, which is rugged and steep. Most shoreline areas drop quickly into deeper water. Though the lake covers only 300-odd acres, it attains depths approaching 100 feet near the dam. The average depth of the Upper Mud runs from 15 to 20 feet deep.
“It’s fairly difficult to get to,” said the biologist, a feature that limits the fishing pressure Upper Mud Lake sees. “Not that many people know about it. It’s kind of hidden away. It’s not that you can’t get to the lake while towing a boat. It’s just that there are places along the road where somebody is going to have to pull off.”
Reaching Upper Mud Lake involves traveling the back roads, an activity many anglers shy away from. Once at the lake, though, Hansbarger said the main boat launch is a good one, capable of handling larger boats. The lake does have a 10-horsepower limit, though.
Habitat is a significant factor for both bass and bass anglers. In general, the better the habitat, the more bass a lake can support. Such habitat also serves as a place for anglers to target in hopes of connecting with bass. Wood and weeds are the primary forms of bass cover, and Upper Mud has a bit of both.
According to Hansbarger, Upper Mud Lake has a fair level of submergent aquatic vegetation. This growth exists in part because though its name implies otherwise, Upper Mud is a fairly clear body of water. Naturally, the lake can become turbid during periods of high rainfall, but typically, anglers can expect the lake to be relatively clear.
Interestingly, Hansbarger said the DNR is looking at ways to increase aquatic weed growth in its lakes, most of which are flood-control waters, subject to dramatic fluctuations in level. Such instability in pool level does not bode well for the growth of aquatic vegetation.
“Because most of our lakes are managed as flood-control lakes, there is not a lot of habitat,” Hansbarger said. “The operator of the reservoir wants the water to evacuate quickly, without any problems with the spillway.
“As we’ve done on some of our larger reservoirs, such as East Lynn, is that of a pilot vegetative project. This entails creating an enclosure to get some vegetation going. The reason for this is that we are in a northern climate. When weeds start to grow, carp and turtles tend to do a number on them. So, the cage (enclosure) gives the weeds a head start, the chance to get a colony started before they are depredated and removed. In addition to the existing weeds, there are laydowns, places where trees have fallen.”
Hansbarger said this aquatic weed growth project is being considered on the Upper Mud. Though the Upper Mud lacks extensive amounts of flooded timber, Hansbarger said some flooded wood is found in the Left Fork of the reservoir, which incidentally is an area focused on by bass anglers.
Since its creation over 12 years ago, Upper Mud Lake has been under special regulations — catch-and-release, specifically — concerning its black bass fishery, one dominated by largemouths. How much of a factor the special regulations play in the lake’s good largemouth population is a matter of conjecture. The bottom line is, however, one of an excellent bass fishery.
“We did electrofishing surveys on the lake last spring,” Hansbarger said. “We found some incredible bass in there. I would highly recommend it. We collected a lot of fish around 20 inches in length. I was really amazed by the number of big fish we found. Upper Mud Lake definitely has a healthy population of largemouth bass in it.”
Forage wise, the primary food in Upper Mud is that of young sunfish and minnow species. The water is fairly productive. Hansbarger noted that during the summer months, barring exceptionally wet weather, the water takes on a green hue, indicative of plankton blooms that occur there. The presence of plankton is a healthy sign, as it is the foundation of the food chain, which eventually feeds predatory fish like largemouth bass.
The positive affect of Upper Mud Lake’s catch-and-release largemouth bass regulation is open to debate. One reason is largely that most anglers release their bass anyway, regardless of such a requirement.
“One of the items being discussed during our fisheries management meeting is that of taking some of these regulations off,” Hansbarger noted. “Our studies and angler returns indicate that most people don’t harvest largemouth bass anyway. Occasionally, we’ll hear of someone ‘taking a bucket load.’ We’ll follow that up with reports to our conservation officers. But, in general, most people just throw them back. That goes for the whole state.”
Besides Upper Mud Lake’s fine largemouth population, Hansbarger said the lake also plays host to a good muskellunge fishery. Large predators also include channel catfish, while panfish anglers will find good numbers of crappie and bluegills.
While the lake has two access areas, Hansbarger could only personally recommend one launch ramp, the one fishery personnel use
when visiting the lake.
“We use the main boat launch, which is located at the marina,” he said. “You’ll go by the wildlife management area (WMA) headquarters. You will see the maintenance buildings there. From there, it’s easy to find the road that leads to the boat launch.”
To reach Upper Mud Lake, take county Road 7 (Upper Mud River Road) south out of Hamlin. The WMA headquarters is found about 12 miles south of Hamlin.
In terms of bass tactics, for Upper Mud, it’s wise to carry tackle to fish various forms of wood as well as weeds. Wood laydowns can be effectively worked by pitching a rubber jig dressed with a trailer back among the branches. This work calls for a heavy-action baitcasting outfit spooled with strong line. Fluorocarbon line is nearly invisible under water, so it’s safe to use 17- or 20- pound-test line without fear of the fish seeing the line.
Soft-bodied trailers, like those made by Yum and Berkley, are great alternatives to natural pork chunks. Besides the jig-and-pig, other good summer options for fishing laydowns include the standby Texas-rigged worm and soft baits of the Zoom Brush Hog design. Such slender baits penetrate the wood well.
The jig-type presentations listed will also work well when fished along standing timber. Bouncing spinnerbaits and crankbaits off the cover can also trigger fish. Cast past the target, making sure the lure hits the wood as it passes by.
There are many options for working Upper Mud’s weed cover. Bass will often locate on the outside edge of the weeds, where a plastic worm or jig can be pitched. Since the cover here isn’t as tough as wood cover, it’s OK to scale down the power of the tackle a bit.
So, if you are looking for a largemouth bass experience on the wild side this summer, why not give Upper Mud Lake’s quality largemouths a try? You’ll be glad you did!