Photo courtesy of Kevin Yokum.
The late afternoon sun began its downward spiral behind the mountains when another walleye thumped my jig. The walleye made a fine addition to other marble-eyes already on my stringer. My mouth watered as I thought of fresh, tasty walleye fillets on the center of my dinner table. Catching five walleyes on an evening stopover is not too bad for a quick outing.
As I eased out of the Kanawha River Lock with my stringer full of fish, I encountered another angler on his way to the river. “Ah, success!” he said, “but it sure ain’t no Lake Erie.” I replied, “No, but I caught enough for the dinner table, and the Kanawha sure is a whole lot closer to home!”
While West Virginia is home to a variety of awesome fisheries, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that walleyes are one of the state’s most limited fish commodities. There are roughly a dozen or so quality walleye fisheries in West Virginia. However, even with limited opportunities, quality fishing can be found in select Mountain State lakes and rivers, especially during the late winter and early spring.
Walleye management in West Virginia received a boost when the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) began growing larger walleye fingerlings to stock in state waters. Such stocking advancements have generated measurable improvements in marble-eye populations among many state walleye waters. If you don’t believe it, just ask anglers who fish the New River.
Although not yet established like the waters featured in this article, the New River is producing excellent numbers of young walleyes that seem to be growing extremely fast. And anglers catching them right now are salivating in anticipation at just how good the walleye fishing might become after another two years.
In the meantime, check out these waters for some red-hot walleye action this spring.
Although previously unknown as a numbers-producing walleye fishery, the Kanawha River is becoming a place to catch both quantities and quality-sized walleyes. Recent improvements to the river’s water quality and enhanced stocking efforts over the last five years point toward a bright future for walleye fishing in the Kanawha River.
The Kanawha, the state’s second largest river, sustains a local angler following, but for the most part, fishing pressure continues to be minimal along most of the river’s length. Thus, the river maintains the necessary ingredients for producing quality walleye fishing: low fishing pressure, increased stocking and adequate forage.
Walleye stocking remains a vital component of the Kanawha River fishery, much like it is on most West Virginia walleye waters. A new restoration project established by the DNR has elevated the importance of walleye stockings on the river, and now the Kanawha is slated to receive stockings of fingerling walleyes every year. The stockings call for over 31,000 walleye fingerlings to be put in the river each year, as they were in 2005 and 2006.
The river’s best attribute continues to be numbers of fish rather than trophy potential, but trophy-sized walleyes do show up each year. Typical walleyes from the river run between 10 to 20 inches, although catches of hefty walleyes exceeding 20 inches are now becoming more common.
Of all the spots to fish on the Kanawha River, the locks remain the most popular places. Popularity continues to originate from repeated success. It’s no wonder, as hordes of fish bunch up in the tailraces just below each of the locks. Marmet, Winfield and London all feature lock systems that qualify as exceptional walleye hotspots.
These locks offer a tantalizing packet for walleyes: the right temperature, abundant food and well-oxygenated water. As walleyes move upriver to the locks, they discover ideal conditions, so a good portion of these fish will stay for extended periods.
On the Kanawha River locks, peak fishing runs from January through April. Below the tailraces, water flow and current will be critical elements that strongly influence daily walleye bites. In general, moving water seems to offer better action than still water when it comes to walleye fishing.
During most flows, anglers will find optimal fishing close to the dam or near a gate that features moving water. Walleyes will concentrate along the swift water after it passes through lock gates, thus providing visible target areas for anglers.
Minnow-tipped jigs, 2-inch slider jigs and various crankbaits make great tailwater lures for Kanawha River walleyes.
Access to the Winfield Lock is via U.S. Route 35, while the London and Marmet locks sit along U.S. Route 60.
Originally constructed in 1938, Tygart Lake is one of West Virginia’s oldest walleye impoundments. The 1,740-acre reservoir historically has been known as a fine walleye fishery, and even today, the lake maintains that distinctive “walleye” look as it showcases plenty of clear water and steep, rocky dropoffs.
Tygart Lake wasn’t stocked with walleye fry until 1973, but the fry did well and eventually developed into a naturally reproducing population. From time to time, the DNR stocks walleye fingerlings into Tygart Lake to replenish the lake’s population, particularly after sequential years of poor natural walleye reproduction.
This lake experiences the most significant drawdown of any West Virginia reservoir. The water level drops from a normal summer pool elevation approximately 82 feet to reach winter pool. The annual lake drawdown commences in September and reaches winter pool by October. Initial fill-up of the lake begins in April and is usually complete by May 1.
Even more of an angler hindrance is the daily fluctuation potential of this flood-control reservoir. Daily fluctuations of 10 feet or more can take place when significant precipitation events occur. Literally, a quality walleye outing one day can be “washed out” the following day by a severe increase in water level and subsequent turbid conditions.
Late winter and early spring can be a productive time to fish Tygart Lake for walleyes. Productive areas often consist of moderate current and water depths of less than 20 feet. Such conditions are common on the upper end of the lake. Walleyes tend to congregate along the shores of the upper lake during the late-winter period, making this area of the l
ake a prime spot for catching quantities of walleyes.
Stony Run and the mouth of Sandy Creek are two spots noted for producing good numbers of walleyes. Don’t expect to have either area all to yourself during the spring, since it’s common knowledge that the upper lake region has produced walleyes up to 10 pounds.
From the late spring through fall, water temperature remains a critical component for catching walleyes on Tygart Lake. Veteran anglers know that to catch Tygart Lake walleyes during the summer and fall, they need to fish near the thermocline, as this lake stratifies strongly during much of the year. So, keep this in mind if you wish to extend your walleye fishing into the summer or fall season.
Walleyes prefer temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and with the frequent fluctuations occurring in Tygart Lake, walleyes are apt to move up and down the water column often. Locate the depth that corresponds to the proper temperature, and you’ll likely find plenty of walleyes.
Anglers searching for high numbers of walleyes on Tygart Lake should look to the tailwaters. Walleyes slip through Tygart Dam into the Tygart tailwaters where they’ll continually stack up in late winter and early spring. From December through April, these walleyes become easy pickings for anglers fishing below the dam.
Whenever the water becomes high and muddy from flows greater than 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), a quality walleye bite will occur. Anglers will find walleyes bunched up along the shore when the water level exceeds 2,500 cfs.
Lure choices vary from angler to angler, but water level fluctuations and the clarity of the lake’s water usually govern lure selection for anglers fishing Tygart Lake. It’s hard to beat a minnow-tipped jig or a soft-plastic twistertail in the lake or in the tailwaters. In addition, Lindy rigs are effective in the lake during either clear or murky conditions. In clear water, trolling plugs around the lake is a great way to uncover walleye hotspots. Jigging spoons work really well after a school of walleyes has been located. For best results, work the jig with a slow vertical action.
Anglers can access the lake from boat-launching facilities at the marina or near Doe Run on the Pleasants Creek Wildlife Management Area. The two marina ramps located near Scab Run can be used when the lake is above elevation of 1,067 feet, while the ramp at Doe Run can be used when the lake is above elevation of 1,030 feet.
Walleye anglers will be most interested in the Doe Run ramp, as this ramp provides the only access to the lake during prime walleye “season.” Occasionally, the lake elevation drops below 1,030 feet and boating access to the lake is halted. To prevent a wasted trip to the lake due to adverse water level conditions, anglers should call the lake information number at (304) 265-5953 for details on fishing and current water conditions.
The Mountain State’s largest reservoir at 2,700 acres, Summersville Lake has had the makings of a fine walleye impoundment since the lake was first filled back in 1966. Present-day walleye anglers across the state recognize Summersville as the state’s most consistent walleye producer. Since that initial stocking, the lake has become the only self-sustaining walleye impoundment in West Virginia. DNR sampling data confirms Summersville’s dense walleye population, revealing quantities nearly two times that of any other water body.
Mature walleyes were initially stocked into Summersville Lake in 1966, and walleye fry were added in subsequent years. After these initial stockings, walleyes in Summersville Lake continued to successfully reproduce on their own, creating the Mountain State’s only true self-sustaining walleye impoundment.
Summersville Lake is easily West Virginia’s best walleye fishery. While anglers are more likely to catch a limit of walleyes from this reservoir than from any other water in the state, the lake’s trophy potential may be the most underrated aspect of this fishery.
What more could an angler ask for than a stringer full of walleyes and a crack at a 10-pounder? Admittedly, walleyes aren’t swimming behind every rock on Summersville Lake, but surveys conducted by the DNR routinely turn up good numbers of walleyes each year. Year in and year out, walleye numbers in Summersville continue to overwhelm those of any other Mountain State impoundment.
The question remains is: How to catch them? Most of the lake contains suitable habitat for marble-eyes. Giant boulders, scenic rock cliffs and tons of rock outcroppings showcase the lake’s quality walleye habitat. The lake also features plenty of cool water, another necessary ingredient for prime walleye fisheries.
Summersville Lake has historically experienced a late-winter (February to March) run of walleyes toward the upper end of the lake, presumably attempting to spawn. Droves of migrating walleyes create tempting quarry for anglers and provide a large concentration of potential walleye targets.
The male walleyes will arrive at the head of the lake first, followed by the larger females. Sounds like an easy setup, but ice formation creates a problematic scenario during the late-winter walleye run. Boating access to upper portions of the lake is often prohibited because of the frozen lake surface. However, during warmer years, the upper end of the lake might provide some of Summersville’s best walleye fishing, particularly the late run of larger females.
For more consistent walleye producing hotspots, look to the lake’s largest tributaries. The mouths of Muddelty Creek, McKeys Creek and even Hominy Creek all offer good opportunities for springtime walleyes.
Anglers looking for more year-round spots can fish underwater structure in the Battle Run or McKeys Creek areas. Both areas feature classic sloping points and rocky humps that make ideal walleye habitat. Fishing the humps can be exceptional when walleyes are holding on these structures.
One distinguishing character of Summersville Lake is the severity of the lake’s drawdown. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the lake for flood control, so the agency is mandated to lower the lake 77 feet from its summer recreational pool to winter pool in order for the lake to accommodate winter and spring runoff. Changes occur when the Corps of Engineers starts to raise the lake elevation around April 1 of each year and then lower it in September.
At the summer pool elevation, Summersville Lake offers plenty of boating access from four different launching facilities. However, during drawdown conditions, only two ramps remain operable, Salmon Run and the winter ramp located beside the dam. The ramp at Long Point hosts the only marina service on the lake.
Anglers should check with the Summersville Lake office or call the lake’s fishing report at (304) 872-5809 for up-to-date details on fishing, current water conditions and lake access.
Walleye fishing on Summers
ville Lake can be challenging as the lake is filled with extremely clear water, and walleyes tend to drift up and down the water column, sometimes suspending in 60 to 80 feet of water.
Summersville anglers routinely catch walleyes by using a variety of techniques, but a bottom-bouncing jig tipped with a night crawler or a Lindy rig rank among the most successful. Live minnows and minnow-tipped jigs are a natural choice for lake anglers because minnows serve as such a coveted food source for walleyes.
Deep-diving plugs can be effective when walleyes hang deep, but the latest “hot” bait of choice for late winter and spring walleyes on the lake seems to be jigging spoons.
While locating walleyes on Summersville Lake can be difficult, an ideal place to start walleye fishing would be from one of the lake’s rocky points. Wind direction is also important, as walleyes seem to prefer one side of a point to another, usually the backside of a wind-driven point. Typically, walleyes will hit a lure as it crosses the point and drops into deeper water.
This article’s featured waters, Summersville and Tygart lakes and the Kanawha River are regarded by many as West Virginia’s best walleye waters, but there are certainly others worth fishing.
Other recommended Mountain State walleye waters include Cheat, Stonewall Jackson, East Lynn lakes and, of course, Stonecoal Lake. Anglers should also be aware of up-and-coming walleye “newcomers,” such as the New River and Stephens Lake.
Walleye populations are expanding in these waters as this article hits the press, and no one knows just how good these new walleye fisheries may become.
West Virginia will never be able to hold a candle to walleye factories like Lake Erie, but if you fish our state’s best numbers walleye fisheries, you can certainly cash in on stringers full of tasty walleyes without having to travel far from home.