Whether it is cold or hot, sunny or wintery, some anglers just have to get on the water to pursue some species of fish. Thankfully, West Virginia provides some fishing opportunity during every month of the year, though some require a little more effort than others.
Stonecoal Lake Muskie
District fisheries biologist Scott Morrison says that in recent years, he has observed a marked increase statewide in the popularity of muskie fishing, part of which can be attributed to the phenomenal size these fish are now obtaining. In the past, a 40-inch fish made news, now 50-inches is the new gold standard on select bodies of water.
One of the lakes where 50-inchers lurk is Stonecoal Lake, a 550-acre impoundment in Lewis and Upshur counties. Stonecoal boasts both the state record length (52.7 inches) and weight (49.75 pounds) for muskellunge, and few lake regulars would be surprised if either of these records were to fall soon.
The steep sides of Stonecoal force anglers to fish deep in all seasons, and such is definitely the case in January. Look for the fish to be in at least 10 feet of water and probably more.
OTHER OPTIONS: Morrison adds that if anglers want to battle muskies on another premier fishery, they won’t have far to drive. Nearby Stonewall Jackson Lake is another body of water where 50-inchers lurk. For a different experience, Tug Fork, in the southern part of the state, is known as a wintertime destination for jumbo smallmouth bass.
New River Smallmouth Bass
Tommy Cundiff of River Monster Guide Service (www.rivermonsterguideservice.com) likes to float from Hinton to Sandstone Falls and fish for smallmouths when it is cold. Numerous access points exist and the section can be broken down into two separate floats to take advantage of the limited sunshine of the winter months. The Hinton to Brooks Falls float has numerous islands that often attract wintering bass, as they tend to congregate in the deeper pools along and below these natural current breaks.
The guide adds that any time that lethargic bass can preserve energy and be close to food-providing current, they will take advantage of such an opportunity. Cundiff also lists the Brooks Falls to Sandstone Falls junket as another float for cold-weather smallies.
Brooks Island provides excellent deep-water habitat for wintering bass with plenty of wood and rock cover that often hold heat on those occasional sunny winter days. This is a prime locale for bass as the warmer water, often only a degree or two higher, draws baitfish, which in turn bring in bass.
OTHER OPTIONS: Burnsville Lake is another body of water that contains 50-inch muskies, which can be active in February. Sleepy Creek is probably the best bet in the eastern part of the state for cold-water largemouth bass action.
Ohio River Walleye
Jeff Hansbarger, District 5 fisheries biologist, says that walleye are underrated in the western part of the state, as is the Ohio River, which is a good destination for the tasty fish. Specifically, the biologist encourages sportsmen and women to target the Ohio’s locks and dams, especially during the spring.
It is at this time that walleye congregate below these structures, going through spawning movements. Anglers should also consider traveling up the Kanawha River — the main tributary of the Ohio — where fish will be holding below the waterway’s locks and dams as well.
OTHER OPTIONS: March is also the time when rainbow trout in the Cherry River start to turn on, and the third month can be a good time target walleyes in Summersville Lake. Just remember that the fish in this highland reservoir will still be holding quite deep.
Rock Cliff Rainbow Trout
The Wardensville WMA of the George Washington National Forest is a quality spring gobbler destination, but it has a fishing hot spot, too. Princeton native Jim Clay says spring gobbler hunters should take a fishing timeout in April after the day’s hunting ends at 1:00 P.M. to try for rainbow trout. This public area in the eastern part of the state contains Rock Cliff Lake, a 17-acre impoundment in the Trout Pond Recreation Area in Hardy County.
Clay says that Rock Cliff receives very little fishing pressure, mostly from local folks who visit with kids. In addition, the lake receives numerous stocking in the spring that makes this mini-lake a great place for a kid to catch his or her first trout. Bank access is excellent, but people use johnboats or canoes to maneuver about.
OTHER OPTIONS: In Fayette County, the bluegills start to turn on in Plum Orchard Lake this month, and the Little Kanawha’s sauger are a worthwhile quarry. Both of these species are among the best tasting freshwater game fish.
Upper Mud Lake Bluegill
While the Mountain State can’t compare with more southern states in bluegill production, because of its topography and climate, it does have a worthwhile bluegill destination in the 307-acre Upper Mud Lake in Lincoln County.
According to Jeff Hansbarger, May fishing can be quite acceptable, specifically when the fish are bedding and thus can be easily located. Look for fanned out pie-pan circles in 5- to 10-feet of water along the shoreline. However, in this steep-sided reservoir, don’t be surprised that the fish may be spawning in water deeper than 10 feet.
OTHER OPTIONS: Up in the northern reaches of the state, the Monongahela River’s flatheads are prowling, especially if the water is stained from spring runoff as is often the case. And one of the state’s best known trout waters, Shavers Fork, can be the site of some very rambunctious rainbows.
Greenbrier River Smallmouth Bass
Tracy Asbury, who runs West Virginia Outdoor Adventures (www.wvoutdooradventures.com) out of White Sulfur Springs, says that the Greenbrier is best visited between April and June. The reason is because this clear, clean, undammed waterway often becomes too low to float in a raft or canoe by early July, especially the upper reaches of Pocahontas County.
Some of Asbury’s favorite floats are Caldwell to Ronceverte (6 miles), Ronceverte to Fort Spring (8.5 miles) and Fort Spring to Alderson (6 miles). The first two excursions feature mostly Class I rapids and riffles, but the Fort Spring trip flaunts several serious rapids.
OTHER OPTIONS: The crappie on 1,005-acre East Lynn Lake in Wayne County are active, especially early and late on overcast days. R.D. Bailey Lake in Wyoming County features an underrated spotted bass fishery. The spots on this 630-acre impoundment aren’t huge, but they are abundant.
Potomac River Flathead Catfish
West Virginia and Maryland share the Potomac River in the former’s eastern reaches. Even so, Free State biologist John Mullican encourages anglers, regardless of what state they’re from, to keep any flathead catfish they catch. Mullican says this invasive fish is competing with the native channel catfish. Flatheads were not stocked by DNR, and are likely in the river because of “armchair biologists.”
Flatheads can grow to well over 10 pounds, with many fish topping 20 pounds. They often congregate in the Potomac’s deep pools or in backwaters of dams. Nighttime fishing in the summer can be especially productive.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bluestone Lake boasts a rather unusual game fish by West Virginia standards — the hybrid striped bass. Below Summersville Dam, the Gauley River can still produce summertime action for rainbows, particularly early morning.
Cheat River Smallmouth Bass
Those looking in the DNR’s Fishing Regulations Summary can note the state’s premier smallmouth fisheries. One river that is not among those exalted ones is the Cheat River. According to Dave Wellman, District I biologist, the upper Cheat River’s smallmouth bass fishery from Hendricks to Rowlesburg (about 40 miles) is booming.
Wellman says that both size and numbers of smallmouth bass being caught have increased over the last few years. The biologist also says that due to the efforts of the Upper Cheat River Water Trail Committee (cheatriverwatertrail.org), nine access sites have been designated and developed, allowing for better access.
OTHER OPTIONS: The summertime redbreast sunfish action on the South Branch of the Potomac can be excellent; lots of 6- to 8-inch fish are available in the pools below rapids. In the central region, Stonewall Jackson continues to be a big-time crappie destination.
Moncove Lake Yellow Perch
Moncove Lake State Park superintendent Holly Morris says that the 144-acre Moncove Lake hosts a very popular yellow perch fishery, especially for folks with kids hankering to fish. Several docks lie along the lake, and are very close to where folks camp and picnic. The colorful “ringtail perch” are visually appealing to kids, and quite tasty.
Boat rentals are available at the state park and gives anglers the opportunity to check out the offshore grass beds that attract large amounts of perch. The perch found in the mid-lake grass beds tend to be much bigger than those congregating around the docks. Bluegill also frequent the area, and most kids will be happy catching either panfish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Good brown trout fishing can still be found on the upper Elk River, specifically in the special regulations areas. The Kanawha River offers quality channel catfish action; be sure to go after sundown, of course.
Shenandoah River Redbreast Sunfish
Jim Clay says few rivers can compete with the main stem of the Shenandoah when it comes to redbreast sunfish action. Many anglers don’t realize that the redbreast is native to the Shenandoah Watershed and that American Indians often targeted this game fish. Conversely, smallmouth bass did not enter the watershed until the mid-19th century.
The Shenandoah’s best float trip for sunfish is probably Avon Bend to Bloomery Road (8 miles) in Jefferson County. This Eastern Panhandle float features numerous water willow beds, along with rocky pools below Class I rapids and riffles — as close to ideal sunfish habitat as is possible. The first half of the Bloomery Road to Potomac Wayside (6 miles) excursion offers similar habitat and quality fishing, but the last portion of this float flaunts the Class III-IV Upper and Lower Staircase Falls and ends in Virginia.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Cranberry River receives fall stockings of trout with very little pressure. The shoreline eddies of the Ohio River offer an underrated autumn crappie.
Coal River Walleye
With the cooling water and air temperatures of November, Jeff Hansbarger says that walleye become more active in the Coal River. Although the spring is the best time to catch large walleye, when the fish are often stacked up below the upper and lower falls on the Coal River, autumn is also a good time.
According to Hansbarger, improved water quality and habitat have really boosted game fish populations on the Coal, including walleyes. Several float trips exist on the waterway, among them Meadowood Park to Lower Falls (6 miles) and Lower Falls to Gateway Shopping Center (5.5 miles).
OTHER OPTIONS: The Buckhannon River is one of the smallest rivers in the state, but it hosts some of the biggest muskies. And the walleyes in Tygart Lake find the cooler water temperatures to their liking.
Little Kanawha River Muskellunge
Scott Morrison, District VI biologist, claims that while well-known muskie lakes as Stonewall Jackson and Stonecoal made the top 10 lists of fish produced from 1969 through 2014, one lesser-known river in Morrison’s district also burst onto the list. The Little Kanawha River should be producing bruisers in November.
Muskies are native to this lowland waterway, and they often lurk along the stream’s water willow islets and other vegetation. Cold, overcast, December days are often the most productive, and on snowy days fish can really become active.
OTHER OPTIONS: At 952 acres, Jennings Randolph Lake in Mineral County is not large but the walleye fishery looms large in the eyes of many anglers in December. Middle Island Creek in the Northern Panhandle conceals some very large muskies.
These 36 rivers, lakes and creeks are but a small sampling of what is available to West Virginia fishermen this year. I can hardly wait to visit some of my favorite locales.