March 15, 2017
By Roger Wolfe
Just as the hunter's heart skips a beat as the first leaves of fall start to drift on the evening breeze, many anglers feel that same anticipation as the first blooms of spring start to emerge and the bitter cold temperatures of winter start to become distant memories.
As thoughts turn to fishing, it is inevitable that anglers will be searching for fishing opportunities. Sure trout fishing is a great way to start the year and there are times when walleye, catfish and muskie will all be the fish of choice, but bass hold the hearts and minds of many anglers, especially since West Virginia has great bass fisheries across the state.
"Black bass populations across West Virginia are doing well," said Brett Preston, program manager of warm water fisheries for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. "No significant problems are known of as a result of the annual black bass monitoring program in reservoirs, small impoundments or rivers and streams."
Last summer, a large portion of the eastern half of the state was hit with devastating flooding. This historic flooding not only destroyed homes and businesses and displaced residents, it also impacted fishing in the state.
"Riverine smallmouth fisheries in the Elk, Greenbrier and New rivers will likely be affected as last year's reproduction may be adversely impacted by the high flows last June," said Preston. "But it probably won't have a substantial effect on bass populations by missing all or part of a year-class of fish."
Biologists don't expect to see much fluctuation with impact to a single year of bass reproduction efforts, but it will be more of a concern in the future should two or more year-classes of fry be impacted.
Preston is optimistic that the 2017 bass fishing will provide great recreational opportunities from Wheeling to War and everywhere in between.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE
A perennial hotspot for fishermen from across the state, Stonewall Jackson Lake is a 2,650-acre impoundment in Lewis County situated near the geographic center of the state. This lake is easily accessible from all over the Mountain State and boasts some of the best fishing for many species of fish that call the Mountain State home.
Jerod Harman, president of the West Virginia Wildlife Federation and tournament angler, fishes lakes and rivers all over the state each weekend and always looks forward to fishing Stonewall.
The lake has an abundance of bank cover in the form of brush piles and woody structure along the edges, which are always great places to key in on pre-spawn bass. According to Harman, it is a safe bet to look for fish in staging areas as water temperatures start to rise into the 60- to 65-degree range.
Harman recommends anglers use spinnerbaits and plastic worms around woody cover. He also says that jigs also work well in the early spring, too, so be sure to give them a try.
The New River has long been a destination for adventurers and thrill seekers from all over the country for its famed whitewater. Many of those visitors never even thought about the thrills the river holds just under the surface.
The river has a great population of smallmouth and it is not uncommon for anglers to haul in nice-size fish on a regular basis. Best of all there is great fishing to be had from both the bank and a boat.
Bo Wolfe, owner and operator of New River Bronze Back Adventures, has fished the New River for most of his life and even when he is not guiding, he can be found fishing the river for smallmouth.
Some of Wolfe's favorite waters to fish are from Sandstone to Hinton. This stretch of water holds something for every angler and consistently produces fish. The Hinton area offers plenty of wade fishing in addition to boat access.
Wolfe notes that there are also plenty of fishing opportunities for those wanting to fish the famed New River Gorge, but he cautions that the waters get pretty rough and unless they're going with a professional whitewater fishing guide, anglers may want to stick to the backs and simply hike down into the Gorge for some great scenery and even better fishing.
Some favorite methods for smallies on the New River are suspended jerk baits and spinnerbaits in all shades and colors. Tube baits, plastics and crankbaits are good for early season as well. Just remember that if the water is still a bit cool to be sure to fish them slow till the fish get warmed up.
Cheat Lake is an emerging bass fisheries in the state, as the work the WVDNR has conducted in recent years is paying off.
The 1,730-acre lake is located northeast of Morgantown in Mongalia County and is easily accessible via I-68. The lake was originally built in 1925 as an electricity-generating reservoir and is currently owned and operated by Allegheny Energy.
Cheat Lake has had a troubled history as a fishery due to acid runoff and environmental issues that left the lake with less than pristine water quality. In the early 1990s, that began to change when several groups took an active interest in improving the lake, starting with the water quality.
These efforts have paid off in huge dividends when it comes to fishing and the lake continues to get better as evidenced by the findings of numerous studies and fishing tournaments that are held on the lake each year.
The lake has several public boat launches, which provide great access and boasts 26 miles of shoreline to provide plenty of habitat for bass. With many feeder streams and larger tributaries, such as Morgan's Run, Quarry Run and Buzzard Run, there are plenty of opportunities to cast spinnerbaits and jerkbaits in search of the explosive pull of a hungry bass. Don't forget to give plastics a try before moving on to the next fishing hole.
Flowing right through downtown Charleston, the Kanawha River not only offers a stunning backdrop for the state capital, it also provides some outstanding bass fishing. Fishing from the famed Kanawha Falls to the confluence with the Ohio River, there are spots that can provide not only fast action, but some trophy-size fish as well.
Fishing slack water areas of the river are a favorite tactic of anglers. The many coves and tributaries also provide plenty of refuge along the river and are the type of areas big bass seek out to feed and nest.
Being one of the larger and navigable rivers of the state, the Kanawha presents a special set of challenges, but offers plenty of rewards as well. The numerous barges and larger boats that travel the river make for some rough water at times, but the numerous locks and boat docks along the river offer plenty of safe haven for fish, along with plenty of opportunities to land big bass.
Spinnerbaits and plastics are always safe bets when along the river, casting around the numerous structural elements and habitat features scattered up and down the river.
Of course, these areas are by no means a definitive list of the bass holdings across the state, as there are too many great fisheries to list. The Greenbrier, Elk, South Branch and Tygart rivers are all perennial bass spots.
There are also numerous small impoundments that provide some impressive bass fishing around the state as well. Consider areas like Woodrum, O'Brien, South Mill Creek, and Elk Fork reservoirs to obtain some great fishing and fun.
Great bass fishing spread far and wide is no accident. It takes the hard work and dedication of WVDNR biologists, with help from the anglers that chase the bronzebacks in the streams, rivers and lakes across the state.
Wise fish management, supplemental stockings and a widely practiced catch-and-release system are keys to promoting a sustainable bass fishery.
So, no matter where you hail from, or where your next fishing trip might take you, there should be some great black bass fishing to be had just a few miles down the road. By all accounts, the waters are full of fish and as the temperatures start to rise, the pull on the rod tip will be enough to get the fisherman in us all out on the water.
Black Bass Monitoring Study
Each year, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources conducts black bass monitoring surveys on many of the lakes and reservoirs around the state. Biologists use the data gathered to gauge the health of the bass fishery and the number and size present in each impoundment.
Usually in early to mid-May, fisheries biologists survey the selected waters using a predetermined systematic approach to maximize the efficiency of the survey to get a better representation of the fish present in the water body.
Using the WVDNR's specialized electro-fishing boats, the bass are momentarily stunned using electricity and netted into the boat. The fish are measured, counted and released back into the lake once the mild shock has worn off.
These numbers are then used to produce a statistical analysis of the fishery. The numbers are maintained each year and compared to historic data to give the biologists a good idea of how the fish are doing.
In the last few years, the data from these surveys and supplemental angler data was used to identify that the resident bass were not growing at the expected rate. This led the WVDNR to introduce a viable population of shad to Stonewall Jackson Lake.
Introducing a new species into any water body is never taken lightly, so the WVDNR had to be very confident they were doing it for the right reasons and that the introduced species would not upset what was otherwise a great fishery.
The introduction was a success and, so far, the bass and other predatory fish populations are really taking advantage of the additional notch in the food chain.