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2017 West Virginia Fishing Forecast

2017 West Virginia Fishing Forecast

The New Year provides a clean slate and a lot of hope, including when it comes fishing adventures. This is good, as West Virginia contains numerous lakes, rivers and streams where anglers can pursue finned creatures. Here are 36 options, broken out by month, which anglers should consider this year.

WV Fishing Forecast Feature

JANUARY - Gauley River Walleyes

Few species bite as well during the winter months as do walleyes, particularly river dwelling walleyes. The Gauley River, between Summersville Dam and the Gauley's merger with the New River near Gauley Bridge, is worth investigating for walleyes. The Gauley plays host to a good walleye fishery, including fish of trophy proportions. Summersville Lake tailwaters represents one of the better areas on the Gauley.

One of the biggest factors with the Gauley River is access, which is good in the Summersville tailwaters area. Below the tailwaters, the river flows swiftly through a remote canyon — the Gauley River National Recreation Area — where access is limited as is good walleye habitat. The lower portion of the Gauley is a slower moving water, and provides the better walleye water. Check out the river section from Swiss down to where it joins the New River to form the Kanawha River, at K & M Junction.

OTHER OPTIONS: Consider hitting the Ohio River for sauger and the Monongahela River for hybrid stripers.

FEBRUARY - Stonecoal Lake Trout 

West Virginia's aggressive trout stocking program provides outstanding recreation on many rivers, creeks and lakes, including Stonecoal Lake. Still water environments are particularly attractive when streams are running high, especially for folks that don't want to hike along the rugged stream banks found along trout streams.

Currently Stonecoal Lake is the site of two state record trout — the length records for golden rainbow and rainbow trout. Stonecoal's reputation as a producer of big fish isn't limited to trout.

Located in the Stonecoal WMA, the deep, cold lake covers 550 surface acres, with two concrete boat ramps and fishing access for the handicapped. Boats are limited to 10 horsepower outboards.

OTHER OPTIONS: Trout in the Elk River are also biting, as are walleye on the New River.

Click to enlarge


MARCH - Kanawha River Hybrid Striped Bass

Hard fighting hybrid stripers can provide a good way of shrugging off the early spring cold, and the Kanawha River is one of the state's better hybrid fisheries.

Focus on the lower portion of the Kanawha River, where the lock and dam system create navigation pools. Three dams are found there, structures that attract both fish and fisherman. Dams are located at London, Marmet and Winfield. Shore anglers will find access and facilities below the dams. Boat anglers can cash in on the action, but need to stay below the buoy line that marks the restricted area.

Another key for anglers, boat anglers in particular, is the presence of a warm water discharge into the river. Such discharges, common at industrial sites, such as power plants, attract both baitfish and gamefish.

OTHER OPTIONS: Also consider hitting crappie in Stonewall Jackson Lake and trout in the North Fork of Cherry Creek.

APRIL - South Branch Trout

Come April there's no better place to be than on one of the state's blue ribbon trout streams, which includes the South Branch of the Potomac.

The state manages the South Branch in three sections — the Franklin, Smoke Hole and Catch-and-Release sections. Between the three there is something to meet the needs of all trout anglers.

The Franklin section is stocked from about a half-mile from the Virginia line downstream, past Franklin, to about two miles south of the Upper Tract, located near the old Poor Farm. Route 220 provides good access to most of this stretch. The Franklin section is stocked every week from March through May. It also receives a stocking in January and two in February.

The Smoke Hole section runs from the Route 220 Bridge downstream to the Big Bend Recreation Area. U.S. Forest Service Rte. 74 provides access, as does State Secondary Rte. 2. The Smoke Hole section is stocked on the same schedule as the Franklin section.

Located within the Smoke Hole section is a one-mile stretch managed as catch-and-release waters. This stretch begins about two miles below the Rte. 220 bridge. The C&R area is stocked once in April.

OTHER OPTIONS: Also consider trout trips to the Williams River or Shavers Fork of the Cheat.

MAY - New River Smallmouth Bass

Warming waters mean smallmouth bass will be getting more aggressive, particularly in the rivers. The New River provides one of the best places to pursue this activity.

Contrary to its name, the New River is an old river, and plays host to outstanding fishing opportunities. The 53 miles within the New River Gorge National River contain some of the best smallie fishing, including a 12-mile catch-and-release section.

The New River provides a blend of pools and fast water, but access is limited. It may be wise to make use of an outfitter. Float trips are available that run from as little as half-a-day to overnight trips. The lack of access, coupled with a strong catch-and-release ethic, means anglers can expect a good chance at a lunker bass.

OTHER OPTIONS: Summersville Lake walleyes provide a good May option, as do flathead and channel cats in the Ohio River.

JUNE - Stonewall Jackson Largemouths

Stonewall Jackson Lake was developed with a more "enhanced" plan in mind than older Corps of Engineers flood control lakes. Anglers continue to benefit from this, largemouth anglers in particular.

Unlike most state reservoirs, bass anglers will find plenty of cover in Stonewall Jackson Lake. Flooded timber abounds throughout the lake's 2,650-acres, with numerous bays and coves. Catch-and-release regulations on black bass, put in place since the lake was opened, ensure the potential for lunker-size largemouths.

Stonewall Jackson, by West Virginia standards, is somewhat wide and shallow. About a fifth of the lake is under a no-wake restriction, but there is no horsepower restriction. Being a flood control lake, subject to changing levels, it's wise to check on conditions before embarking on a trip there. Daily lake and recreation information can be obtained by calling 304-269-7463.

OTHER OPTIONS: Cheat Lake continues to be a solid bass fishing destination. Sherwood Lake's bluegills should be shallow as well.

JULY - Burnsville Lake Catfish

West Virginians take catfishing seriously, which is not surprising considering the numbers of rivers and lakes that hold good catfish populations, primarily channel cats and flatheads. Burnsville Lake is one of these waters, and a good place to key in on for some mid-summer catfish action.

An impoundment of the Little Kanawha River, Burnsville Lake covers just under 1,000 acres. Not so typical of the state's flood control impoundments, Burnsville is relatively shallow.

Both flathead and channel catfish are found in Burnsville Lake. Launch ramps are located at the Riffle Run Day Use Area, Bulltown Day Use Area and the Bulltown Camping Area, and no horsepower restrictions are in place.

Call 304-853-2398 for a recorded message providing updated information on lake and tailwater conditions, precipitation, launch ramps, fishing, hunting, campground and special statements.

OTHER OPTIONS: Head to Buckhannon River for muskies or Second Creek for trout.

AUGUST - Tygart Lake Bluegills

Given the many choices of species available, it's easy to overlook fun-filled options like panfishing. When late summer comes around, and things get a bit tough for the "glamour" species, the time is right to step back and do a little low-stress panfishing at Tygart Lake (304-265-5953).

Also known as Grafton Dam, due to its proximity to Grafton, Tygart Lake is formed by a dam on the Tygart Valley River. Besides providing good fishing for panfish species, Tygart Lake plays host to variety of species, most notably bass and walleye. Fishing is popular in the tailwaters area, which is stocked during the springtime with trout.

OTHER OPTIONS: Other ways of beating the August heat are targeting hybrid stripers at Beech Fork Lake, and cats in Bluestone Lake.

Click to enlarge

SEPTEMBER - Mountwood Muskies

With quality muskie waters like the Buckhannon River and Stonewall Jackson Lake, it's easy to miss out on the action from lesser-known waters, such as Mountwood Lake, which contains a viable tiger muskie population.

September brings cooler and shorter days, equating to dropping water temperatures. This can play in favor for muskie anglers. With hunting action about to kick in, one generally finds less competition on the water, which is an added plus.

Mountwood Lake covers about 50 acres with a maximum depth of 48 feet. Despite it's small size, it is capable of producing big muskies. The state record tiger muskie (muskellunge/northern pike hybrid) was taken from Mountwood in 1994. That fish measured 49.25 inches and weighed 36.5 pounds.

OTHER OPTIONS: Tygart Lake's bass often mover shallow come September, making them a good choice. Hughes River muskies are worthy of a shot, too.

OCTOBER - South Branch Smallmouth Bass

The turning of the leaves furnishes an aroma that makes outdoorsmen think of the many activities. If only the month could have a few extra days? One outing anglers should pursue is South Branch of the Potomac smallmouth.

Hardy and Hampshire counties play host to some excellent river smallie fishing on the South Branch, including two catch-and-release areas.

The first area covers eight miles of the South Branch, starting three miles east of Petersburg at the Petersburg Gap Bridge. This section extends downstream to the Fisher Bridge (County Rte. 13). The second area, which takes in 9.5 miles, runs from the Romney Bridge down to the Blue Beach Bridge (Rte. 28).

All bass taken from these two sections must be returned to the water. Access is good, with access areas at Fisher Bridge, McNeil and Old Fields Bridge. Hampshire County adds no less than 13 additional access sites.

OTHER OPTIONS: Speaking of river smallies, the North Branch of the Potomac offers some good late-season fishing. There are plenty of bass in Sutton Lake as well.

NOVEMBER - Cranberry River Trout

Many of the state's better trout streams receive stockings in mid October. Fishing pressure is light during the fall, so many of these fish will still be around come November. The Cranberry River is a good place to get some late-season trout action.

In addition to the mid October stockings, the river receives a stocking in January, two in February and is stocked weekly March through May. The stocked section runs from the Woodbine Recreation areas upstream to the mouth of Dogway Fork. A catch-and-release area is located upstream of Dogway Fork. This section entails 4.3 miles and extends up to the confluence of the North and South branches of the Cranberry.

OTHER OPTIONS: If you're tired of trout fishing, try the Greenbrier for smallmouth. Also, the tailrace of Tygart Lake is good for both trout and walleyes at this time of year.

DECEMBER - Elk River Muskies 

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.

As water temperatures drop, river muskies concentrate in the deeper, slower pools. High water flows, common in the fall, further collect muskies in such spots. The presence of wood — shoreline deadfalls and logs imbedded in the river bottom — further add to the likelihood muskies will hold in the pool.

Access spots are numerous along this stretch of the Elk. In Clay County, there are Camp Associates sites 1 and 2, Duck, King Shoals, Mary Chilton Roadside Park, Procious and Queen Shoals. Braxton County access is limited to a small boat landing at the Frametown Bridge and the one at the Sutton Dam tailwaters.

OTHER OPTIONS: Monongahela River sauger will be stacking up below the navigation dams; that could well make for a trip you don't want to miss. And you can target the depths of R.D. Bailey Lake for slab-size crappie.

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