West Virginia's Easy-Access Interstate Bass
September 29, 2010
Traveling along interstates 68 or 79, or even U.S. Route 19, can put you onto fabulous bass-fishing action from Tygart Lake, the New River and beyond!
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
From the northern reaches just below the Pennsylvania line to deep in the southern part of the state, exceptional bass fishing can be found proximate to the Interstate 79 and U.S. Route 19 corridor. And the fishing sport runs the full gamut, from still-water reservoirs, stretching for several miles, to flowing rivers teeming with smallmouth bass.
Let's load the truck with gear, couple up the boat, and take a hypothetical road trip down the four-lane, stopping off to sample some of the best black bass action the Mountain State has to offer. Don't be concerned if you're not sure what all to bring along for this multi-stop fishing bonanza. After we've looked at the top spots to fish, we'll discuss techniques and tackle. We don't want to be caught short during this quality trip.
Let's begin our journey in the northern portion of the state, on Cheat Lake, a 1,730-acre impoundment of the Cheat River near Morgantown. To reach this lake we'll need to take a minor tangent off I-79, traveling a few miles east on Interstate 68. I-68 crosses the lake a short distance east of Morgantown.
Cheat Lake has a history of acid mine drainage. Though such acidic pollutants still negatively impact the lake, water quality has improved dramatically during the past decade or so. Currently, Cheat Lake supports a productive warmwater fishery, one highlighted by largemouth bass.
Liming devices put in place on several of the watershed's more polluted feeder waters have had a positive impact on this Monongalia County lake. Today, Cheat Lake is one of the more popular bass-fishing destinations in our state, providing excellent sport for anglers. It's also one of the most popular bass tournament waters in the state.
Though water levels can change on Cheat Lake, drastic drawdowns do not occur there. It is not a flood-control reservoir. Its primary purpose is hydroelectric power generation. Allegheny Power owns it.
Cheat Lake stretches for about six miles upstream. Depths in excess of 100 feet are present. There are no horsepower restrictions on this lake, though there are no-wake zones in some areas. A launch site is located near Sunset Beach.
Though the Monongahela River still carries the stigma as a heavily polluted waterway, the Monongahela, like the Cheat, has also enjoyed a substantial cleanup the past two decades. Black bass, primarily smallmouth bass, are found in the Mon, and provide a significant, though somewhat overlooked, fishing resource.
West Virginia's portion of the Monongahela River starts near Fairmont where the Tygart Valley River and West Fork River join. The Monongahela flows northward into Pennsylvania.
Though the river may not support a particularly large smallmouth bass population -- walleyes and saugers are more common -- it does produce some quality-sized bass, enough to warrant angler attention. Expect to find Monongahela River smallies along the best habitat, which is commonly found near feeder creeks as well as manmade structures like pilings, docks and piers. Lock-and-dam tailrace areas are always popular for a variety of species, bass included. Some of the better shore-fishing opportunities occur below dams.
Two Monongahela River access sites are located in Marion County, in Fairmont and Pricketts Fork. Three additional access areas are provided in Monongalia County. They can be found at Morgantown, Star City and Uffington.
Now that we've sampled a little lake fishing for largemouths, as well as a couple big rivers for jumbo bronzebacks, let's jump on I-79 and travel south a bit. Don't get the rig rolling too fast, though, as we'll be taking the Grafton exit, state Route 310. Just south of Grafton is Tygart Lake, where we'll be launching our boat in hopes of tangling with a few of the lake's smallmouth bass.
Tygart Lake is a 1,750-acre, federally owned flood-control water. As such, it is subject to dramatic and often rapid fluctuations in water levels. This instability does not lend itself to predicable fishing. However, the lake does contain a population of smallmouth bass, including quality-sized fish.
This Taylor County water stretches for about seven-plus miles and attains depths of over 100 feet. As was noted, it experiences a significant fall drawdown. The timing of drawdown is dependent on the weather of the year. The lake is located in a steep-sided valley. Cover is at a premium, though work has been done in recent years to introduce woody cover such as brushpiles. Most of the brushpiles consist of Christmas trees lashed together and anchored with cinder blocks. The felling of shoreline trees has also created laydowns. The rocky shorelines of Tygart Lake provide good smallmouth bass habitat.
Three boat launches are located on Tygart Lake including the Grafton City Park access, Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area and Tygart Lake State Park. No horsepower restrictions are in place, though no-wake zones have been established. Recreational boat traffic can be heavy during summer weekends. For daily lake and recreation information, call (304) 265-5953.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE
Stonewall Jackson Lake, 2,650 acres, is relatively young by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards. It represents one of the best all-around fishing lakes in the state. Largemouth bass are one of the featured items on the bill of fare, and will have us jumping off I-79 at either exit 96 or 91, both of which lead to various access areas. The lake is located just east of the interstate.
Formed some 15 years ago, prior to being filled, Stonewall Jackson Lake did not receive the hatchet job typical of many flood-control projects. Instead, a significant level of standing timber was left in place, particularly in bays and coves located off the major lake basins.
The main arm of Stonewall Jackson stretches uplake to the town of Walkersville, a distance of about 10 miles. The Skin Creek and Little Skin Creek arms form two other long, narrow arms. The average depth of the lake is about 19 feet and the maximum depth is about 82 feet. While no horsepower limitations are in place, many no-wake zones are. Recreational usage on this lake is less than that present on many other state reservoirs.
Five excellent access areas are dotted around the Stonewall Jackson lakeshore. From Exit 96 off Interstate 79, ramps can be found at Glady Fork, Vandalia Bay and Georgetown. From Exit 91, one can launch at Jacksonville and Stonewall Jac
kson State Park.
For daily lake and recreation information, call (304) 269-7463.
Our continuing search for quality bass fishing finds us heading south on I-79 again, this time taking Exit 79 at Burnsville. Burnsville Lake's 968 acres will provide us with an added benefit: spotted bass. Though the lake holds largemouth and smallmouth bass, too, spotted bass are the major player in this Braxton County Corps of Engineers lake. The biggest bass of the lake tend to be largemouths.
Burnsville Lake coves have an average depth of 15 to 20 feet. Some standing timber is present, and man-made fish attractors, such as brushpiles and triangle pallets, have been added.
Two launch areas can be found along the lake at Riffle Run and Bulltown. There are no horsepower restrictions, though no-wake zones are present.
Additional information on this impoundment of the Little Kanawha River can be obtained by calling (304) 853-2371.
Braxton County bassing' isn't limited to Burnsville Lake. Nearby, 1,500-acre Sutton Lake contains good numbers of spotted and largemouth bass, as well as a more limited number of smallies. We'll want to take the Sutton exit of the interstate to experience this lake's fine bass fishing.
An impoundment of the Elk River, Sutton Lake lies in a steep, wooded valley. Two major arms feed the lake: the Elk River and the Holly River arms. Good bass fishing can be experienced, not only in the main basin of the lake, but up these river arms as well, particularly during the spring.
Some standing timber and brushpiles provide woody habitat, while rocky ledges add to the mix.
Additional information on Sutton Lake can be gathered by calling (304) 765-2816.
To continue our southward journey let's leave I-79 now, taking U.S. Route 19 south just below Sutton. Route 19 will take us to some of the best smallmouth bass fishing the state has to offer, starting with Summersville Lake.
A dam located on the Gauley River creates Summersville Lake's 2,700 acres. Rocky habitat is common in Summersville, likely adding to the lake's ability to hold smallmouth bass.
Summersville Lake provides an intricate network of arms and coves that beg for exploration by anglers. The Gauley River arm stretches to the east. To the north, two significant arms are present, both of which are under no-wake restrictions, adding to their attractiveness to the boat angler.
Access areas are located at the dam site, Battle Run, Long Point and Salmon Run. There are no horsepower restrictions, though extensive no-wake zones are present as previously noted.
Summersville Lake can be accessed from state Route 129 off state Route 19. Additional information can be obtained by calling (304) 872-3412.
What better way to finish a fantastic bass-fishing trip than to cap things off with a float down the New River for bronzebacks? So let's travel a few more miles down state Route 19 to the New River.
For many years, the New River was better known for its world-class whitewater rafting adventures as well as its famous bridge. Now that folks have discovered the quality smallmouth bass fishery it contains, angling now receives its share of the limelight.
In light of the level of smallmouth fishing the New River provides, the Division of Natural Resources has placed special regulations on a significant portion of the river. A 12-mile section from the I-64 bridge at Sandstone, downstream to the National Park Service Grandview Sandbar access site near Quinnimont is under catch-and-release regulations. See your brochure of regulations for added details.
Access sites on the New River in Fayette County include McKendree and Stone Cliff. This water is suitable for experienced canoeists. Several outfitters operate in the area for those wanting to experience a New River float-fishing trip.
Sampling these waters should keep you busy for most of the spring. Here are a few ideas on how to fish these varied waters. These tips will assist you in deciding what tackle to bring for the waters you choose to fish.
PRE-SPAWN BASS IN LAKES
As you read this, bass (smallies, largemouth and spotted) will likely be in a pre-spawn phase. If the weather is warm, then bass could be on beds in the southern portions of the state.
In lake environments, it will be wise to begin your search in the bays and upper portions of the larger creek arms, places that will provide the necessary habitat when spawning takes place. During the pre-spawn period, bass will begin making their way toward areas where they will eventually reproduce.
The presence of wood, be it laydowns, flooded timber, brushpiles or stumps, will add to the likelihood an area will hold bass, largemouth and spotted bass, in particular. Though smallies are attracted to wood, rocky shorelines will also hold brown bass, especially areas that receive a good deal of sunlight.
For bass holding tight to woody cover, you'll want to include a flipping stick to flip or pitch jigs into these snag-infested areas. Jigs tipped with either a pork chunk or plastic dressing will be readily accepted by bass holding in thick wood cover.
Another good option at this time, for largemouths in particular, is a sinking worm, such as a Senko rigged wacky style, which is with a worm hooked about midpoint rather than in the traditional location. Senkos can be fished with either casting tackle or medium to heavy spinning gear.
Smallmouth bass in lakes often require a somewhat different approach. For pre-spawn smallies in Summersville and Tygart lakes, you'll want to carry presentations that cover the water column.
For fishing on the bottom, few lures dupe smallies like a 3- to 4-inch tube jig rigged on an insert leadhead jig. Tubes come in a multitude of colors. Have some subtle patterns like smoke and root beer, along with some hotter colors that include shades of chartreuse. No smallmouth kit would be complete without a few leadhead jigs and grub bodies in the same basic colors as the tubes. Light to medium spinning tackle does the best job of presenting tube jigs and leadhead/grub combos.
Though they've fallen out of favor somewhat, thanks to the productivity of soft-plastic dressings, hair jigs fashioned from bucktail are still highly effective smallmouth bass jigs. Carry a few in white and natural bucktail. Fishing bucktail jigs means snapping them, so your rod must have some backbone.
Smallmouth bass will often be pulled up and out of woody snags at this time of year, particularly if the water is clear. A soft-plastic stick bait like a Sluggo or Fluke is tops for th
is kind of work. Fish these lures with little or no weight. A medium-action casting or spinning rod-and-reel loaded with a no-stretch super braid makes a great combination for fishing soft-plastic stick baits.
In deep, clear reservoirs, like those found in West Virginia, it's not unusual for smallmouth bass to suspend off points located at the mouths of coves or bays. The same can hold true along rocky ledges. To trigger these fish, carry along an assortment of suspending stick baits of the Husky Jerk style. Fish these baits both perpendicular to the structure and parallel to it. The same outfit used to fish the soft-plastic stick bait will work fine for a Husky Jerk.
The assortment of lures mentioned for lake smallmouths will also serve you well for river smallmouth bass. You may also want to take along an assortment of small crankbaits of the Fat Rap style as well as a few Rapala floating minnows. These lures will cover a variety of water depths and conditions.
Some anglers, particularly ones floating the New River, may opt to fly-fish for the smallmouth bass found there. Eight or 9X fly rods function best in this particular situation. Favorite patterns include the Woolly Buggers in both weighted and non-weighted versions. Since most of these trips call for the services of an outfitter, go with his recommendations for more specific tackle requirements.
As wild and wonderful as it may be, West Virginia has outstanding bass fishing located not far from the pavement. Great bass fishing can be found close to major highways and byways. You ought to check it out for yourself this season.