Here are seven fabulous waters, some well known, others not so popular, where you'll find excellent bassing this year in our wild and wonderful state. (May 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Mountain State bass anglers have it pretty good when spring rolls around. Both smallmouth and largemouth bass-fishing opportunities abound, no matter if you prefer rivers or lakes for your recreational angling.
The reason for much of the good bass fishing is a new attitude from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR). According to District V assistant fisheries biologist Jeff Hansbarger, there's a new push in the state to develop fisheries with an eye toward scientific research, specifically as it relates to growth and survival factors.
That new attitude is good news and it's starting to make a difference. The old venues are getting better and new ones are developing.
Let's take a close look at a few of them.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE
Stonewall Jackson has been one of the best largemouth fisheries in the state for many years and that distinction continues. At 2,650 acres, this Lewis County fishery is big enough to offer a variety of habitat options for bass, while being small enough to be manageable for anglers.
District III fisheries biologist Kevin Yokum stated flatly, "It's the best trophy largemouth lake in the state and the best numbers lake as well." He continued on to point out that electrofishing studies show a huge population of 5- to 6-pound bass in the lake and a few as big as 8 pounds.
"That's a big bass for this part of the country," he said.
Assuming normal weather, most Stonewall largemouths will be in the pre-spawn mode. According to Yokum, the best places to find them are along, and inside, the acres and acres of standing flooded timber that's found in this lake. When pushed for a specific location, he replied, "It really doesn't make any difference. We electro-fish all over the lake and the results are good no matter where we do it."
Of course, if you can find a shallow, weedy and stump-filled bay, cut or backwater area near timber, so much the better. Most of this water can be effectively fished with a medium size and weight spinnerbait or a small, shallow-running crankbait. Bright colors often produce better results than dull ones. If the bite turns slow, switch to any of the myriad shad colors on the market.
Largemouths can be caught almost anywhere around the lake, but areas adjacent to standing timber will often produce the better fish. (There's a ton of timber in the water, so it won't be hard to find.) Experienced local anglers will work their way around the lake, fishing one spot and then the next, realizing that largemouths at this time of year are scattered.
This lake offers anglers good access, a fair amount of shore-fishing opportunities and a really nice state park. There's also handicapped access for the physically challenged.
For current water and fishing conditions, as well as any special regulations that may be in effect, contact District III at (304) 924-6211.
THE NEW RIVER
If you're a brown bass fan, then the New River should be on your "places to fish" list this year. District IV fisheries biologist Mark Scott said, "It's the best smallmouth stream in the East. It takes a 4-pounder for a trophy citation and 2- and 3-pound smallies are fairly common. Now, the truth is they're not all that big, but quite a few of them are."
The New River can be a rough experience, however. In some sections it's best described as a series of rough, treacherous rapids that can be life threatening to novice boaters. It's not all like that, however. Some sections contain long, slow-moving, deep pools.
According to Scott, some of the better smallmouth fishing is from the Interstate 64 bridge at Sandstone down to the Grandview Sandbar. This 12-mile section of the river is catch-and-release only and offers a wide variety of habitat for both fish and angler. It's also home to some of the biggest and hardest-fighting smallies in West Virginia. Fish up to 20 inches are caught from these waters.
In-line spinners, tail spinners and grubs on leadhead jigs are the baits of choice for most local anglers. Fish them under cut banks, along any shoreline cover or around any blow-downs you can find. And never -- not for any reason -- pass by a current break, regardless of what creates it.
Light, abrasion-resistant line is a must in these waters. Make sure you take along plenty of lures and line. No matter where you throw, or what you throw, you'll lose a bunch of both. There's no way to avoid it. If you fish where the fish are, you're going to lose lures and line. Accept it as the price of fishing this extraordinary river.
Biologist Scott also recommends -- strongly recommends -- a guide on the first trip or two. "It's just too dangerous if you're not experienced. There are several Class III and Class IV rapids in the water. It's no place for a johnboat." For those who choose to ignore his advice, he suggests they confine their fishing to the upper three or four miles of the river.
Water conditions on the New can change quickly. Check with the DNR's District IV office at (304) 256-6947 before making a long drive.
THE KANAWHA RIVER
According to DNR District V assistant fisheries biologist Jeff Hansbarger, the Kanawha River, from Point Pleasant to Charleston, supports an excellent population of smallmouth bass.
One of the best places to fish is right in front of the state capitol building. (You can't miss it -- it sports a gold dome that can be seen for miles.) The downtown area has been renovated and a part of that effort has gone into the riverfront. There's a long stretch of rock and concrete steps and benches that extends out into the water.
This is fluke territory. Rig one weightless with a Daiichi bleeding bait circle hook through the nose and fish it with a medium weight open- faced spinning outfit. Toss it out, all the way against the bank, and twitch it along until you get a bite. Let it sink from time to time as it travels back toward your boat.
If that doesn't work, use an old-fashioned Texas-rigged plastic worm -- any color will do so long as it's 4 inches long. Allow long pauses between short lifts for best results. This technique allows the bait to settle down into cracks and crevices between the rocks, a
nd gives any wary smallie plenty of time to decide if it wants to eat.
If this rock strip doesn't produce, head toward the barges. Now barges might not be the prettiest habitat on the river, but they can be some of the most productive. This is especially true when the sun is bright. Throw small jigs or spinners out in front of a barge and allow the current to wash them back under the barge into the blackest shade available.
At times, the fish can be a bit small here, but their numbers are fantastic. On an especially good day, catches of 40 and 50 fish are possible. And there's always the realistic possibility of a trophy smallie as well. Hansbarger reports that recently a certified 18-incher was caught from these waters.
For current conditions on the Kanawha River, contact District V at (304) 675-0871.
This 2,700-acre Nicholas County Corps of Engineers lake is one tremendous smallmouth fishery and it's getting better every year. DNR sampling studies show large numbers of 12- to 16-inch bass with a fair number of big ones -- up to 20 inches in some cases -- mixed into the bag. These bass are fat. They appear to be healthy in every respect.
Last year was an especially good year on Summersville. Tournament data shows that high numbers of 12- to 16-inch smallmouths were caught. There's no good reason that 2007 should be any different.
Unfortunately, all those fish doesn't translate into easy fishing, however. According to District III biologist Kevin Yokum, "Summersville is a lot deeper than most of our other impoundments. It can be tricky. The combination of deep, clear water makes it hard to locate fish at times and even harder to get them to bite."
He recommends anglers concentrate their efforts around McKeys Creek and Battle Run. "There are lots of long, gently sloping points in both areas that hold good fish. They're easier to fish than the deeper parts of the lake where the drops are steeper."
May smallies are likely to be aggressive, so fast-moving baits are usually the most effective. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and, at times, topwater poppers and walking sticks will all produce. If they don't, give brown hair jigs and small grubs a try.
If you want to try something a little more challenging, try bouncing blade baits along to steep, sharply dropping areas of the shoreline. Shady spots will usually produce the best fishing. Throw your bait out, allowing it to fall all the way to the bottom and then retrieve with a lift-and-fall motion. Watch your line carefully. Most of your bites will come on the fall.
Like all flood-control lakes, this one is subject to severe changes in water levels over the year. May usually is a month of normal, stable water levels. For current conditions, contact District III at (304) 924-6211.
SLEEPY CREEK LAKE
This 205-acre impoundment in Berkeley County is well known to local anglers. Every bass angler should know it, though. After all, Sleepy Creek is full of vegetation and standing timber, most of which holds trophy-sized largemouths. Fish weighing 5 pounds or more are relatively common in this body of water.
The lake's average depth is 9 feet with the deepest part of it being around 26 feet. Because of its depth, deep-diving crankbaits are often the choice for experienced Sleepy Creek bass anglers. When there's enough open water, these lures are trolled slowly with electric motors. (This lake is electric motors only.) If you find the cover is too thick and cluttered for trolling, then try long casts parallel to the shoreline.
Spinnerbaits are also effective here. Try bright colors -- chartreuse, pink and fluorescent green are good choices. Make long casts and slow-roll them back to the boat. At times, contrasting colored plastic trailers will improve the bite.
If the weather is unusually warm, the topwater bite can be solid. Walking sticks are especially effective when thrown over the steeper banks at the upper end of the lake. Start fishing out over deeper water and work your way in close to the shoreline.
At the lower end of the lake, there's a good stand of lily pads. If they are beginning to emerge and have some visible vegetation on their stems, try working plastics in and around the area. Texas-rigged worms and wacky- rigged trick worms are most effective. At times, a plastic frog will be just what the bass want for dinner. Don't leave home without one.
There's also a fairly good beaver population in the vicinity of this lake. Many beaver huts are scattered throughout the lake. Take some time to locate several and fish them carefully. They nearly always hold a good fish or two. They can be difficult to properly fish, however. Stumps, logs and brush surround most of these huts. Use several different styles of lures and make sure you cover every depth and every place.
For complete fishing information on Sleepy Creek Lake, contact the District II office at (304) 822-3551.
PLUMB ORCHARD LAKE
Plumb Orchard Lake is just over 200 acres. However, it's plumb full of big, fat largemouths. Early in the season -- like right now -- most bass here will relate to beaver huts and standing timber. If the spring has been unusually warm, or if you're persistent in your search, there'll be a few patches of scattered green vegetation and lily pads around the lake. These areas nearly always hold a few good largemouths.
District IV fisheries biologist Mark Scott reports, "Plumb Orchard has good numbers of largemouths and a solid population of 4- to 5-pound fish. It's one of our best."
He recommends fishing the beaver huts first. Most of them can be effectively fished in May with spinnerbaits and small, shallow-running crankbaits. Throw your lures as close as possible to the huts. Then vary your retrieve until you find what the bass want.
If the bass aren't in a chasing mood, give Texas-rigged plastic worms or wacky-rigged trick worms a shot. Fish plastics slowly and carefully, making sure you cover every nook and cranny of a beaver's hut. Leave nothing uncovered.
After that, move out into the standing timber. The same lures will likely produce, but don't be afraid of tossing a jig out and allowing it to fall alongside the trunk of a tree. At times, that'll be your most effective technique.
If you have the time, or inclination, search out a patch or two of emerging vegetation. Lily pads are especially productive if you can find a patch that has some growth to it. Weeds and pads can be fished with plastics or topwater baits. Buzzbaits, walking sticks and plastic frogs all account for their fair share of keeper bass from the pads.
Interestingly, most of this tiny bass factory has no horsepower limit. There is, however, one cove that's electric motor only. The area is well marked. Plumb Orchard Lake can be accessed
from several exits off I-77.
For up-to-the-minute reports about Plumb Orchard bass fishing, call the District IV office at (304) 256-6947.
Stephens Lake is not very well known and that's a shame because it's a serious bass venue. District IV fisheries biologist Mark Scott opines, "It's also small -- about 300 acres -- but is a lot deeper than Plumb Orchard. It's full of beaver huts and vegetation with mostly clear water. The average Stephens Lake bass will be somewhat bigger than those found in Plumb Orchard, but Plumb Orchard is still your best bet for a trophy."
Fish Stephens Lake much like you would Plumb Orchard, except that deeper running crankbaits and heavier jigs are an option here because of the deeper water. For the most part, natural colored lures are your best bet here. The clear waters allow bass to see the baits from a long distance, so there's no need for bright, flashy color combinations. In fact, at times they're counterproductive.
The deepest water is at the southern end of the lake near the dam. Most of the early fishable vegetation will be found in the upper section (north) of the lake. The earliest greenery will typically show on the north bank. Beaver huts are scattered around the lake in no particular pattern. How and why they choose a location is something that's known only to them on this body of water.
Stephens Lake is in Raleigh County, near the city of Beckley. For current conditions, contact the District IV office at (304) 256-6947.
This survey of seven great black bass fisheries is only the beginning of what West Virginia will offer in the coming years. Get started fishing now before Father Time gets the better of you.