From Elk Fork Lake to the New River, plus other prime picks, here's where you'll find West Virginia's hottest bassin' this spring and throughout the summer season.(May 2008)
This 5-pound Burnsville Lake bass was caught just off a ledge with some submerged timber in the Knawl Creek area.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Yokum.
Bass continually rank as the No. 1 freshwater sport fish across America, and it's easy to see why. After all, bass live just about everywhere, they get quite large, and they are an absolute blast to catch.
West Virginia has tons of opportunities for bass, whether it is the mighty largemouth, the spirited spotted bass or the feisty smallmouth. Opportunities in our state include shots at trophy largemouths, or fishing in waters where three kinds of bass are present. Don't forget the many float-fishing trips that may generate 100 smallies per day and rivers that provide a shot at world-class smallmouths.
So, if hot bassin' action is what you crave this spring and summer, look no farther than the Mountain State.
ELK FORK LAKE
Perhaps the best new bass fishery in West Virginia is Elk Fork Lake. A relatively new impoundment, Elk Fork Lake has continued to flourish, even after capturing the initial burst of production that naturally follows the creation of new impoundments. Today, this lake boasts a bass population that features more bass per acre than any other state impoundment.
At 278 acres, this Jackson County impoundment may be smaller than waters normally fished by die-hard bass anglers, but the lake is simply full of bass. The lake's small size can be a bit deceiving, because nearly every bit of Elk Fork Lake is capable of holding bass. The depth, cover and water clarity combine to create plenty of high-quality fishing locations throughout the lake.
Elk Fork Lake remains primarily filled with largemouths, but a few spotted bass do call it home as well. While it's always tough to compete with O'Brien, Stonewall Jackson or even Burnsville lakes for trophy potential, one day when Elk Fork's bass mature, this impoundment might join the Mountain State's elite trophy bass waters. But for now, booming bass numbers are the main attraction at Elk Fork.
Another of the state's specially regulated waters, Elk Fork's bass are protected by catch-and-release regulations ever since the lake was impounded in the late 1990s. The regulation has assisted in the production of more big bass by restricting harvest as these fish work their way toward trophy status. Since Elk Fork is still reaping the benefits of the nutrient surge that's normal for newly impounded waters, it's not surprising that the lake offers bass anglers both numbers and size.
The secret about Elk Fork's high catch rates has started to creep out, and naturally, the crowds have followed. So, expect to encounter fishing pressure when you come to Elk Fork, particularly on the weekends.
Elk Fork Lake was designed to retain plenty of woody habitat, and when the lake was formed, most of the timber within the lake basin was purposely left standing for fish habitat. As you might expect, submerged wood remains one of the lake's hottest habitat types for bass.
The best stands of timber can be found along the original Elk Fork Creek channel, and it's certainly no surprise that this area continues to be one of the lake's most popular bass-fishing locations. Not only can anglers fish among submerged treetops in this area, but they also get to fish the deep creek channel, which is normally a superb spot for early summer bass.
In addition to timber, Elk Fork maintains good patches of aquatic vegetation. At times, Elk Fork's vegetation serves up terrific fishing, and in this part of the country, weedbeds are always worth some angling effort.
Like most impoundments, Elk Fork's aquatic vegetation remains primarily concentrated along its shoreline. However, since this lake is relatively shallow, it's not unusual to find clumps of aquatic vegetation throughout the lake.
Anglers should note that this 278-acre lake is limited to a 10-horsepower motor limit. Boats can have larger motors, but firing them up on the lake is prohibited. Also, be aware that for all you night owls, night-fishing continues to be allowed on Elk Fork Lake.
To get to Elk Fork Lake from Interstate 77, take exit 138 at Ripley and head west on U.S. Route 33. Turn onto county Route 26 and follow it to the lake. The access ramp to Elk Fork is located about three-quarters of a mile from the dam along CR 26. The lake's access features a concrete ramp with courtesy piers and plenty of parking.
Right smack dab in the middle of West Virginia sets Burnsville Lake. As the geographic hub of prime bass fishing, one might think that Burnsville would be overloaded with bass fishing pressure, but such is not the case. In fact, the lake continues to produce a good mix of bass numbers as well as sizes of fish.
Most West Virginia anglers find themselves within driving distance of Burnsville Lake and being along I-79 makes access to the lake convenient. Showcasing the quality fishing, Burnsville Lake continues to be a very popular bass tournament site. Tournament anglers won't keep returning to a lake if they're not catching big bass, plenty of bass, or both.
Anglers coming to Burnsville Lake can expect to catch both largemouth and spotted bass. Spotted bass remain more numerous within the lake and comprise about 60 percent of the bass population, while largemouths make up the other 40 percent.
While the lake boasts high catch rates, the main reason many anglers come to Burnsville is to catch big bass. I'm talking about trophy largemouths in the 5-pound-plus range. Even though catching big numbers of spotted bass might be fun, anglers seem to be more interested in trying to put lunker largemouths in the boat.
Bass data from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) shows the bass population to contain a high percentage of bass over 5 pounds, compared with other West Virginia reservoirs. Burnsville also makes a strong showing in the West Virginia Trophy Fish Citation Program each year. Big bass from Burnsville continue to qualify for the program's citations.
Burnsville Lake features several types of quality bass cover, including the lake's premier structure -- submerged timber. Anglers fishing on Burnsville Lake commonly concentrate on coves filled with standing timber and for good reason. Bass prefer to hang around standing timber, and just about a
ny time of year anglers can encounter big bass around submerged timber.
The lake's best areas of standing timber include Big Run, Knawl Creek and Little Knawl Creek. Each contains excellent tracts of standing and submerged timber that are always worth fishing on Burnsville Lake.
Another cover type that consistently produces bass at Burnsville is points. Submerged points, which extend out into the lake, can provide good bass fishing throughout the year; however, points are especially productive during the spring.
Fish attractors are some of the best cover types in the lake. Fish attractant structures placed in the lake by the West Virginia DNR are virtual magnets for bass and other game fish. Constructed from trees, blocks and poles, these structures rank among the most consistent places to encounter bass on Burnsville Lake, but competition for fishing them can be intense. It's unusual to fish around fish attractors without catching a few bass, and sometimes lunker bass hang around them feeding on baitfish and small bluegills or crappie.
Burnsville Lake features multiple access sites where anglers can launch boats. Located along U.S. Route 19 on the upper end of the lake, both the Bulltown daytime and campground areas feature launch ramps. The day use area is open from April to November, and the campground ramp is open year 'round.
On the lower end of the lake, the Riffle Run launch ramp is open year 'round and is serviced by the lake's only marina, Burnsville Docks. To access the Riffle Run area, take exit 79 from Interstate 79 through the town of Burnsville and follow the signs to the lake.
You might have heard the stories, legends and other tales about smallmouth fishing on the New River. Knowing the typical angler's ability to stretch the truth, I can't swear that all of the tales are true. Yet, there's no doubt that the New River is one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world. Indeed, anglers from all over the country have come to know the New River as an awesome destination to catch trophy smallmouths, both in West Virginia and Virginia.
The New is unusual in that it is one of the few rivers that flows north through Virginia until it joins the Gauley to form the Kanawha River near Glen Ferris, West Virginia.
The New River is both a numbers and trophy fishery; on primo days, it can be both. However, big smallies serve as the featured attraction on the New. Anglers will really key in on the trophy aspect of the New's smallmouth fishery.
Winter and spring are clearly the best times to catch lunker smallmouths, although smallmouths are caught from the river throughout the year. When temperatures start to rise in March, smallmouths begin to become active. Once smallmouth activity escalates in the spring, the odds of encountering one of the New's big smallmouth bass goes way up, thus making spring the optimal time to hook an egg-laden lunker.
Each year, the biggest smallmouths seem to be caught early in the spring, and clearly, the New harbors plenty of big smallmouths. The New River leads the state in citation-sized (4 pounds or larger) smallmouth bass and has done so for quite some time.
Many of the trophy smallmouths coming from the New will range from 4 to 5-plus pounds, but I've personally seen smallmouths up to 7 pounds on the New. The current state-record smallmouth of 25.5 inches came from the New River. Many experts believe that the next state-record smallmouth might come from the New as well.
Float trips are very popular on the New and several options remain available to anglers. However, while trophy smallmouths exist from one end of the New River to the other, anglers must use caution when float-fishing on some areas because the New River contains some serious whitewater areas that should only be navigated by experienced paddlers.
One of the most popular floats is the new catch-and-release area (all black bass must be immediately returned to the water) running from the Sandstone Bridge on Interstate 64 downstream 12 miles to the National Park Service Grandview Sandbar access site near Quinnimont. The take-out can be accessed from state Route 41 and the put-in from state Route 20 at Sandstone.
Another shorter six-mile float is available from Shanklins Ferry to Indian Creek above Bluestone Lake. The area is not nearly as scenic as sections of the New downstream of Bluestone Lake, but bassin' action has become increasingly prevalent during the last few years on this short float.
If you're looking for big smallmouths, it will be tough to find a better fishery than the New River.
The Greenbrier River ranks as one of West Virginia's best rivers to float, partially because most of the river is easy to navigate and partially because the river's smallmouth action can be extraordinary.
The river features a gentle gradient, cobble substrate and plenty of quality smallmouth bass habitat. Passing through a wide, fertile valley, the river maintains enough productivity to sustain a quality fishery.
The fishery itself showcases a thriving smallmouth population encompassing numerous smallmouth bass and some trophy potential with big bass showing up on occasion. The Greenbrier is home to many good-sized smallmouth bass with the majority falling in the 10- to 15-inch category. Smallmouths greater than 20 inches are available, but the strength of this river system remains substantial quantities of 10- to 15-inch bass.
Spring and summer are the best times to hook into smallmouths on the Greenbrier. During this active period, smallmouths will aggressively attack topwater lures, and to a smallmouth fanatic it doesn't get more exciting than that. Greenbrier River smallmouths seem to really love topwater lures, and anglers can do well with buzzbaits and prop baits.
Smallmouth fishing during a leisurely float down the Greenbrier River is a heck of a way to spend the day. The entire Greenbrier River offers good bass fishing, but the six-mile special regulation section from the U.S. Route 60 bridge near Caldwell to the U.S. Route 219 bridge at Ronceverte deserves special attention.
This area features a 12- to 20-inch slot limit and allows for harvest of one bass per day over 20 inches and up to six bass per day under 12 inches. This regulation is designed to increase the number of large bass, and over time, anglers should be able to really see the results.
Other quality floats on the Greenbrier River include the 8.5-mile float from Alderson to Pence Springs and the 8.5-mile float from Ronceverte to Fort Spring.
The Greenbrier is an excellent choice for serious bass anglers, family fishing outings or just an evening of wade-fishing.
This Jackson County impoundment may be the state's most overlooked and under-promoted bass lake. O
'Brien Lake isn't very large at 217 acres, which might explain why many anglers ignore this lake; however, this small impoundment sure has the ability to produce big bass.
A catch-and-release regulation on black bass has been in place since the lake opened in 1987. The regulation certainly has played a role in producing trophy bass, but the lake also has a good bit of timber and other quality cover. Several acres of standing timber offer places for lunker bass to hang out and provide logical locations for anglers to target bass. Rock ledges can also be bass hotspots on O'Brien Lake
While anglers fishing O'Brien will find good numbers of bass in the lake, this water's best attribute would have to be its trophy potential. Bass up to 7 pounds are caught from the lake on a regular basis, and there is the distinct possibility of boating multiple 5-pounders during the spring. The bass population is mainly largemouths, so anglers should plan their techniques accordingly.
O'Brien is not the most pristine looking lake in the Mountain State, as its water is often muddy. However, stained water doesn't prevent anglers from catching lunker largemouths from this lake with regularity, particularly in the spring.
Prime times to fish O'Brien Lake are typically spring and early summer like most West Virginia impoundments. However, some local anglers have discovered a midsummer bite along the deeper standing timber. Such a big fish bite might very well warrant a trip to this lake, as bass fishing on other impoundments is probably tapering off.
Anglers must be aware that O'Brien Lake is governed by a 10- horsepower motor limit on boats using the lake. Yet another limiting factor, most bass boats could only use their trolling motors on the lake.
O'Brien Lake isn't the easiest to locate. Anglers coming to the lake should come along Interstate 77 and turn off onto county Route (CR) 25 north. After traveling on CR 25, turn onto CR 36, which eventually becomes CR 34/5. This road goes by the concrete launching ramp at O'Brien Lake.