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10 Great Summer Float Trips For Smallies

10 Great Summer Float Trips For Smallies

Here's all you need to find under-the-radar float-fishing trips for smallmouth bass on several of our state's best rivers. (August 2009)

Ken McClintic of Holly River State Park with a 20-inch smallie he caught on the Frametown to Duck section of the Elk River.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.

The New, Greenbrier, South Branch of the Potomac, Gauley, Elk and Tygart rivers are just a few of West Virginia's many eminent smallmouth streams. But you already knew that, didn't you? But what you might not know about are some of the high-quality, though often overlooked, floats that exist on these waterways. Consider checking out these 10 possibilities.

Mountain State smallmouth addicts, as well as do river enthusiasts across the country, well know that the New from below Bluestone Lake Dam to the backwaters of Hawks Nest Lake boasts some of the best bassing in the country. But you might not be aware of the outstanding action that exists from Glen Lyn, Virginia, to the backwaters of Bluestone Lake.

Trip One: Glen Lyn To Shanklins Ferry
Several reasons exist why the Glen Lyn to Shanklins Ferry (11 miles) float is often overlooked. First, it begins in Virginia (but ends in West Virginia), so anglers from both states often avoid it, as they would have to purchase out-of-state licenses to float-fish this section. Another reason is that major rapids punctuate this junket, and its long length may discourage other folks as well.

Those negatives aside, the Glen Lyn getaway is in my opinion one of the premier floats on the entire New in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. I have taken this trip a number of times over the past 20 years and have caught smallies up to 20 inches. Please do be aware, though, of the difficult rapids that do exist here.

Just two miles downstream from the river-right put-in, the highly variable Shumate Falls looms, and it can flaunt rapids that are rated between Class II and IV, depending on water levels. Portage Shumate on river left. About seven miles into the trip, you will arrive at the Class II Stateline Falls, which marks the boundary between the two Virginias.

Now, I guess West Virginians could refrain from fishing the first seven miles of this trip and thus not have to purchase a Virginia license. But how could anyone pass up all the great fishing on the Virginia side? That's why for this excursion, I always bring licenses for both states.


A number of Class I rapids exist between Stateline Falls and the river-right Shanklins Ferry access site. Be sure to work the runs below these rapids.

Trip Two: Shanklins Ferry To Mouth Of Indian Creek
From Shanklins Ferry to the river-right Indian Creek (four miles) access point, more overlooked bassing water exists. Once again, anglers should be aware that some major rapids pock this part of the New. The Class II Anderson Falls comes at the two-mile mark, while the Class II to III Harvey Falls looms several more miles downstream (and after the aptly named Whale Rock), and at the end is the Class II Harmons Rapids.

Harvey Falls is by far the most difficult to run of the trio, but it can be portaged by way of an islet on its right side. Rapids aside, this float features a number of islands of varying size and marvelous rocky cover, often in the form of underwater ledges. These areas are where you should spend much of your angling time.

Adding to the appeal is that the Bluestone Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) surrounds the river, ensuring that the splendid mountainside scenery will always remain that way. Float-fishermen who want to combine this and the previous getaway may want to consider camping out in the WMA or spending the night at Bluestone State Park. For more information, dial 800-CALL-WVA.

Chances are that if you are an avid river runner, you already know about the superb smallmouth sport that exists from Caldwell to Willow Wood Bridge on the Greenbrier River. But here are a couple of possibilities that aren't so well known.

Trip Three: Renick To Anthony Bridge
The Renick to Anthony Bridge (10 miles) junket is often overlooked because of its relative isolation (the Monongahela National Forest forms much of the river left bank). But this trip has much in its favor. Numerous Class I rapids characterize the float from the county Route (CR) 11 bridge to the CR 21/2 bridge at Anthony. Please be aware that one Class II to III rapid exists at around the seven-mile point, Tumble Rock Rapid. Consider portaging it on river left.

All of these rapids feature push water above and eddies, runs and slicks below them -- prime places to prospect for smallies. One caveat does exist, though: Be aware that if another drought occurs, the upper Greenbrier could become quite low by midsummer. For up-to-date water levels, check out the USGS Real Time Water Data for West Virginia Web site: wv/nwis/rt.

Trip Four: Upper, Upper Greenbrier Access Points
My fourth trip pick is not really a trip, but a series of access points that smallmouth anglers may want to visit this summer. Quite frankly, by midsummer, it will be highly unlikely (even if no drought occurs) that anglers will be able to take point A to point B type floats on the Greenbrier above Renick. But since the theme of this article is overlooked excursions, consider checking out these access points this summer in either one of two ways.

For example, some of the access points that exist on the "upper, upper" Greenbrier are located at Watoga, Seebert, Kennison, Danmar, Beard, Droop Mountain, Rorer and Horrock. During the summer, I have tried to take some of these floats and have found that I have had to spend a great deal of time dragging my canoe. However, one way to experience these sections is to follow the Greenbrier on CR 7 in Greenbrier County and CR 31 in Pocahontas County. When you come to an access point, merely walk down to the river and indulge in some wade-fishing.

A second option is to use a craft, such as a canoe or kayak, and paddle upstream and down from these access points. One advantage of the second option is that you and your buddy will not need to take two vehicles on your visitation, doing away with the shuttle -- and shuttle time. Of course, the carpooling that the two of you will do will also save on gas money.

South Branch Of The Potomac
I have floated the entire length of the South Branch of the Potomac and the river has long held a special place in my angling soul. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) lists 16 floats on the river, many of them are well known, such as the ones that involve the Trough and the two catch-and-release sections. But here are t

wo others that you may not have considered.

Trip Five: Indian Rock To Paw Paw
The Indian Rock to Paw Paw (13 1/2 miles) float begins on the South Branch of the Potomac and ends on the Main Stem; its length alone discourages many anglers from taking this trip. However, again, since one of the themes of this story is overlooked excursions, this is one you might want to strongly consider.

The river-left access point at Indian Rock will send you off on a relatively remote journey down two rivers. No major rapids exist, and the Class Is and riffles that do occur are very easy to negotiate. The first 4.5 miles of the trip are on the South Branch, and the deep water ledges that occur so often on this river are very prominent and offer plenty of places for smallies to lurk.

Once you reach the confluence of the North and South branches, you'll find that the river broadens and becomes shallower, although not so shallow that you should have any problems with floating downstream. The primary summertime pattern also changes at the confluence, as water willow islets become a major draw for the brown bass. Main channel dropoffs are another feature that is very evident on the Potomac.

Because of this trip's length, you'll probably be quite tired by the time you reach the river-right ramp at Paw Paw. But you likely also will have seen few float-fishermen and caught quite a few bass.

Trip Six: Big Bend To Vernon Welton Park
If you are looking for a true wilderness float that will take several days to complete, then consider the 23-mile excursion from Big Bend to Vernon Welton Park in Petersburg. I have always done this float in two days, but always felt rushed doing so. It's far better to allot three days and camp out for several nights in the Smoke Hole wilderness.

Adventurers who undertake the Smoke Hole challenge should be aware that the trip flaunts numerous Class II rapids and the potentially dangerous Class III to IV Chimney Slide rapid, which should be portaged on river right. That said, this is one of the most uplifting floats that exists anywhere in the Southeast, as you won't see many, if any, paddlers from the time you access the river at the river-left ramp at Big Bend until you begin to near the river-left access point at Vernon Welton Park.

Another plus about this float is that it offers the legitimate possibility of anglers dueling with both trout and smallmouths, especially the first four or five miles. But as is true with most waterways that contain both smallies and salmonids, neither species is overly large. Most of the bass will run from 8 to 11 inches. But when the stars come out as you're sitting around a campfire deep in the Smoke Hole, the size of the fish won't really seem to matter.

Larry Nibert, who operates the West Virginia Experience in Fayette County, is a big fan of the Gauley below Summersville Lake.

"The Gauley may be the most overlooked smallmouth river in West Virginia," he says. "And the summer is the perfect time to go to the Gauley. While the New below Bluestone will have umpteen boats and whitewater rafters on it, you won't see hardly any folks on the Gauley.

"Another thing I like about the Gauley is that you never know what you will catch when you're fishing for smallmouths. Sometimes a walleye or maybe even the muskie of a lifetime will hit a bait."

Trip Seven: Jodie
The DNR only lists one access point for the Gauley and that one is at Jodie. The DNR also emphasizes that this is "not a float trip site; you put in and take out at the same site."

Actually, the Gauley can be divided into upper and lower sections with both being 12 miles or so in length. But there is an excellent reason why the DNR recommends that anglers put in and take out at Jodie. Both the upper and lower Gauley parade monstrous Class IV and above rapids, and this is simply no place for a novice or even an intermediate paddler.

I have floated most of the Gauley, but have always done so while being shepherded by a professional whitewater guide. The ominous names of two of the Gauley's worst rapids should tell you something about the danger that lurks there: "Pure Screaming Hell" and "Heaven Help You."

Even with the caution that guides must exercise while running the Gauley, I must add that the smallmouth fishing can be spectacular. I have never had a day on this river when I did not catch good-sized smallmouths. For guided trips, contact Larry Nibert at West Virginia Experience:, or call (304) 640-2982.

With the New and Gauley rivers lying so close to the Elk, it's easy for river runners to overlook this Charleston-area waterway. Larry Nibert says that the Elk has surprising numbers of smallmouth bass, and spotted and largemouth bass are also available. After a summer storm, the guide said that the Elk could be slow to clear, although the Sutton Dam does trap some of the muddy water.

Trip Eight: King Shoals To Queen Shoals
The King Shoals to Queen Shoals (eight miles) is one of the longer floats on the lower Elk. The put-in is on state Route (SR) 4, as is the take-out, making for a convenient shuttle.

Riffles, shoals and sunken logs characterize this float, which flows through largely rural Clay County. Nibert relates that a good bait for this section is a 3-inch grub impaled on a 1/8-ounce grub. Retrieve this bait through riffles, and chances are that you'll catch bass anywhere from 5 to 15 inches. If you want to exclude the smaller fish, the guide recommends that anglers toss only 3/8-ounce buzzbaits and try for the bruiser bronzebacks that often hang out near downed trees in the deeper holes.

Trip Nine: Frametown To Duck
Another possibility is the Fametown to Duck (six miles) float, which begins at the county Route 21 bridge and ends on SR 4. The makeup of this trip is very similar to the previous one, although there seem to be a few more pools that feature deeper water. You will also encounter a fair number of water willow beds, which, along with the undercut banks and mid-river-submerged boulders, are major forms of cover.

Tygart River
The Tygart River has a reputation for having acidic water, but if that problem is ever solved, this stream could emerge as a major destination for anglers in search of trophy smallmouths. Now, although the river does contain good-sized fish, it has by no means come close to its true potential.

"The Tygart has habitat every bit as good as the New River does," emphasizes Nibert. "In fact, I would describe the Tygart as a smaller version of the New, as both have major whitewater rapids, huge boulders and excellent rocky cover."

Trip 10: Tygart Tailwaters
The upper Tygart features a number of short trips, many of them only three or four miles in length. One of the most interesting is a float that is possible below Tygart Lake Dam. The access point is at the Grafton City Park Ramp below the dam, and the take-out, as the DNR states, is "wher

ever it looks feasible," at Camp Towles in Taylor County. Basically, plan to spend about three hours on the river.

The river flows quite swiftly for several hundred yards below the dam, but then the Tygart slows and the standard water willow bed and pool habitat characterizes much of the rest of the excursion.

Want to increase your odds for tangling with a big smallmouth on any of these trips? Larry Nibert offers several, quick tips.

"My overall favorite bait is a 4-inch tube," he says. "Although sometimes when the rivers become low, I will switch to a 3 1/2-inch tube so that the bait will fall slower. Another big bass bait is a 5-inch grub on a jighead. Swim this bait in heavy current, but let it bounce along the bottom if the flow is slower."

Obviously, many tried-and-true float trips exist in the Mountain State. But consider the 10 junkets listed here if you have a hankering to try some different places to float-fish this summer.

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