Burnsville Lake's Hot Spring Bassing

This Braxton County impoundment provides excellent bass fishing during the spring season. Here's where you should try right now!

by Bruce Ingram

Created in 1978 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the Little Kanawha River was impounded, Burnsville Lake has long been an intriguing body of water to visit. The 968-acre lake, which is 9 1/2 miles long and features 30 miles of shoreline, snakes across the rural countryside of Braxton County in central West Virginia.

"Intriguing" is a good adjective for this lake because the lake is atypical of Mountain State impoundments in two ways. First, Burnsville is extremely shallow, only 38 feet deep at the dam with an average depth of just 14 feet. Second, the body of water, because of its shallowness, becomes extremely stratified in the summer; hence, dissolved oxygen may be depleted at depths below 10 feet. Summertime anglers must take this stratification into consideration when deducing summertime patterns.

Burnsville also hosts all three major species of black bass: largemouths, smallmouths and spots. Although this trait would make the body of water unique in many states, such is not the case in West Virginia, where a number of lakes possess the three species. Largemouth bass are by far the most sought-after species, and they dominate in terms of size. Burnsville is not known for its smallmouth habitat, and the few mossybacks that fin the lake mostly come from near where the Little Kanawha enters.

Spotted bass are the most numerous of the black bass species, but Kentuckys, as they are sometimes known, rarely top 12 inches in this lake. A spot topping 12 inches is a real bonus at Burnsville.

Another positive characteristic is the fact that Burnsville features a considerable amount of standing timber. When the Little Kanawha was impounded, selected tracts of timber were left untouched. Most of the lake's tributary coves contain "wood lots," and the main lake does as well, from the state Route (SR) 19 bridge at Bulltown to Falls Mill.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Because several decades have passed since the lake's creation, anglers should be aware that a good percentage of the trees have tumbled into the lake. This submerged timber provides excellent bass cover, but it also can pose navigation hazards, especially under low-light conditions. Boaters should keep this in mind, even though the timber stands are in no-wake zones.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries biologist Kevin Yokum is in charge of keeping tabs on this District III body of water.

"I rate Burnsville as an average-to-good largemouth bass lake, but what really brings anglers to this lake are the trophy largemouths," said Yokum.

"Like at most of our reservoirs, the main forage base for the bass is small crappie and bluegills. Bluntnose minnows and brook silversides contribute to the forage base along with a few species of shiners."

In the Mountain State, largemouth bass must weigh 5 pounds or better in order for an angler to qualify for a citation from the DNR. Yokum reports that most of the anglers who catch "multiple big bass" are releasing them and not turning these largemouths in for citations. Thus, the largemouth bass citation figures for the impoundment may not reflect the actual number of bucketmouths caught that weighed 5 pounds or more.

For example, during the 2000 fishing season (the last year for which citation figures were complete at press time), Burnsville accounted for six largemouth bass citations. The impoundment has no special bass regulations. The daily creel limit is six, and there is no minimum size limit.

Jim Ayres operates Gone Fishing Guide Service in Oak Hill. Ayres agrees with Yokum on the status of Burnsville's bass fishery and maintains that the lake is definitely better to visit at certain times than it is at others.

"Burnsville is very much a seasonal bass lake," said Ayres. "Fishermen can have outstanding days in the spring and fall, but this is a very tough lake to fish in the summer and winter. In fact, I would not recommend visits to Burnsville during the heat of the summer if you were after largemouth bass. I would rate it as the toughest lake in the state to fish in the summer.

"Now, I don't know why this is true. I don't know if anyone has figured out why, but the reason may be that the lake stratifies so severely during the heat of the summer. Something makes the bass too lethargic to hit baits."

The Oak Hill guide, though, emphasizes that anglers may well find Burnsville very much to their liking this spring. The best action, he says, typically takes place at the lower end of the lake. The Riffle Run tributary often is the site of some superb sport. This tributary offers some very deep drops adjacent to shallow flats - prime spring locales. Also enticing to bass in the lower end are some steep bluffs and a few boat docks in the marina area.

Another major spring pattern, according to Ayres, involves running up the Little Kanawha River arm. Well-oxygenated water exists there, and actively feeding bass often appear as well. The Little Kanawha also possesses considerable expanses of chunk rock, areas of downed trees and other submerged wood, and current breaks caused by rock cover.

The Oak Hill angler does not recommend plying the waters of the lake's other tributaries, such as Wolf Pen, Spring, Long, Triplets and Benny runs. He states that those creeks possess flat bottoms and outside bends that are not very pronounced. Many West Virginia anglers like to target outside bends because their sharper curves tend to concentrate woody flotsam - and bass. Such bends are lacking in these tributaries.

Ayres lists four major patterns that exist in the spring. Carolina rigging is perhaps the most popular - and effective - way to take good-sized largemouths in April and May. The guide attaches 4-inch worms and lizards and 3-inch tubes to C-rigs and retrieves these baits over flats that are adjacent to creek channels.

Crankbaits are also quite effective during the spring months. Begin by trying 1/4-ounce medium-running cranks that match the hues of bluegills and crappies. The main channel of the Little Kanawha River features a number of drops, some 1 foot or less and others 3 feet or more. All of these drops have the potential to hold 2-pound and better largemouths.

A third Burnsville spring pattern involves 3/8-ounce spinnerbaits with chartreuse or white skirts. Ayres journeys to areas where standing timber exists, and he plays "bump the stump." He emphasizes that this pattern can be parti

cularly potent during the pre-spawn period. However, this is another pattern that greatly diminishes in effectiveness once the water warms considerably in early June.

Finally, the West Virginian likes to toss 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jig-and-pigs at this time of year. Toss this standard bass bait to submerged wood and isolated standing trees.

Ayres also offers some general advice for fishing the lake. "One of the worst things an angler can do is to get involved with catching undersized spots," he said. "If the spots just won't leave your bait alone, go to bigger baits or leave the area. Even the rare spot that does make it to 12 inches will be very little in terms of weight.

"Second, the lake has fairly clear water, but not as clear as places like Summersville or Bluestone. Much of the time you can get away with heavier line, say 10-pound-test, that you wouldn't be able to use on clearwater lakes. This heavier line will come in handy if you hook a nice bass around timber."

Finally, says Ayres, don't be afraid to visit Burnsville on spring weekends. Many West Virginia impoundments receive considerable fishing pressure then in the form of tournaments. Most tournament trails, emphasizes Ayres, avoid Burnsville because of its reputation for not giving up its bass easily. The angler guesses that nearby Sutton Lake holds 10 tournaments for every one that Burnsville gets. And Stonewall Jackson, also close to Burnsville, draws many more anglers, too.

For guided trips with Jim Ayres, contact him at Gone Fishing (888/470-3131). For more information on the lake, contact the DNR office at French Creek (304/924-6211). For daily lake conditions and events, call the impoundment at (304) 853-2398. More information can also be obtained by contacting the Resource Manager, Burnsville Lake, P.O. Box 347, Burnsville, WV 26335-0221; or call (304) 853-2371.

Boat ramps exist at Riffle Run and the Bulltown Day Use Area. Accommodations can be found for disabled anglers. Burnsville Lake Marina is generally open beginning in early April; call (304) 853-2822. The marina remains open until mid-October most years.

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