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Sutton Lake's Overlooked Bassing

Sutton Lake's Overlooked Bassing

This 1,500-acre Braxton County impoundment continues to provide hot fishing for spotted, largemouth and smallmouth bass.

By Kevin Yokum

Tired of spending hours searching for individual trophy bass, Jessie pleaded with his partner to go to a lake where they could catch lots of bass. A fellow fishing buddy recommended Sutton Lake; so the next day Jessie and his partner traveled to Sutton where they caught a truckload of largemouth bass.

Although many of the bass were less than 14 inches, the anglers boated an impressive 62 bass that day. Both anglers managed to catch bass over 4 pounds, but were more impressed with the sheer number of keeper bass they caught. And they especially enjoyed the numerous black bass they were able to catch on topwater lures.

At 1,500 acres, Sutton is one of West Virginia's largest reservoirs. Built in 1961 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sutton was among the earliest reservoirs constructed in West Virginia. Created by impounding the Elk River near the town of Sutton, the lake stretches over 14 miles and offers anglers more than 40 miles of shoreline. This Braxton County lake is characterized by steep sides and has a maximum depth of 110 feet near the dam. Normally, the water is extremely clear on Sutton Lake.

Sutton Lake receives a lot of recreational use because of its location in central West Virginia. However, many bass anglers drive right by the reservoir on their way to more famous lakes like Stonewall Jackson and Burnsville, which are located less than 30 minutes away.

Sutton's trophy bass, like this 5 1/2-pounder, seem to be attracted to black and hot pink plugs and worms. Photo by Kevin Yokum

Despite the lack of general angler recognition, Sutton receives a lot of attention from bass tournament groups. Over the last few years, Sutton Lake has hosted more bass tournaments than any other reservoir in West Virginia, averaging over 65 tournaments per year. Although the lake's location and facilities serve important roles, the strong tournament interest is primarily due to confidence that anglers can consistently catch a lot of bass on Sutton.

Anglers fishing the lake will have an opportunity to catch lots of bass as Sutton Lake boasts a bass population that averages over 400 fish per acre. According to data from the Division of Natural Resources (DNR), Sutton Lake has about two or three times more bass than some other state reservoirs.


The population is composed of about 65 percent spotted bass, 30 percent largemouth bass and about 5 percent smallmouths. Catch rates run high at Sutton Lake, but trophy-sized fish do not. Although large bass are not a rarity, anglers catching trophy-sized bass really have to work for them here. According to data from the West Virginia Trophy Fish Citation program, anglers turn in about three trophy bass citations from Sutton Lake each year.

Traditionally, July is not a month that produces a lot of trophy bass in West Virginia, so most anglers look to catch quantities of bass. This makes Sutton all the more appealing, because this impoundment is one of the best locations in the state to put a lot of bass in the boat. Although smaller than largemouth bass, spotted bass are usually more aggressive. So the higher percentage of spotted bass at Sutton means that good fishing usually continues throughout the summer.

Sutton has many more riverlike features than most West Virginia reservoirs. Many anglers head to the upper end of the lake to fish in these riverine environments to catch bass, especially spotted and smallmouth. Large tributaries such as Holly River and Laurel Creek merge with the Elk River to form much of the lake's upper end. The area around Holly Point, where both rivers meet, is a favorite hotspot of mine. This area seems to produce big numbers of bass regardless of the time of the year it gets fished.

While some anglers prefer the upper end of the lake, the majority of anglers concentrate on fishing downed trees, rock outcroppings and other cover along the shoreline of the main lake. Although Sutton doesn't have very many shallow flats, it does have some excellent points where bass seem to congregate. Stony Point, located across the lake and just downstream from the mouth of Stony Creek, continues to build a reputation as a favorite spot for tournament anglers, particularly during the summer.

Another location bass anglers should check out is near the lower railroad trestle, which crosses a side cove about halfway up the lake. The area around this railroad trestle is known for producing big bass. Deep rock structure in the area seems to provide an ideal location for hefty bass, so if anglers are looking for one of the lake's 4-pound or greater largemouths, then this is the area to fish.

In addition to fishing shoreline cover, anglers should take note of the fish attractors that DNR personnel have placed in several locations around the lake. These fish attractors are excellent places to encounter bass and are marked with buoys or signs.

Anglers fishing the upper end of the lake will find fish attractors below Bakers Run Campground and near the Tunnel Road jetty. Another attractor is located across the lake from where the Holly and Elk river arms merge. Three more attractors can be found downstream within a mile of the Holly and Elk river junction. For anglers on the lower end of the lake, a fish attractor is located at the head of Wolf Fork and another is located by the handicapped-fishing pier near the dam.

Anglers use a variety of methods to catch bass on Sutton Lake, but here are a couple of techniques that always seem to produce. Soft-plastic baits are among the most popular on reservoirs, and Sutton is no exception. Dragging Carolina-rigged lizards or worms along shoreline cover and letting them bounce off rock ledges into deeper water is a proven way to put bass in the boat.

Tube jigs have gained much notoriety over the past few years, and they can work wonders on Sutton bass. Watermelon, June bug and motor oil are the hot colors that tournament anglers are using to produce limits of keeper bass on this West Virginia reservoir. Interestingly enough, one of the most productive color combinations for big bass on Sutton seems to be black and hot pink. My last trip to Sutton yielded two largemouths over 4 pounds, and both hit a 6-inch black and hot pink worm. To maximum fish-catching potential, anglers may want to downsize their line while fishing Sutton Lake because bass can become wary of heavy line in the lake's extremely clear water.

Another tactic is to use buzzbaits to attract suspended fish. When water conditions are clear, working a buzzbait across open water or submerged cover can be very effective, especially for spotted bass. Crankbaits also have their place in an angler's tackle box as well. Working crankbaits down to the leve

l bass are holding and then using a crank-and-pause retrieve can produce some real action. Make sure to come into contact with the lake bottom or structure when running crankbaits. Although you may lose some lures, banging structure often provokes stubborn bass into striking.

Several launch ramps provide access to Sutton Lake. The most convenient access on Sutton Lake is near Bee Run campground. The Bee Run launch ramp, on the lower end of the lake, features the lake's only marina. To get to the Bee Run area, take exit 67 from Interstate 79 at Flatwoods and follow the signs to state Route (SR) 15. Then follow SR 15 for about three miles before turning into the Bee Run area.

Two ramps provide access to the upper end of the lake. The ramp near Gerald R. Freeman campground can be located by traveling on SR 15 toward Diana. It takes about 35 minutes to get to this ramp from I-79. To get to the Bakers Run ramp, take exit 62 off I-79 and go through the town of Sutton. In Sutton, turn right and travel across the Elk River bridge onto county Route (CR) 19/40. After traveling several miles, turn onto CR 17 toward Centralia. The Bakers Run area is located just past the community of Centralia, but it can take 45 minutes to get to this ramp from Interstate 79.

There are reservoirs with bigger bass and better structure, but with tons of aggressive bass, Sutton Lake is tough to beat. If you're looking for hot bassin' action, then Sutton Lake is the place for you. Hey, if Bill Dance comes here on vacation, you know that it has to be a great place to bass fish!

Daily water condition updates on Sutton Lake are available by calling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recorded message at (304) 765-2705.

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