If you're looking for food for the table, as well as fast-paced catfish action, then look no farther than Stonewall Jackson, Mount Storm or Beech Fork.
By Kevin Yokum
The catfish action had been fantastic for the last three hours. Yes, that's right, I said three hours. When we ran out of bait for the third time after already making two trips to the bait shop, we decided to call it a day. It sure was a lot of fun catching all of those whiskerfish, but now it was time to start cleaning those fish that had been selectively harvested from the day's catch. I commented that the catfish were a bit on the small size. My partner looked up, winked and replied, "They might be a little on the small side, but they'll taste fantastic on the dinner table."
Catfish make excellent table fare and many Mountain State anglers are interested in places where they can catch a stringer full of catfish for their dinner table. Each year, lots of catfish are caught on West Virginia's large rivers such as the Kanawha and Ohio, but consumption advisories prohibit anglers from eating many of the catfish taken from those waters.
The most consistent catfishing takes place on the state's reservoirs, and currently there are no consumption advisories on West Virginia's reservoirs to discourage anglers from eating catfish. In fact, the water quality of many of our state impoundments has improved over the last decade.
If you're looking for some great catfish action this year, look no farther than Stonewall Jackson, Mount Storm or Beech Fork lakes. For anglers looking to catch big numbers of catfish, these Mountain State lakes simply can't be beat.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE
Stonewall Jackson Lake, a 2,650-acre reservoir in Lewis County, may be West Virginia's best all-around reservoir for channel catfish. The current lake population includes a multitude of 12- to 18-inch fish although trophy-sized catfish up to 28 inches long have been caught.
During the summer, anglers typically come to Stonewall to catch large numbers of catfish, but each year anglers catch numerous citation-sized catfish (must weigh at least 6 pounds).
Finding the right spot is important when fishing for catfish and most anglers are very particular about fishing locations. Most anglers look for catfish along mud flats, especially where current has created a depression in the bottom topography. Stonewall Jackson is loaded with this type of catfish habitat. Experienced anglers also have a lot of success by fishing the deeper water in the lake's main channel, where they'll catch catfish even in the middle of the day.
There are so many outstanding catfishing spots on Stonewall Jackson Lake that it's difficult to pinpoint particular areas, although as a general rule, anglers should fish over the deeper channels during the day and move onto the mud flats and coves as evening approaches.
Catfishing is extremely popular for bank-fishermen along bridges and road banks. Stonewall Jackson Lake has 82 miles of shoreline, which provides lots of shoreline access for catfish anglers. Popular areas for shoreline catfish anglers include the areas around the Vandalia Bay launch ramp, plus the Oil Creek road and bridge near the state park. Don't forget the Georgetown launch ramp. These spots provide exceptional shoreline fishing and are outstanding places to catch a stringer of catfish.
Five launching facilities on Stonewall Jackson give tremendous access to anglers fishing from a boat. All launch ramps, with the exception of Glady Fork, have the capacity to launch trailered boats and offer adequate parking. The lake itself is divided into two arms: the West Fork and Skin Creek arms.
The Skin Creek arm includes the Vandalia Bay, Glady Fork and Georgetown access sites. Just take Exit 96 off Interstate 79 to county Route (CR) 30.
The West Fork arm includes the Roanoke and Jacksonville access sites and can be found by taking Exit 91 from Interstate 79. The Roanoke launch is the lake's easiest to find because it's inside Stonewall Jackson State Park; but anglers must pay a $2 entrance fee to enter the park.
To find the Jacksonville site, take U.S. Route 19 south and turn onto CR 44, locally known as Walkersville Road, then follow CR 44 and turn onto Mudlick Road (CR 19/10). Jacksonville is the most remote access on the lake and boating tends to be a bit more difficult in this area due to an abundance of submerged and standing timber. However, if you like fishing areas with minimal fishing pressure, this location has what you're looking for.
Channel catfish are so numerous at Mt. Storm Lake that the DNR has removed any creel limit restrictions. This, hopefully, will encourage anglers to harvest more catfish. Photo by Kevin Yokum
MOUNT STORM LAKE
Mount Storm Lake is a 1,200-acre reservoir located high atop a mountain in Grant County. Doesn't sound like the kind of place to find a lot of channel catfish, does it? Unusual features of the lake include clear water and extremely warm-water temperatures. Developed as a source of water for a Dominion Energy power plant, the lake stays incredibly warm because of the cycling of water through the power plant.
Growth rates for channel catfish on Mount Storm Lake are slow due to the unproductive nature of the lake, but there sure are a lot of them. With all of this lake's oddball characteristics, few anglers could ever predict just how good of a catfish lake that Mount Storm is. In fact, Mount Storm Lake has by far the most catfish per acre of any Mountain State lake, excluding our state fish hatcheries, of course.
If you like to catch fish, then Mount Storm Lake is the place to be in the summer. Channel catfish are so numerous in this impoundment that the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) has passed regulations that allow anglers to keep as many channel cats as they wish. It is not only possible, but also very likely, that an angler might catch over 100 channel catfish at Mount Storm during a full day of fishing.
The virtual guarantee of catching Mount Storm's catfish makes this lake a great place for any angler who likes a lot of action, and it's a particularly good place for a family outing. Mount Storm is an ideal place to take anglers who are just starting to fish because reeling in catfish after catfish is a great way to really get them hooked on fishing.
Location or depth doesn't seem to matter much on Mount Storm, as channel catfish seem to be everywhere on this lake. In all my years as a fisheries biologist, I have never seen a water body with as many catfish as this lake; hence, the catfish are easy to catch. Boat or shoreline anglers alike will fin
d channel catfish willing to bite, but don't expect to catch trophy channel catfish when coming to Mount Storm Lake because the average size of the catfish is around 12 inches. Seldom are larger catfish caught.
Anglers coming to Mount Storm for the first time should boat into any of the lake's small coves for some exciting catfish action. In addition to the multitude of channel catfish that anglers will catch, hybrid striped bass, walleyes and smallmouth bass may also be caught, especially if chicken liver or night crawlers are being used. Chicken liver seems to be particularly effective.
The main access ramp on Mount Storm Lake is located just off SR 93 near the dam. There is another seasonal launch on one arm of the lake, but the main boat ramp near the dam provides the best parking and the most convenient access to Mount Storm Lake.
BEECH FORK LAKE
Located just eight miles from Huntington, you might think that anglers would pound Beech Fork Lake's fish populations, but that's really not the case. The lake does receive a fair amount of fishing pressure, but it sure hasn't hurt the catfishing.
At 720 acres, this lake is one of West Virginia's smallest reservoirs. However, being a small lake does have some advantages. Unlike other state reservoirs where water levels fluctuate frequently, Beech Fork Lake fluctuates very little. So while other lakes are not fishable due to rapidly fluctuating water levels, Beech Fork is fishable most any time of the year. The lake is known to be somewhat murky through the spring and can get muddy after any significant rain, but colored water seems to have very little effect on catfishing in this Cabell County reservoir.
Up until 2001, the DNR had been stocking channel catfish in the lake. Although flatheads are present in Beech Fork, it's the hordes of channel catfish that make this lake a great place to fish. According to Zack Brown, a district fish biologist who manages the lake, Beech Fork has an abundant supply of channel catfish that range from about 12 to 20 inches. Occasionally a trophy-sized channel will be caught, but like the previously mentioned lakes, Beech Fork's real strength lies in the oodles of 12-inch-plus channel catfish that inhabit this Southern state reservoir.
Two species of fish are abundant at Beech Fork: catfish and gizzard shad. Considered to be a problem species by many, gizzard shad do function as a food source for catfish. I am certain that channel catfish chow down on shad when they get the opportunity. This affinity to use shad as a forage source is one of the main reasons that cut bait works so well on Beech Fork's channel catfish. Veteran anglers have noted that Beech Fork catfish like shad. Cutting one in half rather than using a live shad for bait seems to be the most effective way to catch channel catfish on this lake.
Prime locations to encounter channel catfish on Beech Fork include the lake's upper region, where Twelvepole Creek enters the lake. Numerous shallow-water flats cover much of the upper end of the lake, and channels that cut their way through these flats are ideal locations to find catfish. The area around the Bowen Campground and the Bowen day-use recreation area are great places to experience excellent shoreline catfishing opportunities. Anglers using small boats can access the area as well.
One of Beech Fork's most popular catfishing areas is Millers Fork. An excellent location to fish for channel cats, this large tributary carries food and fresh water into the lake making it an ideal place for channel catfish to wait for an easy meal. There is also a good quantity of standing timber in the Miller Fork area, which is known for holding numerous game fish species, including the desirable channel catfish.
Additional hotspots include sections of riprap along certain parts of the lake's shoreline. Catfish, especially channels, seem to hold along the riprap, providing excellent targets for anglers. The cove between the marina and the dam is a perfect example of this habitat. Creating an ideal spot for shoreline catfish anglers, this mowed recreational area allows anglers easy access to the shoreline, which is located right next to the marina where fresh supplies are readily at hand.
Anglers coming to Beech Fork can access the lake by traveling along Interstate 64 and turning onto state Route (SR) 152. Turn off SR 152 near the town of Lavalette onto Beech Fork Road (CR 13) and travel three miles to the lake.
The primary launch ramp and the lake's only marina are located by the dam's recreation area. Anglers are reminded that outboard motors are restricted to 10 horsepower or less on Beech Fork Lake. While this may require some anglers to use smaller than normal boats or to utilize their trolling motors, it also ensures a quality angling experience because boating disturbance will be kept to a minimum.
Catfish are one of the few game fish that are really active during the warm summer months. The tactics used to catch them are relatively simple. Catfish can be caught during the day, but nighttime will definitely be the most productive period to tangle with any kind of catfish because this species is known to be much more active after the sun goes down. As a general rule, anglers should fish for catfish in shallower water at night and deeper water during the day.
Catfish rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate food. A knowledgeable angler knows this and uses some kind of bait that emits odor. Although some anglers feel that more odor is better, "good ol' " chicken liver is the most widely used catfish bait and probably accounts for the majority of West Virginia catfish catches each year. While chicken liver seems to work on all waters, certain reservoirs do have specialty baits.
Hotdogs seem to be particularly effective on Stonewall Jackson, and anglers who use them swear that catfish will hit them when they aren't hitting anything else. The abundant shad population on Beech Fork makes shad a natural choice on Beech Fork Lake, and local anglers claim that by using cut up shad their catch rates increase.
While most anglers fish with rod and reel, one of the most effective ways to catch catfish in some Mountain State lakes is with a trotline. This age-old tradition of baiting numerous hooks, putting them on a long line and launching them into the water along edges of the lake is common practice in some parts of the state. Make sure to follow proper procedures outlined in the fishing regulations when setting trotlines, and always check your trotlines every day.
Anytime you say something is easy, Murphy's Law seems to take effect, but usually locating catfish is not that difficult. Classic locations to find them are mud flats that lay adjacent to deeper water or have a channel running through them. Catfish will usually hold in deeper water during the day and move up on the flats as darkness approaches. Our reservoirs are full of these flat/channel combinations, but don't overlook other hotspots such as bridges and sections of shoreline riprap.
Trophy-sized catfish are getting a lot of press these days, but many anglers look at whiskerfis
h as superb table fare. Mountain State anglers, this author included, are always looking for new places to hook up with a mess of channel catfish. And most anglers will agree that smaller catfish are usually much tastier than the trophy-size ones.
Reservoirs are among the most consistent places in West Virginia to encounter lots of channel catfish, and currently there are no restrictions on our state's reservoirs that discourage anglers from eating these tasty whiskerfish. So if you're among those anglers who are looking to catch a mess of catfish for dinner, then check out these Mountain State lakes today.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to West Virginia Game & Fish