September 29, 2010
The Ohio and Kanawha rivers, plus several reservoirs, continue to produce fast-action hybrid striper (and striper) angling each spring. Here's where you should go right now!
Photo by Milt Rosko
Hybrid stripers are great game fish. They're strong, hardy, live in schools and bite voraciously. As a laboratory created fish they aren't native anywhere. Yet, they live -- indeed thrive -- in both rivers and lakes. What more could an angler want?
West Virginia anglers have it good when it comes to hybrid striper fishing. There's darn near 300 miles of the Ohio River, quite a few miles of the Kanawha River and at least three good lakes in the state: R.D. Bailey, Bluestone and East Lynn.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks each of these waters heavily. As a consequence, they support both good numbers of fish and good-sized ones as well. The Ohio River receives the additional benefit of stockings from Ohio and Kentucky.
Before you set out to catch hybrid stripers, however, you need to understand a little something about them.
Hybrid striped bass are half striper and half white bass. These fish do not crossbreed naturally; they're produced in hatcheries by biologists. In most cases, fertilizing an egg from a female striped bass with sperm from a male white bass creates the hybridization. This is known as the original cross. It's used primarily in sport-fish stocking programs.
It's possible to crossbreed them the other way. Just reverse the process; fertilize an egg from a female white bass with the sperm from a male striped bass. This is known as a reciprocal cross. It's used mostly for domestic food production.
Either cross will tolerate wide ranges in water temperatures. Hybrid striped bass are sterile and have a typical life span of seven to eight years. They grow rapidly. In some waters, they'll measure 14 inches in two years and 18 to 20 in three years. West Virginia hybrids grow a little slower than that, but not much slower.
Distinguishing hybrids from either stripers or white bass can be difficult. Hybrids generally have the body shape of a white bass. They'll nearly always have broken lines consisting of black markings running the length of their bodies. Stripers and white bass tend to show straight, continuous lines.
White bass have a heart-shaped patch of teeth on their tongues, while striped bass have two distinct parallel lines. A hybrid bass, on the other hand, has either the teeth lines growing together or they're so close they look to be one.
There's a little science and a lot of art in distinguishing these fish from their parents. The best way to learn is to catch a bunch of them. After a while, you'll get good at it.
The place to catch a lot of hybrids is the Ohio River. All three major states along the river -- Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia -- stock hybrids. Kentucky has the heaviest stocking program and stocks stripers as well as hybrids.
Ohio and West Virginia have a working agreement with their stocking programs. West Virginia stocks the Willow Island Pool upstream and Ohio stocks the Belleville Pool downstream. Both states stock at a moderate rate, about five hybrids per river acre, per year. Given their excellent survival rate, the fishable population of hybrids stays high and constant all along the river.
These fish are roamers. As such, it's not uncommon to catch a striper in West Virginia waters. These fish have worked their way upstream from the Kentucky release points. And, of course, the hybrid fingerlings from all three states end up in a lot of the same places.
By May, the water in the Ohio River should be reasonably stable and about as clear as it's going to get. The hybrids will be schooled up near almost any creek mouth or sizeable inflow into the river. The occasional striper will almost always be caught in the tailrace waters below the dams.
There are so many good inflows it's hard to highlight just a few, but we'll give it a try anyway. No matter these picks, however, don't pass over any that you might know about. They'll all produce from time to time and sometimes the lesser-known spots produce the best fishing.
At the lower downstream end of the state, anglers should consider fishing the mouth of the Big Sandy River. It's at mile 317 on the Ohio. This is near the Ohio state line, so be careful and make sure you're in West Virginia waters or that you're in compliance with the licensing agreement between the states. (You can get the details of that agreement from the DNR Web site at
Commercial traffic is heavy in this area. That said, don't let barge traffic discourage you from fishing. The fish quickly become conditioned to it and in most cases pay little attention to the passing barges, especially if they are on the feed.
While you're in the area, work up the Big Sandy about a quarter mile, maybe a little more, and give the old lock and dam No. 1 a cast or two. The structure was removed as part of a renovation project and is now a mass of rubble below the water. It will attract hybrids from time to time and is worth some effort.
On upstream at mile marker 287.5 on the Ohio is the Little Guyandot River (also known as Guyan Creek). It's right on the Mason-Cabell county line. The main river navigation channel swings in near the mouth and is a super spot for big schools of hybrids in the spring. The bigger fish seem to follow the navigation channel in from the main river and stage at the steep drop in front of the smaller river mouth.
If the water is up a bit, you can try fishing into the Little Guyandot River's channel. Sometimes the fish will chase shad up into the shallow water for a feeding binge. Be careful if you do this, however. It's full of rock and debris and can be treacherous at times.
At mile marker 265.6, you'll find the mouth of the Kanawha River. When the fish are there, it's probably the best spot along the Ohio. The mouth of the Kanawha is big, wide and affords hybrids superb feeding opportunities. At times, they'll school in the area by the thousands. You can literally wear the paint off your lures under those conditions.
This is a very congested area with lots of moored barges. If you can do so safely, fish under these vessels. Throw your lure into the deep shade beneath them. After that, work it out into the sunlight. If there are a few hybrids around, they'll usually strike at the point where the sunlight meets the shade.
At times, hybrids will hold in the slack water behind the moored coal barges. This water is shallow, sometimes no more than a foot deep. Don't let that deter you, however. These are river fish. They know all about shallow-water structure and cover.
Exercise caution in this area. The current can be wicked and the barges can move unexpectedly. If you don't have experience with this type of boat fishing, go a few times with someone who does. It's a great opportunity to catch a lot of fish. It's also a great opportunity for a tragedy to occur for the inexperienced or careless.
The first few miles of the Kanawha can be great, at times, at least up to the first dam. Your first stop should be the old lock and dam No. 11, about 1.8 miles upstream from the Ohio. Like all the old locks and dams, it was destroyed as part of a major renovation project. The rubble and debris are now below the water level and will almost always hold fish, including hybrids.
On upstream in the Kanawha, at mile marker 19.2, anglers will find another old lock and dam -- No. 10. It's located just upstream from the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek. This whole area is a magnet for hybrids in the spring.
Fish around the old lock, but keep a watchful eye on the creek mouth. If the water looks like it's starting to boil, head over that way immediately. Hybrids, along with the occasional striper, frequently corral shad and go on a feeding binge.
You'll find the Winfield Dam at mile marker 31.1. The tailrace waters below the dam will occasionally produce big hybrids, sometimes up to 10 pounds. It's not a numbers location, however. If you fish here, you'll need to be satisfied with just a couple of fish a day.
Although there's a lock in the Winfield Dam that'll let you continue upstream, it's not recommended. Hybrid fishing can be tough above Winfield.
Back down along the Ohio there's another good spot upstream from the mouth of the Kanawha: Eight Mile Island. It's located at mile 258. The shallow waters and current at both the head and tail of this island attract early-season hybrids. At times, the slack-water areas behind the island will hold fish, especially on cool, sunny days.
Letart Island, at mile marker No. 235, is another productive spot. Fish the head of this island in and around the heavy rock and riprap.
The dike and slack-water areas around Blennerhassett Island, just below Parkersburg, will also hold fish when conditions are right. Fish here during periods of stable water elevations and when the water is reasonably clear.
From Blennerhassett on up, finding a spot to fish can be difficult. That's not because the fish aren't there. It's because there are so many of them. Concentrate your efforts around the numerous islands that populate the upper pools of the river. There are a ton of them and most hold fish.
The better ones will have a fair amount of rock at their head and tail areas, and will generate a swift current. If there's slack water on the back side, so much the better. Fish the current first. If that doesn't produce, move to the slack-water area and give it a try.
Next to the islands, some of the more reliable spots on the river are the tailraces below the dams. There are several of them and they all produce, so it's best to simply pick the one nearest you and fish it. This is your best opportunity for a striper.
The major drawback to fishing most of the tailrace waters is fishing pressure. It's not unusual to see several dozen anglers casting from shore and another dozen boats fishing the area. Nevertheless, when the fish are schooled up in such a small area, the action can be fantastic.
As spring turns toward summer, the hybrids tend to roam in larger schools. Look for birds feeding above them or for other surface activity. During hot weather, the tailrace waters below the dams are the most reliable fishing spots.
Fall patterns are just like spring. Fish the same spots.
No matter where you fish along the Ohio or the Kanawha, keep it simple when it comes to selecting baits and lures. One of the all-time favorites for catching hybrids is a simple in-line spinner, like a Mepps in almost any bright color. Select a size lure that's close to the shad in the area. After that, vary your depth and speed until you find what turns the fish on.
For you topwater fans, an old-fashioned Zara Spook should be your lure of choice. Color is of no consequence so long as the belly's white. Bring it back in a fast, hard walk-the-dog retrieve. Do not stop the lure. Hybrids aren't black bass. They aren't impressed with finesse and they don't hit on the fall.
If live bait is your thing, try locally caught shad under bobbers. For cut bait, give either shad or skipjacks a try. Cut the bait into long strips and fish it near the bottom on a Carolina rig or a three-way catfish rig. Remember, there's a lot of current down there, so use plenty of weight.
According to Chris O'Bara, Ohio River fisheries biologist for the West Virginia DNR, anglers can expect an average size river hybrid to measure around 20 to 25 inches with an occasional fish over 30 inches. He reports that tagging and shocking studies have turned up several new state-record size hybrid bass. They were returned to the river unharmed. (No, he didn't tell me where.)
R.D. Bailey Lake
If you prefer fishing reservoirs, give Bluestone, R.D. Bailey or East Lynn a try this spring.
The best of the lot is probably R.D. Bailey. At just over 600 acres, it's big enough to grow trophies, but small enough to be fished efficiently. And, according to District IV fisheries biologist Jim Reed, it's a good bet for catching a big hybrid or two as well.
R.D. Bailey Reservoir is stocked regularly and, owing to suitable habitat and an excellent forage base, the fish are doing well. DNR studies show good numbers of fish over 28 inches with an occasional trophy-size hybrid in the mix.
Fish in-line spinners, topwater walking sticks and cut shad off points and well-defined underwater structure. Watch for baitfish. Once you find them, the hybrids won't be far away.
R.D. Bailey is on the Guyandotte River, near the southern town of Justice in Wyoming County. There's a map of the lake available from the DNR's Web site
Also located in District IV is Bluestone. It's a much bigger water than Bailey at over 2,040 acres, and so offers more fishing opportunities as well as more difficulties. Like Bailey, it's stocked on a regular basis and supports a fine hybrid population.
DNR studies reveal a fair populati
on of hybrids up to 30 inches with a good population of smaller fish. Local anglers report success with chicken livers on Carolina rigs near the deeper water areas of this reservoir.
If there's a problem at Bluestone, it's the "flow-through." That's the high volume of water that sometimes flows through the reservoir and into the New River. There is a silver lining, however. The high flow sweeps lots of hybrids to the tailrace below the dam.
Bluestone is located in Summers County near Hinton. Both I-77 and I-64 will get you near this lake. The facilities are handicapped accessible.
East Lynn Lake
East Lynn is located in Wayne County about 27 miles south of Huntington. It covers a little over 1,000 acres and is rated good by Zack Brown, a District V fisheries biologist.
Brown indicates there's a good population of hybrids over 20 inches and a few that qualify for trophy status. He suggests fishing the upper arms of the reservoir in the spring and fall. During the summer, the fish tend to scatter.
No matter what your preference, rivers or lakes, there's something for you when it comes to hybrid striper fishing in the Mountain State. Take advantage of it. You'll be glad you did!