Bluestone and Beech Fork are but two of four hot hybrid waters you should try this season in West Virginia. Read on for the latest on these hard-pulling game fish! (May 2006)
West Virginia features a variety of good quality angling options. One of the more overlooked ones is that provided by hybrid stripers. Hybrid stripers are a cross between a female striped bass and a male white bass. They are aggressive fish, eating machines that grow quickly in lakes that contain a rich forage base, which typically means gizzard shad in West Virginia waters.
Some good hybrid fishing is available in the major rivers of the state, but the same is true on a few impoundments.
Being a hybrid, quality-fishing opportunities rely on the state's stocking program. The supply of hybrid stripers is dependent on the numbers of fish available from out-of-state sources. As with natural fish reproduction, conditions vary from year to year, which equates into a fluctuation in the quantity of available young hybrids. When supplies are low, certain waters are not stocked each year, thus missing year-classes are common. This is not something unique to West Virginia. Many states with hybrid striper programs experience similar holes in the hybrid populations in stocked lakes.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) utilizes the Palestine and Apple Grove hatcheries for the production of warmwater species, such as hybrid striped bass. Fry are obtained from outside sources, and then raised to fingerling stage before being stocked in state waters.
Many of the state's hybrid waters have received stockings the past two springs. Before this there were some lean years production-wise. As a result, many waters received sporadic stockings during that time period. In general, many waters now have populations of large fish, but relatively low numbers of big ones overall. The future is brighter, however, as fish from recent stockings grow and move into the population of adult fish.
Here's a look at the hybrid striper fishing on four of the state's best hybrid striper reservoirs.
(1,040 Acres In Summers County)
"Bluestone is a riverine reservoir," said Mark Scott, a DNR regional fisheries biologist. "What goes in one end goes out the other. Basically, it's just the New River backed up the river channel. It does have one arm, the Bluestone River Arm. It's just a straight shot off the main lake, a flooded river. There's not much in the way of coves or bays."
Unlike many state flood-control reservoirs, which are typically steep- sided and deep, Bluestone features more moderate depths.
"Bluestone is fairly shallow," Scott continued. "The deepest water is about 30-some feet. There are many mud flats in both arms."
Food-wise, hybrid stripers have plenty to fatten up on in Bluestone Lake. Scott reports the lake has both alewives (a member of the herring family) and gizzard shad. Hybrids are eating machines, rarely far from their food sources.
"The hybrid fishery seems to shadow the shad population," Scott said. "When the shad population is good, the fish stay in the lake. When the shad population is down, they leave the lake and move on down. They are sometimes caught in the Kanawha River."
Bluestone contains a decent hybrid striper population, though the fish don't attain the size in this lake as they do in others.
"In Bluestone, they catch a few nice ones," he noted. "It seems like most of the hybrids caught in Bluestone are the good quality ones, from about 18 inches up to 3 or 4 pounds, with an occasional bigger fish thrown in. But I don't hear of the bigger fish, the ones from 12 to 14 pounds, coming from Bluestone."
During the early part of the season Scott recommended folks try some of the upriver areas of the lake.
"Many people do catch them up in the New River during the spring when they make their mock spawning run," Scott reported. "The mouth of Indian Creek, places like that, during the spring can be good."
Tactics-wise, various techniques work at times on this lake. Anglers fishing for other fish make many of the catches.
"Many of the hybrid catches on Bluestone are incidental catches, ones made by anglers targeting other species of fish," Scott said. "You don't see many people fishing specifically for hybrids. Many of the ones who do seem to use jigs, ones in the 1/2-ounce size range. Quite a few people at Bluestone just fish to catch what they can catch. If they see hybrids busting shad on the surface, they will throw a jig or spoon at them.
"If I had to pick one species Bluestone is noted for, it would have to be big channel catfish. It's a great channel catfish lake and it has some big flatheads as well. It has a decent bass population, with largemouths, spots and smallmouths present. This lake has a hodgepodge of species."
In addition to the lake itself, Bluestone offers a good tailrace fishery. Hybrids are one of the species commonly caught there.
"Some fish are caught in the tailwaters," Scott said. "There is a walkway down there. You have to wade out to get on it. It's a pretty shallow river right there. But folks do catch them on twistertail jigs. Late fall and early winter seems to be a good time to catch hybrids in the tailwaters. From there the fish just spread out.
"There's another lake down the river called Hogs Nest; sometimes anglers will get them in there. The fish like to hold in there a bit. Then they will go on down to the Kanawha River. They follow the forage. If they don't have anything to eat, they keep moving."
Scott felt the mouth of Indian Creek and Cedar Branch areas as good spots for the shore-fisherman.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bluestone Lake is easily accessible from interstates 77 and 64. Take exit 14 (Athens Road) off I-77 to state Route (SR) 20. Travel north approximately 25 miles to Bluestone Dam. From I-64, take exit 139 (Sandstone/Hinton) off I-64 to SR 20, and travel south approximately 12 miles to Bluestone Dam. The dam is located at Hinton.
Six boat ramps are available, though not all are suited for larger size boats. For additional information, contact the Bluestone State Park at (304) 466-2805, or call the project manager's office at (304) 466-1234.
There is no horsepower limit on the lake.
R.D. BAILEY LAKE
(600 Acres In Wyoming County)
A federal flood-control impoundment located on the Guyandotte River, R.D. Bailey Lake provides another viable option for southern West Virginia hybrid striper anglers.
"R.D. Bailey is more of a steeper- sided, deeper lake," noted fisheries biologist Mark Scott. "It's more of a rocky lake, smaller than Bluestone. The lake features a couple of different arms that contain some standing timber. There is a bit of standing timber in the main lake itself, little coves and spots along the shoreline. There are long clay flats and points, and many steep, vertical cliff-type areas. That's pretty common on Bailey. It reminds me of a smaller version of Summersville Lake."
Gizzard shad provide the primary source of food for hybrid stripers on R.D. Bailey Lake.
"Anglers sometimes catch the hybrids in the spring when they run up the river," Scott said. "Occasionally they catch them in the tailwaters, but I don't think that fishery is as large as the one at Bluestone. The best way they catch the hybrids at R.D., and I laughed at this but it does work, is fishing at night on those long, clay points using chicken livers. They do catch them. I imagine someone found out about it while fishing for catfish. I tried it one night, and sure enough, it does work. I caught hybrids."
The current situation at R.D. Bailey Lake is one of big fish, but perhaps not many of them.
"R.D. tends to have bigger hybrids," Scott reported. "It has a really big shad base, and they tend to get many more bigger fish. We've had some floods down there that have hurt us, but when we are able to get fish in there several years in a row, we see some pretty nice fish."
Scott feels that R.D. Bailey has the potential to kick out hybrids in the 12- to 14-pound range.
Shore-fishing opportunities are limited on R.D. Bailey Lake, particularly ones near good hybrid striper spots.
In addition to the hybrid striper fishery, R.D. Bailey also boasts a good walleye population. Bass are also on the slate of attractions.
"It has a tremendous spotted bass population," Scott said. "For trophy spots, it's probably one of the best anywhere."
One of the better shore-fishing options on the lake is the tailrace fishery, where a variety of fish can be caught.
"There is a walkway below the dam, and there are some people who fish down there," reported the biologist. "It's a fairly small outflow. I wouldn't consider it a hotspot, but at certain times of year or under certain conditions, I guess it might be. It's a trout fishery in the spring and fall, and a variety of species are caught there from time to time."
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, to reach R.D. Bailey Lake from Justice, take U.S. Route 52 east. Turn left off U.S. Route 52 at the R.D. Bailey sign.
Additional information on R.D. Bailey Lake can be obtained by phoning the project manager's office at (304) 664-3220.
(720 Acres In Wayne County)
Two other good hybrid lakes are located to the west of R.D. Bailey and Bluestone. Beech Fork is one of them.
"Beech Fork is one of our more shallow lakes," said Zack Brown, the regional fisheries biologist responsible for the management of Beech Fork Lake. "It doesn't have a really deep channel in it. The maximum depth is about 35 feet. It covers about 720 acres. As far as shoreline features, there are two main arms that come together near the dam. There's the Beech Fork Arm, which is longer and more winding, and there is the Millers Fork Arm, which is pretty straight forward, pretty much a straight shot. It still has some decent standing timber in it."
Brown noted that last season Beech Fork had some significant levels of submergent vegetation present. Weed growth will vary from year to year, dependent on the amount of rainfall and type of weather. Dry, warm weather that equates to clear and stable water conditions benefits weed growth.
"Currently Beech Fork is going through an interesting time," Brown said. "Someone has introduced white bass into Beech Fork. They were not there before. They have taken off and are reproducing like gangbusters. We are evaluating things. We are going to have to change our regulations. Basically, our regulations prohibit the harvest of white bass. We feel that they (white bass) probably compete with hybrid stripers in their early life stage. I am concerned about that. It can also be difficult to identify between the two."
Perhaps not the best place to go to target numbers of hybrid stripers, but for someone willing to work to catch a large fish or two, it may be worth the effort.
"I wouldn't say Beech Fork is a particularly strong hybrid striper fishery right now, but it certainly does have some large individual fish," Brown said. "Several fish in the 5- to 8-pound range showed up in our netting surveys done last fall. They seem to be in excellent condition, but I am not sure how numerous they are. We have had several past years where we didn't do very well with hatchery production. There are some trophy hybrids out there, it's just going to take a little longer to find them."
Brown noted that stocking was good on Beech Fork the past two years, so a couple of good year-classes should make their way into the fishery in a year or two.
Again, the primary food source in Beech Fork is gizzard shad. Shad numbers have been up of late, which should bode well for the hybrid striper fishery.
"Gizzard shad have been very abundant the past three years," Brown noted. "We have seen very good shad production. I'm hopeful that this means the hybrids will have plenty to feed on."
During the daylight hours, many of the hybrid stripers from Beech Fork are taken by trolling. Brown recommended some of the open-water zones, places the fish use to feed on shad, which are a pelagic (open-water) baitfish.
"The more open areas down near the dam seem to hold the most hybrids," Brown said. "In the Millers Fork Arm before you get to the no-wake zone, that would be a decent place. There are some steeper points, definitely some open-water areas that you can troll."
Another place worth targeting is the tailwaters of the dam. Fish congregate in the tailwaters from sources both above and below the lake.
"Some fish pass through the dam, but you can also have movement up from the Ohio River," Brown explained. "Folks do report a decent spring fishery below the dam as fish move up in a mock spawning run."
To reach Beech Fork Lake from Interstate 64 near Huntington, take Exit 8, which puts you on state Route 152. Go south toward Wayne. After approximately seven miles, turn left on Beech Fork Road (near Lavalette) and go approximately three miles to the dam site.
Motors on Beech Fork Lake are limited to 10 horsepower. Motors larger than 10 horsepower must have the propellers removed.
Additional information on Beech Fork Lake can be obtained by calling the project office at (304) 525-4831.
EAST LYNN LAKE
(1,000 Acres In Wayne County)
"East Lynn is a much steeper lake," Brown said. "It has a larger deep area near the dam. There are a lot of rocky points. Some shoreline areas have laydowns where trees have fallen into the water. The water is a little less productive than on R.D. Bailey, and it has fewer nutrients, so typically the water is clearer. But during the springtime, that is dependent on the amount of precipitation."
Brown noted that like Beech Fork, some quality-sized hybrids are found in East Lynn. He pointed to this lake, however, in terms of better numbers of fish.
"We have done some recent gill- netting on East Lynn, as well as fall electrofishing," he noted. "As I recall, we did see some very nice fish during the fall electrofishing. Hybrids are probably a little more abundant in East Lynn than in Beech Fork. Since it does not have the white bass component, it is a little higher on my priority list as far as getting stockings."
Though the tailrace fishery is not noted in particular for hybrid stripers, it is worth the attention of anglers, particularly those limited to fishing from shore.
"People do fish the outflow," Brown said. "It is stocked with trout during the spring. I haven't heard too much about hybrids in the tailrace, but a small fishery there wouldn't surprise me. There may be a couple of significant migration barriers between the outflow and the Ohio River, low-head dams and such, that limit fish from coming upstream."
Three boat ramps are located on East Lynn Lake. There is no horsepower restriction.
Additional information on the lake can be obtained by calling the resource manager's office at (304) 849-2355. To reach the lake, from Huntington take SR 152 south to Wayne.