West Virginia Hybrid Striper Bonanza

These hard-fighting game fish are doing well in select waters throughout our state. Read on for a top hybrid destination in your area.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Jeff Knapp

Though Mountain State anglers have a wide variety of species to pursue at this time of year, don't overlook the hybrid striper fishing for exciting, rod-bending action. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains an aggressive hybrid striper program. Savvy anglers looking for a strong fighting fish are making the most of the situation. Read on and learn how you can, too.

The DNR has for many years administered a hybrid striper program, stocking these fish in appropriate reservoirs and rivers. Hybrid stripers are fish that have been given many handles, including wiper and sunshine bass. Hybrid stripers are a cross between a male white bass and a female striped bass.

Since hybrid fish cannot reproduce, hybrids must be stocked to maintain fishable populations. So our DNR acquires fry from other states, namely North Carolina, and raises the fish to fingerling stage. The resultant fingerlings are stocked in a number of state rivers and reservoirs.

Production varies from year to year, based on the environmental conditions present. Circumstances have not favored hybrid striper production over the past two years, so stocking numbers have been down on some waters, reservoirs in particular. This should not affect the fishing this spring; however, the adult fish now available are from stockings from previous years.

Hybrid stripers are ravenous feeders, and as such are generally introduced to waters with a strong food base, typically gizzard shad in West Virginia. The shad connection is an important one, as it can lead anglers to successful fishing throughout much of the year. Other than in the spring, when the fish are on a false spawning run, hybrids are rarely found far from their favorite food.

Though they don't attain the size of their purebred relatives, hybrids grow to impressive sizes, and are considered by many anglers to be the stronger fighter of the two. The current state-record hybrid by weight stands at 16.75 pounds, a fish taken from the Kanawha River in 1985 by Robert Honaker. The Kanawha also produced the length record fish, a 32.1-inch specimen creeled by Frankie Harris in 2000.

Taking into account the requirements needed for these fish, hybrid stripers are fairly well distributed across the state. Only eastern West Virginia anglers need to journey far to try their luck at boating a hybrid. Here's an up-close look at several of the better striper waters in the state.

The Ohio River provides a solid hybrid striper fishery, one that is accessible for much of the state's population. It receives consistent stockings from not only the DNR, but the Ohio Division of Wildlife as well. As such, the hybrid is a frequently targeted species on the Ohio.

Because of a system of locks and navigational dams, the Ohio River is very navigable. Gated dams on the Ohio and the lower portion of the Kanawha elevate river pools to levels where commercial barge traffic is possible. The presence of these dams has changed what were once free-flowing rivers into more of a lake-like environment.

For the angler, this is important because the tailrace areas of the dams concentrate all species of fish, hybrids included. Surveys done by resource agencies located along the Ohio River estimate well over 90 percent of the fishing takes place in these areas. This isn't to say you can't catch hybrids from other areas of the river, just that understanding tailrace areas and how fish use them is fundamental information for the successful river hybrid angler.

The dams on West Virginia's portion of the Ohio River, as well as the three dams on the Kanawha, are gated dams. A series of gates, which move vertically to control river flow, form the dam. The lock chamber(s) will be located on one side of the dam. In some instances, a hydroelectric power facility has been constructed on the opposite end of the dam.

Fishing for hybrids tends to be better where there is some current. Hence, the fishing can be outstanding below the hydro side of the dam, as long as water is flowing through the turbines. One fisheries biologist I spoke with said that on dams that don't have hydroelectric facilities, the Corps of Engineers (who operate these dams) will try to keep the gate closest to shore open to improve fishing for shore-anglers. Understand that spring is usually a wet season, so flows are not usually a problem at this time. But as river levels lower, it may be wise to follow the current to stay on hybrids.

Boat anglers are left out of the tailrace picture, as a restricted area exists from the downriver end of the lockage approach wall to the dam. Hybrids also tend to concentrate around the mouths of feeder streams, however, providing a potential bonanza for not only boat anglers, but sometimes shore-anglers as well.

Portions of the Ohio flow through districts 1, 5 and 6. I spoke with fisheries biologists from each of these districts to garner their thoughts on hybrid striper fishing in the Ohio this spring.

According to District 1 fisheries biologist Frank Jernejcic, the outlook for this coming year is excellent within his district's portion of the river. District 1 contains the stretch of the Ohio flowing along the Northern Panhandle to the Tyler County line. This stretch includes the following three lock and dam systems: New Cumberland, Pike Island and Hannibal.

"We've had consistent stockings for many years," Jernejcic reported, when queried on the status of hybrid stockings in the Ohio River. "When combined with what is stocked from the Ohio side, it comes out to 10 fish per acre."

During surveys conducted recently, Jernejcic handled hybrids as big as 13 pounds. That one big fish came from the mouth of Fish Creek, a tributary that enters the Ohio at New Martinsville, not far downriver of the Hannibal Dam.

Besides tributary mouths and tailrace areas, Jernejcic suggests that anglers key in on industrial discharge areas. While some of these discharges provide warm water, making them outstanding wintertime spots, the currents that are also present at non-thermal discharges can attract baitfish (gizzard shad) during the spring and summer for hot fishing at this time of the year.

It's likely the Hannibal Dam provides the best tailrace fishing within this district. Excellent access is available below the dam, and the hydroelectric facility is located on the West Virginia side. Keep in mind West Virginia residents may fish the Ohio side of the river with their c

urrent resident fishing licenses.

At Pike Island Dam, the lock chambers are located on the West Virginia side of the river. Pike Island is found just upriver of Wheeling. The New Cumberland Dam is found near New Cumberland, and is the last dam before entering the Pennsylvania portion of the river. The lock chambers are found on the Ohio side of the New Cumberland Dam, but there is no hydroelectric facility on the dam.

In terms of tactics, Jernejcic said anglers use standard striper fare, such as white bucktail jigs, as well as some offbeat ones. The biologist noted local anglers fashion plugs out of broomsticks, creating lures that run on the surface as well as models that go subsurface. The broomstick concoctions allow for long casts, something often necessary to reach foraging hybrids.

District 6 fisheries biologist Scott Morrison notes there are two navigational dams found within his district. According to Morrison, both the Belleville and Willow Island facilities offer good hybrid striper fishing.

"We have had a couple of tough years in terms of hybrid production," Morrison notes. "We have not met our quota. It's a lot like farming. Sometimes conditions are right for growing things, sometimes they are not." The wet weather experienced the past two springs has not provided the proper hatchery conditions for rearing hybrids.

Biologist Morrison said anglers could expect the average hybrid to run about 3 pounds in his portion of the river. He said 7-pounders show up "pretty regularly," and some hybrids will top off at about 12 pounds.

The Belleville Dam does have a power station, one that is located on the West Virginia side of the river.

"Because of the power station, there is a lot of flow along the West Virginia shoreline," Morrison explains.

The District 6 fisheries manager also stated the hybrid fishing can be good below the Willow Island Dam.

"There is a tributary mouth located about 75 yards below the dam," Morrison reports. "This creates some unique currents that can really attract the hybrids. The fishing can be good either upriver or downriver of this spot."

Boat anglers would be wise to try the mouths of other tributaries, as well as the heads and tails of islands. Though hybrids are sterile, they still make a false spawning run in the spring, so it can be worth checking things a distance back in larger tributaries. Many creeks are navigable for a good ways back from the mouth.

Like Jernejcic, Morrison suggests anglers start off with a white bucktail jig. He added it might not hurt to tip the jig with a minnow.

Fisheries biologist Zack Brown of District 5 concurred with his upriver counterparts that hybrid striper fishing should be good this spring. Two dam systems are located within his district - Racine and Robert Byrd - as well as the mouth of the Kanawha River.

The power plant on Racine may make it a bit more attractive to hybrid striper anglers. The facility is located on the Ohio side of the river, and good fishing access is available. The Robert Byrd Locks and Dam, found near Gallipolis Ferry, is the last dam on the river before it flows into Kentucky. There is no power plant on this dam, and the lock chambers are found on the West Virginia side.

Excellent river fishing is not limited to the Ohio River. The Kanawha River provides good hybrid striper sport, and as previously noted, produced the current state-record hybrids for length and weight.

The lower portion of the Kanawha flows through District 5, and includes three lock and dam systems - the Winfield, Marmet and London facilities.

According to fisheries biologist Zack Brown, the pool between the Winfield Dam and the mouth of the Kanawha River was one of the most productive areas last season. The Winfield Lock and Dam includes a hydroelectric power plant, as well as good access. Access is quite limited at the London Dam. Though some public access is available at the Marmet Dam, the lockage area is being retrofitted, limiting fishing opportunities somewhat.

Navigation charts for the Ohio River are available from the Corps of Engineers, and are an excellent resource for both the boat and shore-angler. The charts make finding boat launches, tributary mouths, industrial discharges and such a breeze. The charts are bound in book form.

The book containing charts 109-186 covers the river from Foster, Kentucky to New Martinsville, West Virginia. The book containing charts 187-224 contains the New Martinsville, West Virginia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania section. Be sure to order the appropriate book for the portion of the river you wish to fish.

At the time of this writing, charts for the Kanawha River were being printed, but not yet available. They may be by the time you read this.

River charts are available from the U.S. Government Bookstore. To order by phone, call (866) 512-1800. Charts may also be ordered on-line from this source at www.lrd.usace. army.mil/op/navpurch.asp.

The Ohio and Kanawha rivers offer excellent fishing for both shore and boat anglers, but they are not the only spots worthy of a hybrid foray this spring. The following lakes also feature good hybrid striper fishing.

Wyoming County's R.D. Bailey Reservoir may be the top hybrid lake in the state. According to fisheries biologist Mark Scott, Bailey's hybrids run to trophy size. Survey gill nets produce fish in the 10-pound range.

R.D. Bailey is a rather deep lake, with steep, rocky banks and shoreline cliffs. Depths of over 70 feet are present.

According to biologist Scott, it's possible to connect with hybrids throughout the lake, but some areas are better than others. He said the fish seem to be attracted to areas with clay banks, as well as shoreline points that extend into the lake.

Though traditional hybrid lures like bucktail jigs and spoons produce fish, Scott notes that still-fishing with chicken liver and soft-shelled crayfish is perhaps the most effective tactic on the lake.

Boat access is available at the Guyandotte Point Marina. For more information, call the resource manager's office at (304) 664-3229.

An impoundment of the New River, Bluestone Reservoir is one of the state's largest lakes, stretching over 10 miles and covering over 2,000 acres. It also harbors a good population of hybrid stripers.

Biologist Mark Scott said the hybrids in Bluestone don't average quite the size as those in R.D. Bailey, but that decent numbers of fish are

available. While many anglers target stripers in Bailey, they'll still chase hybrids when the opportunity presents itself.

"Some catches are incidental, others are (made) by folks who see the fish busting shad and go after them," he said.

Bluestone doesn't feature much in the way of coves or points, and Scott said anglers catch stripers throughout the lake, in both the New River and the Bluestone River arms.

"Most of the fish that show up in our gill nets run about 15 to 18 inches," Scott notes. "We do get hybrids in the 6- to 7-pound range, though."

Bluestone Lake is near Hinton. Launch ramps are found at Bluestone Bridge, Bluestone State Park, Bluestone Marina, Leatherwood Landing, Bull Falls and Bertha.

Fisheries biologist Zack Brown lists East Lynn Lake as perhaps the best lake in his district for hybrids. Beech Fork Lake has also been managed for hybrid stripers, but Brown said the introduction of white bass into that lake may threaten the future of the Beech Fork hybrid fishery. He said competition from the white bass as well as a problem with anglers having to properly identify the difference between white bass and juvenile hybrids are the two main threats.

Brown said surveys conducted last year revealed good numbers of hybrids in East Lynn Lake.

"We saw several nice hybrids during our sampling," he notes.

Boats can be launched in East Lynn Lake at the Lakeside Recreation, Lick Creek Launch and the East Fork Camping areas.

There is no closed season on hybrid stripers. Four fish at a minimum of 15 inches may be creeled.

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