From Spruce Knob to James P. Bailey lakes, plus three other choices, here's where you'll find great action on small waters for big trout! Are any of these lakes near you? (February 2010)
Nothing seems to fire up anglers like big fish taken from small waters. Along with many other fishermen, I share a passion for catching trophy fish from small rivers and lakes. So, when the 9-pound rainbow on the end of my line shattered the slick surface of the calm mountain lake I happened to be fishing, everyone on the shoreline gasped, including me.
The state's premier small impoundments are capable of holding fish year 'round, but fresh stockings bring opportunities for additional trophy trout. Growing trout to trophy size is no small feat. Lakes must offer productive conditions with lots of forage. These waters must also harbor deep, cool water. Since few of our trout lakes offer these conditions, the main source of trophy trout is channeled through the DNR's trout-stocking program.
In spite of the initial screaming drag and forceful tugs against the rod, I still wasn't prepared for the sight of that monster trout exploding out of the water like an enormous whale on a Discovery Channel feature. Neither were my fellow shoreline anglers who quickly congregated by my side during my battle with the giant fish.
Unfortunately, the unwelcome audience served as more of a hindrance than a help, as folks tend to get excited when they see really big trout. And more than a few vivid exclamations could be heard in the background once the trout was landed safely in my net.
However, this big fish encounter is not an isolated incident, and the real story lies in the fact that West Virginia offers terrific trophy trout potential among its fantastic small impoundments. Many of our state's small lakes offer great opportunities to catch trout, some of which will reach huge proportions. Every year, the Mountain State's small lakes are guaranteed to hold a number of big trout, which eventually will tangle with some lucky angler.
So, as cold winter weather continues to plague us, be of good cheer, for the ice blankets that cover many of our small trout lakes will soon melt away, and the unofficial beginning of trout season will arrive. With each passing winter day, anglers anxiously await the start of another trout season, so they can once again do battle with impoundments full of hearty trout. And West Virginia's small impoundments make great avenues for such ventures.
Make no mistake, the battle is sure to renew each year. Annually, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks Mountain State waters with more than 700,000 pounds of trout. In bumper years, that number grows to 800,000 pounds, and in the future there's a push to extend the current number to a million pounds of trout. Either figure will ensure that anglers continue to experience many opportunities to enjoy our state's splendid trout fishing activities.
Of the 700,000 or more pounds of trout stocked each year, a considerable portion of the DNR's trout stocking program targets small impoundments across our state. Small impoundments are defined as lakes less than 50 acres in size that support trout for at least a portion of the year. Typically, these lakes provide great access for shore-anglers, and some even allow small, non-motorized boats.
Water temperatures and seasonal fishing opportunities confine stockings on most small impoundments from initial deliveries in January and February to scheduled stockings from March through early June. Summer water temperatures prohibit stocking beyond June, although fishing opportunities continue to be vibrant throughout the year, particularly in certain small impoundments.
Trophy trout lakes are classified as small bodies of water that consistently generate trophy trout (generally larger than 21 inches or exceeding 4 pounds). West Virginia has many small impoundments that occasionally churn up trophy trout. It's the ones that do so on a regular basis that will be covered here.
The DNR targets freshwater lakes that possess cool and often deep water. Such water conditions allow these lakes to hold trout year 'round. Small impoundments with coveted cool water typically receive the best allotments of trophy trout, although the DNR's stocking strategies also consider fishing pressure as well as geographic location.
SPRUCE KNOB LAKE
Perhaps the most revered producer of trophy trout in the Mountain State is Spruce Knob Lake. This 23-acre impoundment is located deep in the midst of the Monongahela National Forest; it remains an excellent impoundment for producing awesome trout fishing throughout the year.
From its high elevation location on the Pendleton and Randolph county lines, Spruce Knob Lake continually maintains cool water temperatures. Since the lake lies just under West Virginia's highest peak, Spruce Knob, the lake is able to sustain cool water all year long, and it is this condition that enables trophy trout to survive from year to year.
The lake itself is surrounded by spectacular scenery, which paints a landscape resembling a high alpine lake in the Canadian wilderness. Such visual charm adds to the trout fishing experience on Spruce Knob Lake, although it doesn't overshadow the fact that the lake is an awesome trout fishery.
Spruce Knob Lake annually ranks near the top when it comes to trophy trout waters in West Virginia. Spruce Knob is also one of the best mid to late summer fisheries in the Mountain State, thanks to the lake's ability to maintain cold-water temperatures.
The DNR stocks rainbows, golden rainbows and brown trout in the lake once in January, twice in February, weekly from March through May, and then again in October.
Spruce Knob Lake is famous for producing big trout, and each year plenty of trophy trout get restocked in the lake, in addition to the remnants of previous year stockings. Dusty, washboard Forest Service and county roads over which anglers must travel to reach the lake can certainly serve as a detriment to anglers.
Anglers should be aware that during some years, ice could still be encountered on the lake in early spring. Usually sections around the lake's edge will be ice-free by April, allowing for limited fishing opportunities. Anglers who are willing to fish during the early-season chill have a fantastic chance at lunker trout, as these dedicated anglers will get the first shot at early-season giants.
BUFFALO FORK LAKE
When anglers bypass Spruce Knob, it's often to fish another high mountain lake, Buffalo Fork Lake. Sitting just down the road from Spruce Knob in Pocahontas County, Lake Buffalo, as it is also called, features many of the same high-elevation and cool
water attributes, as does Spruce Knob.
Running just over 22 acres, Buffalo Fork is surrounded by splendid scenery that adds an enhancing element to any trip. Buffalo Fork maintains a distinct advantage over Spruce in that it is fairly accessible from state Route 28, with only a short stretch of graveled Forest Service Road 54 separating the lake from the state highway.
Buffalo Fork maintains a distinctive ability to sustain cool water temperatures all through the summer, and cool water is the key for year-round trophy trout survival.
In addition to resident holdover trout, Buffalo Fork also receives fresh infusions of trout many times during the year. The DNR stocks trout in Buffalo Fork once in February, biweekly from March through May, and again in October.
Buffalo Fork Lake continues to be known for the numbers of trophy-sized trout it produces each year. According to the DNR's trophy fish program, Buffalo Fork ranks among the state's best for trophy trout citations year after year.
During 2009, lunker trout such as Michael Smith Jr.'s 26-inch, 9- pound rainbow were being caught in the spring. Also in early 2009, Miranda Vandevander took advantage of Buffalo Fork's fine spring fishing with a 28-inch, 10-pound robust rainbow.
Early spring anglers get first crack at trophy trout stocked during the winter, but keep in mind that ice may still cover the lake in February and March.
Anglers are allowed to fish Buffalo Fork Lake from boats or along the shore. Anglers fishing from boats powered by electric trolling motors or from canoes are sometimes present, but shoreline anglers generate most angling pressure. Within the expansive shoreline fishing area, shoreline anglers have plenty of room to move around, and they catch many trophy trout from Buffalo Fork Lake.
However, boat-anglers maintain a primary advantage in that they have control over the middle of the lake, which shoreline anglers can't access. Since shore-fishing is popular at this lake, fishing the uncrowded lake center without the hassles of crowds can be an ideal proposition for anglers who feel comfortable fishing from a boat.
A new water continues to elevate in stature among West Virginia's trophy trout impoundments, and its name is Ridenour Lake. Surprisingly, Ridenour Lake sits near major urban environments and looks nothing like the two previous national forest impoundments.
This 27-acre lake in Kanawha County is part of the city of Nitro's Ridenour Park. Anglers will use county Route 25/1 as the primary access to the area. Since the lake is in a city park, anglers will find lots of people in and around the lake on any given day, some fishing and some conducting non-fishing related activities.
Ridenour Lake continues to attract anglers from a variety of locations, who come to cash in on the trout-fishing opportunities, in particular, trophy trout. And catch them they do. During 2008, Ridenour Lake was the second-highest trophy trout citation producer among West Virginia's small impoundments.
In 2009, Ridenour produced extraordinary fishing with nine trophy trout citations being submitted to the trophy citation program by March, including six trout that exceeded 7 pounds. The largest was a 26.75-inch, 8.4-pound rainbow caught by R.D. McCormick of Cross Lanes.
Shore-fishing remains the only route for anglers fishing this impoundment, but the lake is designed to handle significant numbers of shoreline anglers. A fishing access trail surrounds the entire lake, so anglers can probe nearly every inch of this small impoundment.
While Ridenour Lake doesn't offer a quiet, pristine environment like Spruce Knob or Buffalo Lake, the impoundment provides a great spot for many folks in this area to experience trout fishing. And many people will visit the lake because of its proximity to large urban areas such as Charleston. The lake also lies within easy driving distance of Huntington.
Ridenour is enjoying the publicity boost from numerous trophy trout being caught recently, and the supply of big trout shows no signs of diminishing. Big trout from a small water body will continue to be a major attraction, particularly in Ridenour's neck of the woods.
JAMES P. BAILEY LAKE
Over the last five years, James P. Bailey Lake has become a real force when it comes to trophy trout in the Mountain State. The 28-acre impoundment in Mercer County consistently ranks within the top five on West Virginia's citation list for trophy trout, and by all indications that trend should continue.
One of the lake's weak points is that its water temperature elevates in the summer, thus making life tough for trout during that period. Optimal fishing will occur during the spring when cool water temperatures prevail and the trout remain active.
Since James P. Bailey sits within easy striking distance from Princeton or Bluefield, expect some company when fishing this impoundment. Access to the lake is via U.S. Route 460 and county Route 25/3.
Shore-fishing is the only game in town at James P. Bailey, so the fine trail surrounding the lake remains a key element in angling success. Thankfully, the trail contains plenty of fishing areas for fishermen. This spacious trail is important because big trout might show up from any section of the lake.
James P. Bailey Lake is stocked with trout only twice each spring, but those stockings are loaded with plenty of trophy trout. Within the southern reaches of our state, this small impoundment is one of the best trout-fishing options, especially when it comes to trophy trout.
During 2008, James P. Bailey led the state in the number of trophy trout citations for small impoundments. For several years, James P. Bailey has become West Virginia's leading producer for trophy rainbow trout from impoundments, and the lake continues to be a solid bet for anglers who are looking to encounter giant springtime trout.
The city of Barboursville is not exactly synonymous with trout fishing. In fact, trout are rare in the vicinity of Cabell County. However, the 17-acre Barboursville Lake has become a trout-fishing destination, partially because few trout fisheries exist in this part of West Virginia and partially because of the lunker trout the lake receives.
And make no mistake, the lake gets loaded with lunker trout during late-winter and early-spring stockings. Despite only being stocked a few times each year, Barboursville Lake offers anglers in this part of the state a better chance at trophy trout than any other fishery in the proximity.
Barboursville Lake is located in the city of Barboursville's Community Park. Access to the lake is via county routes 31 and 31/7, and the lake lies less than 10 miles from downtown Huntington.
So, needless to say, expect ple
nty of company when fishing Barboursville. The allure of big trout to an area where few trout fisheries exist continues to be a prime drawing card. But just like Ridenour, Barboursville provides area anglers great opportunities at lunker trout. And big trout sure are a powerful attraction in the Mountain State.
Water temperatures elevate quickly during the summer in this southern impoundment, so the best time to fish is during the spring. Trout have a tough time surviving during the warm summer months, so management strategies are aimed at spring fishing.
Since boats are prohibited, shore- fishing remains the only way to fish at Barboursville Lake. A fisherman access trail surrounds the entire lake providing good access for bank-fishing anglers.
During 2008, this small lake produced enough trophy trout citations to rank in the top five Mountain State trophy trout impoundments. Such trophy trout numbers are becoming commonplace for this little water, and more big trout are sure to be caught in the near future.
Big trout serve as a prime attraction that brings anglers from near and far. Sometimes these anglers fish for trout in gorgeous mountain lakes, and other times they fish near major cities. Either case has its benefits and pitfalls, but the one common thread is the appeal of big trout.
And the numbers don't lie! All the small lakes in this article are proven producers of trophy trout, and should continue to be trophy trout factories in the near future. So, no matter where you fish this year, checking out these trophy trout impoundments just might produce a giant trout for you this season.