Here's the latest and greatest on where to cast a fly or dunk a bait in our state this spring. Is one of these top streams near you? (April 2006)
"I've caught more fish this week here than I have in my entire life," exclaimed Brian, who happened to be visiting his cousin in West Virginia during spring break. His cousin replied, "Fishing is this good every year. You should come back again next year."
Almost heaven has become synonymous with the endless array of trout-fishing opportunities that many anglers who live or visit the Mountain State get to partake of each year. Nothing has done more to expand and enhance trout fishing in the Mountain State than its put-and-take trout stocking of which West Virginia ranks as one of the nation's elite.
Each year, between 700,000 and 800,000 pounds of trout are stocked in West Virginia streams and lakes. Last year, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) put in a whooping 771,445 pounds of trout in Mountain State waterways. Additionally, over 300,000 fingerling trout are stocked in our state's small streams and rivers annually.
Trout stocking in the Mountain State begins in January and February with limited deliveries, but stocking really swings into full gear from March through May. This period delineates the heart of the traditional trout season when the majority of trout are stocked in West Virginia's waters.
After a break in the summer when water temperatures get too warm, stocking resumes again for two weeks in October, when about 35,000 pounds of trout are spread throughout select Mountain State streams and lakes. In 2005, a grand total of 1,164,560 trout were stocked into our state's waters.
Hatchery production looks good for 2006, according to Mike Shingleton, who heads up West Virginia's trout program for the DNR. There is a bit of concern because of last fall's dry conditions. You see, the number and size of trout available for 2006 stockings are directly influenced by the weather conditions in 2005.
According to Shingleton, trout must be transferred from hatcheries, which have abundant water supplies, to streams that may not have adequate water to support large numbers of trout through the summer. Since dry conditions persisted through last summer and into the fall, trout had to be held longer before being spread throughout the state's hatchery system.
This spread is vital in order for trout to attain accelerated growth rates for the following year's production. Many variables can affect a trout's growth rate, including food, water conditions at the hatcheries and especially the amount of raceway space available. During most years, the DNR hatchery staff is able to overcome the stunted growth effects caused by a lengthy drought.
When all is said and done, anglers should look for a good year in 2006, as 77 small impoundments and 124 streams are scheduled to receive generous portions of rainbow, golden rainbow, brown and brook trout.
SOUTH BRANCH RIVER
The mere mention of the South Branch River sends visions of trophy trout dancing through the minds of serious anglers. Over the years, the South Branch has developed a well-deserved reputation for big trout, and for several years, the river has been West Virginia's No. 1 producer of trophy trout, tripling the number of trophy fish citations from other trout waters in the state.
The South Branch currently holds the state record for brown trout (32 inches, 16 pounds). A check of the West Virginia trophy citation program reveals that on more than one occasion, the South Branch has claimed the state's largest trout, and during some years, this productive fishery has claimed the top prize for multiple species of trout.
Stocking on the South Branch begins in January, but heavy numbers of fish start hitting the water in March. From March through May, the South Branch gets a fresh stocking every week.
In addition to scenic rock formations and pristine hardwood forests, expect to encounter plenty of first-rate trout habitat on the South Branch. A small to medium-sized stream along U.S. Route 220 upstream of Franklin (in Pendleton County), the South Branch turns into a medium-to-large river downstream of Franklin.
The Smoke Hole section of the river is one of the best stretches to fish before the stream transverses approximately 11 miles of inaccessible land as it winds toward Petersburg. Although trout have been found below Petersburg, the South Branch gets too warm during the summer to support much of a trout fishery in and around Petersburg.
The most promising habitat to fish on the South Branch will be the river's deep pools. Many are composed of ledges, which have helped maintain the integrity of the river's pools despite some devastating floods. Anglers will find the river's larger trout embedded within these pools. Sandwiched between these pools are productive riffle areas that give the South Branch a thriving mix of trout habitat.
The South Branch features one special regulations area. Located downstream of Upper Tract in the Smoke Hole section, this one-mile-long catch-and-release area starts two miles below U.S. Route 220 at Eagle Rock and extends downstream. For springtime anglers, the special regulation area represents a great place to find lunker trout.
From its headwaters all the way to the town of Webster Springs, the Elk River is known as one of West Virginia's top trout streams. Featuring an excellent mix of trophy opportunities and hefty numbers, the Elk provides a variety of trout options for the serious angler.
Year in and year out, the Elk remains one of the top streams in the state for yielding quantities of trout. A healthy stocking program keeps the river full of hatchery-raised fish, but native trout inhabit this pristine stream as well.
"Elk River is one of our more heavily stocked streams with over 18 miles of relatively accessible river receiving trout," said fisheries biologist Shingleton.
During an average year, the Elk will receive in the neighborhood of 24,000 pounds of trout. While stocking merely puts trout in the stream, it is the Elk's habitat and clean, cool water that allows the trout fishery to do so well. As the stream passes through Randolph and Webster counties, it carries an abundance of limestone and cobble-lined pools. These pools help sustain trout throughout the year by providing protection and cool water.
The Elk has always been a favorite among serious trout anglers, and fly-rodders in particular have traditionally enjoyed fishing the Elk. Elk River trout seem to respond eagerly to fly presentations in the spring an
d early summer, and this fishery can accommodate plenty of anglers.
When trout become finicky, smart anglers will downsize their fly selections. Anglers who are willing to fish flies as small as size 22 usually see an increase in strikes, and even spin-casters can increase their chances by using lighter line and smaller lures.
State Route 15 and county Route (CR) 26 parallel Elk River for much of the river's length. Anglers can access prime trout fishing from numerous sections along this stretch of the river. The section of the Elk River near the community of Bergoo is an excellent area to fish. Anglers can also access the river from CR 26-1 and CR 49 on the upper end of the stocked portion of the Elk River.
Along with other high-profile trout waters, the Elk River features a fine catch-and-release section. This two-mile-long special regulation area runs from the Rose Run Bridge upstream to the old Elk Springs campground near the intersection of CR 49 and CR 60. Renowned for producing numerous big trout and great year-round fishing, this catch-and-release area ranks as one of the state's best.
Many trout anglers would rank the Cranberry River as the finest trout stream in West Virginia. Assistant chief Shingleton agrees. "The Cranberry is considered one of the best trout streams by many anglers who prefer the remote/walk-in type of fishing experience."
Such high opinions come with a hefty price, as the river's reputation has increased fishing pressure over the last 10 years. Featuring one of the state's highest trout densities, the Cranberry provides a trout fishery that features both numbers and size. However, it's the Cranberry's bountiful supply of trophy fish opportunities that makes the river so popular.
Stockings for 2006 tender limited offerings in January and February, and then heavy weekly stockings from March through May.
Meandering through the mountainous counties of Pocahontas and Webster, the Cranberry features a variety of fishing experiences for anglers. The Cranberry River is divided into two sections, the backcountry and the more accessible lower Cranberry.
Encompassing both the North Fork and South Fork tributaries, the backcountry offers 16 miles of trout- packed river that is closed to vehicle access. Many anglers will ride bicycles into the backcountry and stay in the overnight shelters along the river.
While the entire backcountry is closed to vehicle access, the lower Cranberry is just the opposite. With accessible roads running along the river, plenty of prime fishing water is available right by the highway. The lower Cranberry runs from the Cranberry Campground all the way to the mouth. The best way to access this section of the Cranberry is from Forest Service Road (FS) 76.
Much of the Cranberry's thriving trout fishery is primarily a result of treating the river's acid problem with limestone. Limestone drums developed by the West Virginia DNR proved instrumental in the dynamic recovery of the Cranberry River. Before limestone treatment, the Cranberry River was so acidic that trout could not survive through the year.
The Cranberry River system features three special regulation sections for trout. In the backcountry, a quarter-mile catch-and-release section is located on the North Fork of the Cranberry River from the limestone drum station down to the mouth. Another catch-and-release area extends from the mouth of the North Fork downstream for 4.3 miles to the Dogway Fork Bridge. Yet another catch-and-release section on the lower Cranberry starts at the Woodbine recreation area and stretches downstream 1.2 miles to Camp Splinter.
Overshadowed by the famous Cranberry, and to a lesser degree the North Fork and South Fork of the Cherry River, the Williams is a fabulous trout stream nonetheless. But even with less notoriety, the Williams River has its fan base.
"The Williams River gets a good bit of fishing pressure during the spring and fair pressure during the summer and fall if water levels are adequate," Mike Shingleton said.
The Williams features a mix of heavily stocked water as well as some wild trout water. Anglers will find wild brook and brown trout in the headwaters, while the stocked sections are located at Day Run and along National Forest Route 86 downstream of the Scenic Highway state Route 150 bridge. Much of the section from the 150 bridge to Cowen is stocked with trout.
The Williams is surrounded by gorgeous scenery and much of the stream passes through the pristine Monongahela National Forest. Also, with it beginning as a small headwater stream and increasing to a medium-sized river near Cowen, anglers can handpick what type of water is best suited to their fishing preference.
The Williams does have some big trout, but this river's strength would be trout quantity and the variety of species that the river features. Anglers can expect to encounter rainbow, golden rainbow, brook and brown trout in the Williams' diverse habitat. The Williams houses a variety of habitat, such as undercut banks, deep pools, ledges and large boulders.
Anglers coming to fish the Williams will travel across the scenic highway or come up SR 20 from Cowen and turn on FS 86. Roadside access is available along FS 86 nearly all the way from Cowen to Route 150. To fish the Williams near Day Run, turn off 150 onto FS 86 and look for signs to Day Run Campground. The Williams is stocked all the way to a low-water bridge about 2.5 miles up FS 216.
The Williams features one special regulation trout area extending two miles below where Tea Creek empties into the Williams. The area is along FS 86.
Trout anglers in the southern half of West Virginia are probably already familiar with Paint Creek. After all, few trout streams are located within a short drive from Charleston. In fact, this trout water is one of the closest trout-fishing streams for anglers from Beckley, Charleston or even Huntington.
"Because of Paint Creek's location along the turnpike between Charleston and Beckley, the stream receives a lot of fishing pressure," Shingleton said.
While Paint Creek seldom provides year-round fishing like the Mountain State streams mentioned earlier in this article, it does provide a quality trout-fishing experience for anglers, and there certainly are plenty of trout to fish for within the banks of Paint Creek.
Paint Creek is stocked once in February, and every two weeks from March through May. The stream receives hearty stockings of rainbow and brown trout during the spring stocking period, and Paint Creek's habitat makes for a satisfying small-stream trout-fishing experience.
The strength of Paint Creek is its location. Providing convenient trout fishing from the metro areas of Charleston and Beckley is a difficult task, but Paint Creek remains a good answer. Supplying anglers with trout-fishing opp
ortunities without requiring a long drive makes Paint Creek a popular trout-fishing destination for southern anglers.
Stretching along interstates 64 and 77 from Maynor to Standard, Paint Creek wasn't always such a pretty site. Once the site of numerous litter dumps and discarded garbage, the stream has undergone revitalization during the past 10 years, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers and an active watershed group.
Highlighting the turnaround, Paint Creek now encompasses a two-mile catch-and-release area, which runs from the mouth of Skitter Creek upstream to the mouth of Milburn Creek. Anglers can access this reach of Paint Creek by traveling on CR 15.
There are numerous access routes to Paint Creek, but CR 83 is perhaps the most convenient.
Shingleton also indicates that quality fishing can be found on the southern West Virginia streams of Dunloup and Pinnacle creeks, as well as on Paint Creek.
Yes, it's time to rev up the trout-fishing machine and get ready to invade Mountain State streams everywhere. Anglers have a wide variety of waters to choose from. We've got various streams, large rivers and small impoundments that hold trout. Whatever your choice, 2006 looks to be another fine year to wet a line for Mountain State trout. Are you ready? Then get set -- and go!