Spring is in the air and trout are teeming in many of our state's rivers and streams. Here are prime places to consider right now and throughout the year. (April 2008)
Calling expert and manufacturer David Hale of Knight and Hale Game Calls shot this tom in Marathon County.
Photo by Greg Keefer.
During my three-day sojourn in Tucker County this past June, my wife, Elaine, and I had enjoyed a variety of activities. We had spent several days at Blackwater Falls State Park, dined at local restaurants, and I had spent considerable time outdoors fishing, canoeing and hiking.
However, on that third day, I still had about four hours available before my spouse and I had to depart for home. Therefore, I was able to join Rob Gilligan, superintendent of Blackwater Falls State Park, his son, John, and Stanley Beafore, assistant superintendent of nearby Canaan Valley Resort State Park, on the Dry Fork, a put-and-take trout stream.
Jokingly, Rob Gilligan, whom I had fished the Dry Fork with before, called Beafore the "legend of the Dry Fork," and shortly after we arrived that morning, I understood that the jest had its basis in fact. For not long after we began fishing, Stanley landed a nice-sized rainbow that fell for a night crawler drifted through a deep pool. And at the next stop, the assistant superintendent employed the same tactic to fool a fine brown.
That quality early summer outing spoke volumes about the quality and breadth of trout fishing in West Virginia. We anglers have a wealth of options to choose from whether they are catch-and-release trout streams, fly-fishing-only waters, put-and-take streams, and even lakes and ponds stocked with trout.
Mike Shingleton, who oversees the coldwater fisheries program for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR), offered some insight on what fishing will be like this year. One of the first things trout fanciers always want to know is what is the latest on the stocking situation, especially with the long-lasting drought that took place in 2007.
"Our 10-year average is 750,000 pounds," Shingleton said. "This past year's poundage stocked was a little over 700,000 pounds; it was lower than the average due to major construction at one of the hatcheries. We hope to be near our average this year.
"However, we are in a drought situation now with no relief in sight, and production is likely to be affected due to crowded conditions. After all, we cannot transfer trout to other hatcheries when we need to. The crowded conditions will result in slower growth and smaller trout."
At press time, Shingleton said he knew of no new regulations for 2008 and there are no new classifications (such as catch-and-release or fly-fishing only) being discussed for upcoming years. Another major topic of interest is the long-lasting problem of impaired streams.
"Many streams face the same problems they always have, such as acid precipitation, siltation, low and warm flows," continued the biologist. "I am sure readers are aware of the proposed sewage plant in the Slatyfork section of the Elk River. That is ongoing and no final plan has yet been made.
"The DNR continues to treat low pH streams with limestone sand. The DNR, along with the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), currently treat about 300 miles of streams, 80 percent of which benefits native brook trout."
The Slatyfork is one of the most cherished trout streams in the Mountain State and one that I have relished fly-fishing. The 4.6-mile section in Pocahontas County is catch-and-release from the junction of Big Spring and Old Field forks downstream to the mouth of Dry Branch, including Props Run and Big Run.
West Virginia biologists do listen to the sportsmen and women of this state. Proof of that is found in the fact that Shingleton wants to spread the word about a relatively new stocking regimen.
"During the past several stocking seasons, hatchery personnel have increased the number of Thursday and Friday trout stockings," he said. "This has been popular with many anglers who fish on weekends."
Indeed, retired individuals who have the time to go after trout can do so during the week and expect solid chances at success. And working men and women, given the fact that the stocking takes place right before the weekend, have a fine opportunity to catch trout that have escaped the initial fishing pressure on those Thursdays and Fridays.
It is simply nonsense to claim that trout stocked are all caught in the first day or two after their release or even in the first week or weeks -- my mid- June visit to Dry Fork proves that.
"Trout tagging studies conducted during the past two stocking seasons show that stocked trout are not caught out of a body of water within a couple days of being stocked," confirmed Shingleton. "Tag returns indicate approximately 50 percent of trout are still available for anglers seven days after a stocking. These results are very similar to those found during tagging studies performed in the mid-1970s."
Let's now take a look at the various categories of trout streams that West Virginians have to choose from. Certainly one of the most well received categories is the catch-and-release one. For this classification, some of the regulations include that fishing is permitted only during daylight hours; only artificial flies and lures may be used; multiple hook lures must be barbless; single hook lures may be barbed; all trout caught must be returned to the water at once, and no trout may be in an angler's possession while he is fishing in these designated waters. For complete information, check the DNR's Web site at www.wvdnr.gov or read the West Virginia 2008 Fishing Regulations Summary. The stocking schedule for these streams varies.
According to Shingleton, here is a list of some of our state's most popular catch-and-release trout waters.
"The Blackwater River catch-and- release area is a popular and difficult to access area to fish," he replied. "Other popular catch-and-release areas are the two on the Elk River, plus the Cranberry, Williams, North Fork of the South Branch and South Branch of the Potomac."
The Blackwater in Tucker County contains a 3.5-mile section from the county Route (CR) 29/1 bridge in Blackwater Falls State Park downstream to the mouth of North Fork. As Shingleton notes, the river is difficult to reach since it lies deep within a gorge. He also notes that the Blackwater, upstream of Davis, is likewise arduous to access but is
under the "W" classification. That means it is stocked once in January, twice in February and weekly from March though May. Some of those trout, no doubt, filter into the catch-and-release area. The put-and-take section is in the Camp 70 area.
As Shingleton said earlier, the Elk River boasts two catch-and-release sections. The major one is the two-mile section in Randolph County from the Elk Springs Campground downstream to Rose Run Bridge. Access is via CR 49 off state Route (SR) 15, about four miles west of Valley Head.
The second one is on the Back Fork of the Elk in Webster County. This section is four miles long, beginning two miles upstream from Webster Springs and extending downstream. Access is by CR 24 and 24/3.
The Cranberry River catch-and-release sections contain some of the most isolated wilderness reaches in the Mountain State. The first one lies in Webster, Pocahontas and Nicholas counties and is a 4.3-mile stretch from the junction of the North and South forks, downstream to the low- water bridge at Dogway Fork. Access is by foot in the Monongahela on national forest Route 76 from the Cranberry Glades parking area.
Nicholas County claims the second location and is a 1.2-mile section from the Woodbine Recreation Area downstream to Camp Splinter. Access is by the same forest Route 76.
More highlands catch-and-release action is possible on the Williams River in Pocahontas County. This section is a two-mile one, beginning two miles below Tea Creek and extending downstream. Access is by national forest Route 86.
Several times, I have fished the catch-and-release section of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River in Pendleton County and have always been pleased with the number of trout present. This is a short but trout-filled section of .75 mile, beginning at the mouth of Seneca Creek near the Seneca Rocks Visitors Center. Access is via CR 28/3 at the junction of SR 28 and U.S. Route 33 at Seneca Rocks.
Shingleton's final suggestion is the South Branch of the Potomac in Pendleton County. This is a one-mile section beginning two miles below U.S. Route 220 at Eagle Rock and extending downstream. Access is by CR 2.
Each of the catch-and-release sections that Mike Shingleton lists has its own unique characteristics. The hike-in requirement for the Blackwater River is something that all serious West Virginia anglers should experience at least once in their lives. The Elk River sections have a reputation, deservedly so, for providing some of the best action on the East Coast for wild, wily brown trout.
If you select the first catch-and-release section of the Cranberry, I believe that you will relish the opportunity to walk through some of the most stunning forest backdrops in the state. That a quality stream awaits you is just a bonus. Fishing the Williams River made me feel as if I were on top of the world, given the stream's classic highland setting.
The North Fork of the South Branch is a gorgeous stream, although it certainly can't compare with some of the other stretches like Blackwater -- at least in my opinion. But having Seneca Rocks in the background certainly is no small matter in the beauty department. In addition, given the right water conditions and levels, the catch-and-release section on the South Branch can offer canoe fishing for trout -- an uncommon element in the Mountain State.
West Virginia has six fly-fishing-only streams, with four of them lying in the southern part of the state. In southern West Virginia, I would guess that Second Creek is the most popular, given its proximity to the Greenbrier Resort community and Lewisburg. The fly-fishing-only section is 1.5 miles long and skirts the Monroe and Greenbrier counties border at Rodgers Mills. I have fished Second Creek on a number of occasions and have always observed plenty of fish, but found them extremely challenging to outwit.
Greenbrier County contains another stream in this category, Milligan Creek. The special regulation section is very short and runs .33 mile from about one mile north of U.S. Route 60 from the CR 60/15 bridge downstream to a fence crossing. Milligan is quite narrow in width, so fooling these trout often requires an "on your hands and knees" type of casting performance. My first glimpse of a trout on Milligan is often of it fleeing from my shadow or me.
Although I would rate Second Creek as the most popular fly-fishing-only stream, I would speculate that the Dogway Fork of the Cranberry is the most well known in the Mountain State. The main stream and all its tributaries are fly-fishing only. Access is by foot off Monongahela National Forest Route 78. Greenbrier County claims Dogway Fork as well, but the stream also flows through Webster and Pocahontas.
A good friend once told me that the New River is so associated with smallmouth bass fishing that many anglers fail to recognize that some of its tributaries host marvelous trout fisheries. One such case is the fly- fishing-only action that exists on Buffalo Creek in Fayette County. That section includes the entire length of Buffalo Creek and all its tributaries.
Like Greenbrier County, Tucker County has several special regulation waters. Tucker contains the Red Run of Dry Fork with the main stream and all its tributaries coming under that classification. Access is by SR 72 and National Forest Route 13. A final option is Thorn Creek in Pendleton County, which I would rate as the least known fly-fishing water in the state. Thorn has a .5-mile section beginning approximately three miles above its mouth. Access is by CR 20.
Of course, for sheer popularity, our state's put-and-take streams often attract the most attention from anglers. Moreover, the Dry Fork, mentioned earlier, is definitely not the only possible destination. Mike Shingleton surmises that Shavers Fork, the West Fork of the Greenbrier River, Gandy Creek, Glady Fork and Anthony Creek are some of the most visited waters in West Virginia.
Of that group, I would guess that Shavers Fork has the greatest claim to fame, not only for it being promoted in various kinds of media, but also as a traditional place for West Virginians to go trout fishing. Both the lower and upper sections of Shavers Fork lie in Randolph County and come under the W-F category. That means Shavers receives infusions of trout once in January, twice in February, weekly March through May and once each week for a fortnight in October.
I have fished Shavers early in the spring, in the dog days of summer, and when the leaves were golden and red in autumn and found the river a delight in all three seasons. Really, there is no bad time, except the dead of winter, to plan a sojourn to Shavers.
The West Fork of the Greenbrier in Pocahontas County, likewise, falls under the W-F category. A well-marked trail parallels the river, making for easy access, and is popular with hikers and horseback riders as well. The West Fork is probably best visited in April and May, as the stream can become quite low during the summer months. Then fishermen are
as likely in many places to catch rock bass as trout.
Anthony Creek is yet another Greenbrier County trout destination with much of the stream lying in the Monongahela National Forest. It, too, is in the W-F category and like the West Fork is in its prime during the early and middle spring period. Hunters may want to combine a spring gobbler outing in the morning with a visit to Anthony Creek in the afternoon -- something I have done on one occasion and need to do again.
West Virginia's trout lineup and diversity is indeed impressive. Situated uniquely as the southernmost state in the North or the northernmost state in the South, West Virginia is thus able to produce cold-water trout fishing for long periods of time every year. No wonder we have some of the best trout fishing here on the East Coast.
IF YOU GO
Tucker County contains many of the trout streams mentioned in this story. Lodging is available at both Canaan Valley Resort State Park and Blackwater Falls State Park. For more information, dial (800) CALL-WVA. For information on planning a trip to the county, contact the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 782-2775 or online at www.canaanvalley.org .
Another county that can make that claim as a trout paradise is Greenbrier. For trip planning information, contact the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 833-2068 or www.greenbrierwv.com.