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West Virginia Trout Forecast

West Virginia Trout Forecast

No matter where you live in our state, there's likely excellent trout angling to be enjoyed near you. Here are first-rate rivers, streams and lakes to consider. (April 2009)

The native brook trout just landed was maybe only 5 inches in length, but its vivid hues and its primeval wildness caused us to marvel at its very existence and ignore its small size. Friend Tim Wimer and I were on a wild trout stream in the Monongahela National Forest as guests of Dr. Linda Linger and Bill Smith, director of the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It was Linger who had just landed a brookie, and her smile proved that the size of the fish (or lack thereof) was not a problem for her. West Virginia's trout exist, at least partially so, to put smiles on the folks who ply the state's many kinds of trout waters from catch-and-release to put-and- take, from wild stream-born rainbows to native brookies, from major river browns to small-stream rainbows, and from highland rills to upland lakes.

Indeed, I had rather angle for 5- and 6-inch native brookies in a rhododendron-shrouded West Virginia hollow than any other category of trout or any other kind of fishing. That said, though, I thrill to the fantastic variety that exists for all those who visit the state's waters.

Mike Shingleton, head of coldwater fisheries for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR), informs that some 750,000 pounds of trout will be released into the state's waters this year, but that number could rise or fall depending on how much precipitation occurs. As many sportsmen no doubt know, drought has been a reoccurring problem in West Virginia, and also much of the Southeast, for a large part of the past few years.

Interestingly, Shingleton states that as a general rule, the DNR annually stocks about 80 percent rainbow and 10 percent each of brooks and browns. Golden trout compose 10 percent of the rainbow trout allocation. These fish are exceptionally popular among anglers, partly because of their novelty and also because they stand out so much, especially in clear water.

My favorite month to fish for the state's trout is during April when the spring gobbler season commences. There is no better way to spend a Saturday outdoors than pursuing turkeys in the morning and trout in the afternoon. Shingleton agrees that the fourth month is a prime time.


"April is probably one of the most popular months to trout fish," emphasized the biologist. "The weather is typically nicer, and trout have had more time to grow to a nicer size since January. Plus, all waters have been stocked enough times to ensure plenty of holdovers between stockings -- especially the weekly stocked waters." (Continued)

I also asked Shingleton if there were anything new regarding trout, such as regulations, streams or other programs. Sometimes a "new" thing can be bad, such as when anglers lose access to a body of water or a stream has endured pollution problems. The biologist said that at press time, there was nothing in those areas to report, which can truly be a situation of no news is good news. Of course, he added that sometimes both positive and negative events could happen suddenly.

One of the most commonly asked questions to biologists and outdoors writers is where to go fishing. Shingleton rates West Virginia's catch-and-release trout waters very highly.

"Most of our catch-and-release areas have a following of anglers dedicated to them," he says. "The Cranberry, Williams, Elk, Shavers Fork and Blackwater are certainly some of the more popular ones. Popularity of a water usually equates to a good fishing experience."

Wild trout, like this one caught and released back into the South Branch of the Potomac, are considered an esteemed catch by many Mountain State trout enthusiasts.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.

I have fished the special regulation sections of these streams on a number of occasions and each has much to recommend it, in addition to being unique in their own ways. For example, for the utter thrill of wilderness fishing, consider a visit to the Cranberry, specifically the 4.3-mile section from the junction of its North and South forks downstream to the low water bridge at Dogway Fork.

Visitors will have to come in by foot via the National Forest Route 76 from the Cranberry Glades parking area in Pocahontas County. But, hey, that's part of the appeal of the Cranberry. The stocking schedule varies on the catch-and-release section, as is true of the other similarly designated streams as well.

The Williams is citified compared with the Cranberry, as the former courses through the mountains of Pocahontas County and to reach it all one has to do is drive into the highlands and walk a short distance. This stream features riffles, boulders, and pools and good-sized rainbows and browns. The catch-and-release water is a two-mile section beginning two miles below Tea Creek and extending downstream. To reach the stream, travel along National Forest Route 86. One of the things I admire most about the Williams is that it is a picture postcard perfect example of what a mountaintop rill should look like.

The aspect of the Elk River that draws many anglers is that it is one of the foremost brown trout streams in the Southeast. Engage someone on the subject of fishing the Elk and invariably it seems the topic turns to jumbo browns caught -- or lost.

West Virginians have three catch-and-release sections to choose from on the Elk River system. Then, again, why bother to choose -- visit them all. The first is the two-mile section in Randolph County from the Elk Springs Campground downstream to Rose Run Bridge. Access is via county Route (CR) 49 off state Route 15.

The second one is on the Back Fork of the Elk in Webster County, a four-mile section beginning two miles upstream from Webster Springs and extending downstream. Access is via county routes 24 and 24/3.

The final catch-and-release water is the Slatyfork portion in Pocahontas County, a 4.6-mile section from the junction of the Big Spring and Old Field forks downstream to the mouth of Dry Branch, including Props Run and Big Run. Access is by foot from CRs 219/2 and 219/12.

In my opinion, the most consistently productive of this quintet of catch-and-release jewels is Shavers Fork. The catch-and-release section lies in Randolph County and is a 5.5-mile section found in the Monongahela National Forest from the mouth of Whitmeadow Run dow

nstream to the mouth of McGee Run. Access is via National Forest Route 92.

Rounding out this group is the Blackwater River in Tucker County. Last year, I did a story for this magazine on the Blackwater, and the visit was definitely my most memorable one from a trout fishing perspective. To access the catch-and-release area, one will have to hike down into a canyon, something all West Virginia trout enthusiasts should do at least once in their lives.

You'll also have to scramble over and around cottage-sized boulders and scale a vertically challenging mountain on the way out, but the effort in terms of jumbo trout and a spectacular gorge are worth it. The special regulations section is 3.5 miles long and goes from the CR 29/1 Bridge in Blackwater Falls State Park downstream to the mouth of the North Fork.

Of all the states in the Southeast, West Virginia could make the claim of hosting the best small lake trout sport. The Mountain State boasts some 40 ponds, lakes or tailwaters that receive trout stockings. And all of them are superlative put-and-take waters. Shingleton states that Spruce Knob, Summit and Buffalo Fork are a few of the popular traditional lakes. Other lakes that are popular because of their location or proximity to population areas include: Cacapon, Rock Cliff, Laurel, Wallback, Dunkard, Mountwood and Berwind to name just a few.

Ken Rago, a retired ranger for the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest, said that one of his favorite places to fish is Buffalo Fork Lake, a 22-acre body of water created by the impounding of the Buffalo Fork of the East Fork of the Greenbrier in Pocahontas County.

"When I was district ranger, I saw a lot of people catch quite a few trout from Buffalo Fork," said Rago. "The biggest fish I saw caught was an 8-pound brood trout that had been stocked. One excellent aspect of the lake is there is very good access all the way around the impoundment, so families often come there."

Some small lakes like Buffalo Fork receive fish once in February, once every two weeks from March through May and once each week for two weeks in October.

Another lake that deserves extra mention is 23-acre Spruce Knob in Randolph County. This is a true upper elevation impoundment that is known for producing some fine rainbows. The view of the surrounding countryside alone is worth the trip. Spruce Knob receives trout once in January, twice in February, once each week from March through May, and once each week for two weeks in October.

On the topic of brook trout, at the Outdoor Writers Association of American (OWAA) convention in Roanoke, Virginia, in 2007, I attended a symposium on the status of native brook trout in the East and what needs to be done to protect/improve this resource. While there, I learned that there is a real push in such states as West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina to put more emphasis on protecting the remaining native brookie streams. Shingleton emphasized that the Mountain State is very much a participant in this worthy goal.

"West Virginia for many years now has recognized the importance of brook trout and the recreational opportunities they provide, as well as the tradition they represent for many state anglers," he said. "Efforts to mitigate the impacts of acid precipitation began in 1960 in West Virginia and culminated in the development of the limestone drum stations on Otter Creek, Dogway Fork and the North Fork of Cranberry River.

"Additional research in the 1990s led to the discovery of the proper size limestone to place directly into streams. West Virginia is currently treating approximately 350 miles of stream -- of which 80 percent are brook trout waters. DNR biologists constantly review projects that may impact a brook trout stream and make recommendations to avoid or minimize impacts."

One plan that is foremost in the protection of this native fish is the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture's Conservation Strategy. The objectives are range-wide in nature with a target date achieving set goals by 2025. The Joint Venture divides the 17 states in the brook trout's native range into three regions, with West Virginia falling into the Mid-Atlantic category. The four goals for this region include the following:

  • Protect the 23 intact watersheds remaining.
  • Improve water quality.
  • Protect and restore riparian forest.
  • Remove and prevent exotic fish.
  • For the 17-state region as a whole, the objectives are as follows.
  • Maintain the current number of intact watersheds.
  • Establish self-sustaining brook trout populations in 10 percent of the watersheds where the fish has disappeared.
  • Change the classification (that is, improve water quality) in 30 percent of the watersheds.
  • Maintain and improve 70 percent of the watersheds.
  • Determine the status of unknown watersheds (that is, whether natives still fin certain streams).

Obviously, these are noble goals, and they will be difficult to achieve. But the native brookie deserves our best efforts. One of the most fascinating things I heard discussed at the OWAA conference was the threat of rainbow trout to the native brookie. There was a time long ago when fishermen and biologists believed that having any kind of trout in a watershed was good.

Now, however, biologists and hopefully, fishermen, too, realize that such is not the case. Rainbows that become naturalized in native brook trout streams have often pushed out their relatives and eliminated them from wide swaths of water. Too many well-meaning anglers have released rainbows into brook trout rills.

Now state fisheries personnel urge fishermen not to be "armchair biologists," as releasing non-native rainbows or browns (or any other species for that matter) often have severe ramifications to native flora and fauna. For more information on what is being done to help the brook trout in West Virginia and other states, consult the following Web site:

Mike Shingleton relates that put-and-take waters are very popular with the general fishing public. And once again, the streams that are most well liked by any given angler are often the ones that are closest to an individual.

For example, my favorite put-and-take water is Potts Creek in Monroe County. I must emphasize that there is nothing special about Potts. Like many streams, it receives fish once each month from February through May, and as a put-and-take stream, trout are often quite scarce by mid- summer. And although the stream is visually appealing as it flows through both farmland and woodlots, it is not any more or less beautiful than scores of other Mountain State creeks and rivers.

What is most appealing to me about Potts Creek is that it lies between two tracts of land that I own in Monroe County, thus the creek is quite convenient to fish whenever I am visiting either of those properties. No doubt, many West Virginia folks favor certain streams because they are located near their homes or properties and they have had the chance to learn the h

otspots and other secrets of these places.

Fortunately, the DNR heavily stocks numerous "local" waters. Among the most esteemed put-and-take streams are Anthony and Big Clear creeks in Greenbrier County, the Buchanan River in Upshur County, the Cherry River in Upshur County, the Dry Fork in Randolph and Tucker counties, Gandy Creek in Randolph, the Greenbrier River and Knaps Creek in Pocahontas County, the headwaters of the Little Kanawha River in Lewis and Upshur counties, Paint Creek in Fayette County, Panther Creek in McDowell, and the South Branch of the Potomac in Pendleton County.

Truly, scores more fine put-and-take streams exist all around this great state and finding them is often no more difficult than driving around, asking a few questions or merely consulting the DNR's Web site at

For many anglers, April is their favorite time to trout fish in West Virginia. This year, I know I will have a sojourn on Potts Creek, am sure that I will wet a fly line in some of the native trout streams in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, and could well visit any of the fine trout streams in nearby Greenbrier County. And I am considering returning to the Blackwater River and its gorge. Perhaps this article has given you a few options for this month and year as well.

Tucker and Greenbrier counties harbor some of the best trout streams in the Mountain State. To plan a visit to the former, consult the Tucker County Convention and Visitors' Bureau (CVB) Web site at, or call (800) 782-2775; for the latter, info can be found at, or by calling (800) 833-2068.

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