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Mountain State Walleye Forecast

Mountain State Walleye Forecast

How are marble-eyes (and saugeyes) doing in our state these days? Here's the latest on where to fish for these tasty fighters!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Major events related to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources' (DNR) walleye management plan should have a positive impact on the angling opportunities Mountain State anglers experience this year. The walleye outlook is a bright one.

Understanding what goes into the state's walleye management program should help anglers better appreciate the resource. One of the major components, one that gives the DNR better control over walleye stockings, was the opening of the Apple Grove Hatchery.


Going online in 2000, the Apple Grove facility now adds a great deal more stability to the stocking program. Prior to the building of the hatchery, the DNR had to acquire fish from outside sources. The new in-state rearing ponds provide the space to grow walleyes from fry stage to fingerling, the size of fish state biologists prefer to introduce to state waters.


Apple Grove also means the end of the saugeye program. Saugeyes, a walleye and sauger hybrid, were also stocked in many state waters. Like walleyes, saugeye stock came from out-of-state sources. Though the hybrid has many excellent qualities, now that the state has the means to raise its own walleyes, managers don't see a need to buy or (or trade for) saugeyes.

While the Apple Grove Hatchery furnishes the means to raise walleyes to fingerling size, the state doesn't have a lake with the proper nursery waters to serve as a means of obtaining walleye eggs. It's not practical to hold adult walleyes (in hatcheries) as brood stock, hence ripe males and egg-laden females are netted out of nursery waters each spring. Lacking appropriate nursery waters, the state obtains its young walleyes from other sources, such as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Linesville Hatchery. The rearing ponds at Apple Grove provide the means of raising the fish until the time of stocking.


How well an agency can manage the resources it's charged with has a lot to do with the quality of information available on that resource. In the case of walleyes and saugers, as well as other species of fish, a great deal will be learned from the tagging study currently underway on the Monongahela River.


Game fish collected from the state's portion of the Monongahela River (and the tailwaters of the Tygart Dam) are being tagged by DNR fisheries personnel in an effort to determine growth and harvest rates, plus the movement of fish being stocked. Anglers catching tagged fish, of which many are walleyes and saugers, are asked to respond to the survey by sending in the tag. Specific information relative to the tagging program is posted at public access sites along the river. Tagging will continue for some years to come. The data gleaned from the survey should assist fisheries managers in determining how fast the fish are growing, how much they move in different sections of the river, and at what rate they are taken (creeled) from the Mon.

Another interesting item relative to walleye management is the discovery of what state fisheries biologists believe to be a strain of walleye they call the "New River" strain. Walleyes occur naturally in the New River, and though not evident to the untrained eye, biologists feel there is a difference between the New River fish and a wild walleye taken from a lake environment such as Lake Erie. The biggest difference is in the size of the eggs. New River female walleyes tend to contain about twice the typical number of eggs.

Research efforts are being made from the DNR's Beckley office to learn more about this strain of walleye. Fisheries personnel are attempting to collect enough adult walleyes from the New River to serve as brood stock, with the objective being that of raising this strain. In theory, this strain of fish, since it evolved in a river environment, may be better suited to be stocked in this setting. Stockings could add to the density of walleyes in areas with wild fish, or serve as the seed for what will someday be self-sustaining populations.

If the program is successful, New River strain walleyes could be stocked in not only the New River, but the Gauley and Kanawha rivers as well.

On a similar note, biologists in the northern portion of the state feel walleyes from the upper Ohio River basin might be either a separate strain of walleye, or even the same strain as the New River. Only further research will determine how the upper Ohio strain situation works out.

As you can see, a lot goes on behind the scenes in support of healthy fisheries, such as the ones present in some of the state's waters.

Here's a look at some of the better walleye options for the year to come.

OHIO RIVER

The Ohio River is one of the state's greatest fishing resources. The waterway supports a varied fish population, walleyes and saugers included. Both of these closely related species occur naturally in the Ohio.

River walleye (and sauger) numbers in major rivers like the Ohio are directly related to the strength of recent year-classes, which in turn are dependent on the spawning conditions. Springtime high-water events, which occur on a semi-regular basis, provide poor or nonexistent year- classes. As a result, frequently there are holes in the fishery where year-classes are missing. Conditions have been poor during recent years, thus the population cycle may be on the low end.

According to fisheries biologist Jim Hederick, traditionally, the upper portion of the Ohio tends to more of a numbers game for walleyes and saugers. Fishing can be quite good -- especially in the early spring and late fall when fish are more concentrated -- but lunker-sized fish are rare. Hederick also notes the best habitat for walleyes tends to be in the upper portion of the river.

Angling attention usually is directed to tailrace areas of the locks and dams. The best walleye and sauger fishing occurs near the New Cumberland, Pike Island and Hannibal dams. Though saugers can be found farther downriver, walleyes aren't as common. Good shore-fishing opportunities can be found below these dams on both sides of the river, as a reciprocal agreement between Ohio and West Virginia allows licensed resident anglers from either state to fish both shores of this border water.

Boating anglers are not allowed in the restricted area below the dams. Concentrations of fish available to boating anglers can be found in front of lock chamber mouths, as well as the mouths of feeder rivers and creeks.

Boat access along the upper portion of the Ohio can be found at Chester and New Cumberland (H

ancock County), Weirton and Wellsburg (Brooke County), Wheeling (Ohio County), Fish Creek and Moundsville (Marshall County).

MONONGAHELA RIVER

Whereas the Ohio tends to provide numbers of smaller walleyes, it is the polar opposite on the Monongahela River, where biologists regularly turn up good-sized (but fewer) walleyes.

"When we sample the Mon, we always collect a few nice walleyes," Jim Hederick noted. "Below the dam in Morgantown we find walleyes up to 8 pounds. We usually find a few in the 6-pound range as well."

Sauger and walleye populations, like the Ohio River, are at the mercy of nature, which has not been exceptionally kind in recent years. Still, enough fish should be present in tailrace and creek mouth areas to warrant attention from anglers.

Monongahela River boat access areas can be found in Morgantown, Star City and Uffington.

CHEAT LAKE

Cheat Lake, a 1,730-acre lake in Monongalia County, currently contains a good population of fat, eating-sized walleyes, fish that are a result of stockings made a few years ago.

A lake with a history of acid mine drainage contamination, game fish populations have been on the rebound in Cheat Lake for a number of years. First to be noticed was the largemouth bass fishery. The lake is now one of the better largemouth lakes in the state, according to results of bass tournaments held there. Walleyes may soon be stealing some of the limelight.

"Cheat Lake has a lot of walleyes in the 16- to 18-inch range," biologist Hederick reported.

The DNR hopes to establish a self-supporting walleye population in the Cheat. Cheat Lake is near Interstate 68, six miles northeast of Morgantown.

STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE

Located just a long stone's throw from Interstate 79, Stonewall Jackson Lake is one of the state's premier fishing destinations. According to fisheries biologist Kevin Yokum, anglers fishing the lake this year can expect to find both saugeyes and walleyes.

Stonewall Jackson Lake is a federal flood-control water. It covers 2,650 acres in Lewis County. There are no horsepower restrictions.

Fairly young when compared to many Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in the state, Stonewall Jackson was spared the hatchet job typical of most impoundments of this type. When the lake was built, a fair amount of timber was left, particularly in the backs of bays and coves. This cover is beneficial to all of the lake's fish populations, walleye and saugeye included.

Though the DNR no longer stocks saugeyes, fish will be available for some years to come. According to Yokum, Stonewall Jackson will be a good bet this spring for latching on to a lunker saugeye. He said the lake contains average numbers of walleyes.

Gizzard shad are not present in Stonewall Jackson Lake. Several minnow species and young panfish provide an abundant forage base, though.

Boat access areas on Stonewall Jackson Lake include Georgetown, Glady Fork, Jacksonville, Stonewall Jackson State Park and Vandalia Bay.

BURNSVILLE LAKE

Burnsville Lake, located just down the interstate from Stonewall Jackson Lake, is another of biologist Kevin Yokum's picks for walleyes and saugeyes.

Yokum considers Burnsville to be more of a numbers lake than a big-fish lake. He said there are fewer numbers of larger saugeyes in the lake, but good numbers of walleyes.

Yokum considers the forage base in 968-acre Burnsville average. He stated there are no gizzard shad in the lake.

Burnsville Lake is in Braxton County. Boat ramps are found at the Burnsville Day-Use Area and at Riffle Run. The Burnsville Lake Marina also offers access as well as additional services.

EAST LYNN LAKE

Wayne County's 1,005-acre East Lynn Lake is the final of biologist Yokum's choices for top walleye waters for the coming year. East Lynn is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to Yokum, East Lynn will be a good bet this year for both numbers and size of fish. He notes it produced the current state-record saugeye.

Fisheries biologist Zack Brown states East Lynn typically stratifies during the summer, limiting the lake's game fish to the top 12 to 13 feet of the reservoir. From fall through late spring, the fish have more options, since no stratification is present at that time.

Brown said the main and Lick Creek arms of the lake feature fairly shallow water. They can be somewhat turbid, particularly during rainy periods. Water clarity near the dam is usually clear.

Gizzard shad contribute heavily to East Lynn Lake's forage base and are largely responsible for the excellent growth rates in both walleyes and saugeyes. Brown said saugeyes in the 24- to 25-inch class come from the lake. Three-year-old walleyes reach an astounding 18 to 20 inches.

A tailwater fishery is also present at East Lynn Lake and can provide excellent fishing at times.

KANAWHA RIVER

The lower portion of the Kanawha River can provide good fishing for saugers, according to fisheries biologist Zack Brown. Like the Mon and Ohio rivers, it is subject to the whims of nature.

Brown said anglers should concentrate on the lower portions of the Kanawha River, with the three lock and dam systems focusing angler attention. The best fishing often occurs in the last pool of the Kanawha, where fish can migrate in from the Ohio River as well.

Boat access spots on the Mason County portion of the Kanawha can be found at Leon and Point Pleasant.

BEECH FORK LAKE

The 720-acre Beech Fork Lake is located just a few miles from Huntington, providing a good still-water environment for walleye anglers in this part of the state. According to fisheries biologist Mark Scott, it is a good option.

"The walleyes are there," noted the District 4 biologist. Scott said the lake receives annual walleye stockings, provided the fish are available.

The lake has two public boat ramps. Boats are limited to 10 horsepower, which may limit the fishing pressure somewhat.

Beech Fork is also a good option for a combined camping/walleye angling trip, as the lake also features a 275-site campground.

STEPHENS LAKE

Though Stephens Lake covers only 300 acres, it is a deep reservoir that boasts depths approaching 70 feet near the dam. Biologist Scott said it is a good walleye option for anglers from the Beckley area.

"It's a pretty clear lake," Scott noted. "There is a fair

amount of aquatic vegetation due to the clarity and stability of the pool level."

Stephens is an unlimited horsepower lake, one that sees quite a bit of recreational boating traffic during summer weekends. There is an extensive no-wake zone in the upper portion of the lake. Stephens features a paved ramp, marina, campground and handicapped access.

R.D. BAILEY LAKE

Walleye anglers from Wyoming/ Logan counties can ply the depths of 630-acre R.D Bailey Lake. Scott said the lake contains a good population of walleyes.

"R.D. Bailey reminds me of a smaller version of Summersville Lake," Scott said. "It has clay points like Summersville, though the lake is not quite as productive."

Built in 1980 as a federal flood-control lake, R.D. Bailey has one boat ramp located at the upper portion of the lake. There is no horsepower limit, though no-wake zones are present.

R.D. Bailey's walleyes utilize the lake's gizzard shad population.

The West Virginia creel limit for walleyes, saugers and saugeyes (in aggregate) is eight in lakes and 10 in rivers. There is no minimum length limit or season.

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