Continued stocking efforts and natural reproduction has led to fabulous marble-eye angling throughout our state. Read on for a top water near you. (March 2006)
If you're thinking about doing some walleye fishing this year, you're in luck. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) is pursuing -- expanding -- an aggressive stocking program throughout the state. For a number of years now, our state has worked cooperatively with Pennsylvania to obtain and stock walleyes in its waters. That program continues in full force. Most of those fingerlings will be stocked in lakes and reservoirs around the state.
The rivers are another matter, however. West Virginia biologists have identified a new strain of Ohio River drainage walleye. In cooperation with the Commonwealth of Virginia, fingerlings from that strain are being released throughout West Virginia's rivers. The Ohio, Kanawha and New rivers are all benefiting from this program, as are the anglers who are fishing these particular river systems.
Bret Preston, assistant chief fisheries biologist in charge of the warm- water program for West Virginia, is excited. He points out that these fingerlings will have an excellent survival rate and that they are somewhat different from the Great Lakes strain. Not only are their survival rates good, but also they tend to grow faster and are somewhat stockier and heavier.
The result of all this is obvious. It means great walleye fishing for West Virginia anglers. An excellent example occurred on New Year's Eve in 2004. That's when the Elk River in Clay County gave up a new state record. It was a 30.87-inch brute that weighed 18.97 pounds. Jerry Rose was the successful angler. He released the fish immediately after it was weighed, measured and its species certified by the DNR.
Unfortunately, Rose has since passed away and additional details about his catch are unavailable. Still, we know the fish was there and was released alive. Interestingly, two state-record fish have been caught in less than two years.
So, with all this in mind, let's take a look at some of the better walleye waters that are available to Mountain State anglers.
The Kanawha River might be the place to fish if you're looking to catch a big marble-eye. In 2003, it produced a 35-inch, 17.85-pound walleye that once held the state record. (It's interesting to note that the previous state record was taken from Kanawha Fall in 1976. It weighed 15 pounds.)
And, according to Preston, substantial numbers of walleyes between 8 and 14 pounds are caught from this river each year. Now, for those readers who are new to walleye fishing, those are big fish, really big fish. Many skillful walleye specialists never break the 10-pound mark, no matter where they fish.
Early in the year, fish the mouths of almost any inlet you can locate. Walleyes will move into these areas and stage before continuing along their spawning journey. Other good spots include the tailrace flows below dams.
As the season wears along, look for walleyes in deep pools, and hard-bottom channel cuts along the river's path. Early morning, late evening and after dark are the best times to fish once the water warms.
The Ohio River is an underrated fishery when it comes to marble-eyes. Most of the eating-sized fish are harvested below the dams in the fast- moving waters. Fish jigs tipped with minnows or live bait on slip-bobber rigs that'll keep the bait down near the bottom.
The Ohio's fishing should improve. The new stocking program will increase both the numbers and size of fish. The upper pools are generally considered to be the best, but all will produce good fishing from time to time, especially early and late in the year.
The Monongahela River is another good venue for eating-sized fish. Most are harvested from the deeper, slack-water pools. There are scores of them along its path. Pick one that's reasonably close and learn to fish it correctly.
Most of the fish will be located along the swings, cuts and turns of the channel. If you can find a few rocks, weeds or maybe a stump or two down there, so much the better. Work those areas thoroughly from every direction. As the weather warms, concentrate your efforts during periods of low light or after dark.
Jigs, small jerkbaits and live minnows fished deep are your best bet. Some surprisingly large fish are taken during the warm weather months.
For complete information on fishing conditions in the rivers, launching advice and current hotspots, call the West Virginia DNR's main office at (304) 558-2771.
According to fisheries biologist Frank Jernejcic, the place to fish in District I is Tygart Lake. This 1,750-acre impoundment in Taylor County has been a consistent producer of eating-sized walleyes for years. The fishing here is expected to be good in 2006 and beyond.
He reports that from winter through at least early April, good numbers of walleyes will work their way through the dam and into the tailwaters spilling from it. This is the only time of the year that walleyes will move through the dam. The numbers can be fantastic for brief periods of time. Take advantage of this when it's available.
After a brief stay in the tailrace, the bigger fish will move downstream eight to 10 miles and can be caught near Valley Falls State Park. The fishing action will not be as fast as below the dam, but it's worth some of your fishing efforts nonetheless.
Of course, good numbers of fish can be harvested from the main lake itself during this period and on through the summer and fall. Jernejcic said most of the fishing reports he gets from anglers indicate that walleyes will school near the channel and other deep-water areas. "Most of them seem to be caught around 30 or 40 feet deep," he said.
The usual array of jigs tipped with live bait, minnows and small jerkbaits will take fish from any of these locations.
For more information about Tygart or other places to fish for walleyes in District I, call the office at (304) 825-6787 or visit the DNR's Web site at www.wvdnr.gov.
The opportunities are somewhat limited in District II, according to fisheries biologist Jim Headrick. There is one fairly good venue, however. That's Jennings Randolph Lake.
This 952-acre Mineral County body of water is managed jointly with Maryland
. It's located on the North Branch of the Potomac River in Garrett County, Maryland and Mineral County, West Virginia.
The lake is stocked heavily with walleyes. Since 2001, there have been approximately 2.5 million walleye fry released in Jennings Randolph. With plenty of favorable habitat available, the walleye fishing has steadily improved. It's a good place to catch a stringer of 'eyes for dinner.
The lake is deep and clear. Much of it is dotted with boulders, stumps, logs, laydowns and trees. The walleye fishing is best early and late in the year, but fine catches can be made during the summer months by anglers who are willing to fish deep water. Most of the hot-weather fish are found along the channel bends and swings, especially if there's a weedbed or some wood nearby.
Savvy warm-weather anglers will fish minnows and jigs tipped with live bait after dark on this one. Another popular nighttime technique is to jig silver spoons over the bends and swings. Hard, fast, upward jerks are the key. It seems to activate lethargic fish.
Another water worth a few casts if you're in the area is Mount Storm Lake. Mount Storm covers 1,200 acres and is in Grant County. Take U.S. Route 50 to state Route (SR) 42 and then travel on SR 93.
Mt. Storm is a power plant cooling lake that stays warm during most of the year. That's not the best situation for walleyes. Still, they have been stocked and seem to be doing well.
For more information on Jennings Randolph, Mount Storm or any of the other waters in District II, contact the office at (304) 822-3551.
According to Jim Walker, assistant fisheries biologist, the place to start walleye fishing in District III is in Stonewall Jackson and Stonecoal lakes. Both lakes benefit from a fairly aggressive stocking program, which is beginning to result in excellent catches.
Stonewall Jackson is a 2,650-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment located in Lewis County. Access is directly off Interstate 79.
There's much standing timber in Stonewall Jackson and most of it holds walleyes. The better spots will be near weedbeds or around the channel and ditch swings. Fish those areas with care. Make sure you cover all available water from every angle possible. During low-light conditions, fish the shallow bays and backwater areas. Walleyes will move into these spots to feed.
Stonecoal Lake is much smaller, covering only about 550 acres, but don't let that fool you. It benefits from a stocking rate of 40 fingerlings per acre and the results are beginning to show. This Lewis and Upshur county venue is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the best places in the Mountain State to harvest a serious stringer of walleyes.
Early in the year, you might want to take a look at the Elk River. It has produced several big walleyes over the last couple of years and shows no signs of slowing down in the near future.
Just about anywhere along its path will produce so long as there are a few inflows entering the river. Most successful local anglers will fish the mouths of these inflows with a simple rig. They hang a hook under a bobber and float their rigs with the slow- moving current around the breaks and cuts, which are typical of the inflow mouth areas.
To catch a really big walleye -- one over 7 or 8 pounds -- expert fishermen will use extremely large baits. Shiners and suckers in the 6- to 9-inch range are common. Now, with bait that big you won't catch very many fish, but the ones you do catch will be worth the effort.
For more information about Stonewall Jackson, Stonecoal or the Elk River, call the District III office at (304) 924-6211.
Walleyes are not king in District IV. Several other species have captured the spotlight. That's too bad because, according to fisheries biologist Mark Scott, both Stephens Lake and R.D. Bailey Lake offer respectable opportunities for anglers who are willing to spend a little time honing their walleye-catching skills.
Stephens Lake is a 300-acre body of water in Raleigh County about nine miles west of Beckley and three miles east of Glen Daniel. It remains an untapped resource for marble-eyes. It's relatively deep, the waters are cool and there are plenty of weedbeds, along with several miles of sandstone banks.
On top of all that there are three arms that enter the lake. Each offers a good channel with plenty of drops and swings to attract and hold walleyes.
To catch walleyes, fish the deepest drops and any sharp swings in the channels you can find. Try minnows on slip-sinker rigs, jigs tipped with live bait or perhaps a small, deep-diving crankbait. DNR surveys show that most of walleyes are feeding on small crappie and bluegills, so that should be your first color pick.
R.D. Bailey Lake is very different. This 630-acre Wyoming County body of water on the Guyandotte River near the town of Justice offers a deep, rocky substrate, sheer cliffs, standing timber and a few clay points.
The forage base is shad, so that should be your starting place when fishing this lake. Try live shad on slip-sinker rigs, jigs tipped with live or cut shad and maybe a small jerkbait in a shad pattern.
R.D. Bailey walleyes are depth sensitive, so work your offerings around likely looking spots. Constantly change your depth until you find where they're at on the day of your trip.
For more information on these lakes or for additional information on fishing opportunities in District IV, call the office at (304) 256-6947.
Fisheries biologist Zack Brown suggests anglers look closely at East Lynn and Beech Fork lakes for their walleye fishing in District V.
East Lynn is a 1,000-acre lake in Wayne County. This waterway has produced top walleye fishing for years. East Lynn has the benefit of a heavy walleye stocking program and great natural reproduction.
No matter where they come from, however, they have plenty to eat in this water also. The forage base at East Lynn is shad and there is an abundance of them. That means the walleyes have enough to eat, year 'round.
Brown believes the best way to fish East Lynn is to follow the shad and throw small shallow-running crankbaits around and through the schools. If the walleyes drop down toward the bottom, try a deep diver.
This lake provides both numbers and size. It's possible to limit out here in just a few hours. It's also possible to catch a big one. Brown reports that 2005 produced at least one 8.5-pound walleye. That's a good fish anywhere in the nation.
Beech Fork is a 700-acre Corps of Engineers flood-control impoundment. The numbers of walleyes aren't as good as East Ly
nn and neither are their sizes. But it's still a great fishery, however, and worth a trip if you live in the area.
For more information on these lakes or others in District V, call the office at (304) 675-0871.
The pickings are a little slim in District VI, unless you want to fish the Ohio River. But that's not a bad choice.
Fisheries biologist Scott Morrison reports the catches below the dams have steadily increased over the recent past. There isn't much difference between the dams, so the best strategy is to fish the dam that's closest to where you live. The fishing will be as good there as at any other dam.
Minnows fished on slip-sinker rigs or Carolina rigs are popular and effective. Jigs tipped with live bait will do a fine job, but you'll need some big ones to keep them down. The current gets swift at times and anything less than 1 ounce probably won't do the job of getting you to the bottom.
To get up-to-the-minute information on the tailwater fishing opportunities in this district, call the District VI office at (304) 420-4550.
Well, there you have it, a look at good places to fish for walleyes in West Virginia. One of them is bound to be near you. So if you're not cooking up a mess of white, flakey fillets this year, you have no one to blame but yourself.