Here's a look at 36 prime places to fish in our state, right now through the end of the year. One or more of these waters is likely near you. (February 2008).
The Mountain State is home to some fantastic fishing. If you're looking to fish new waters or perhaps just visit another one for a change, then check out this year's fishing calendar for recommended waters across our fine state.
Elk River Walleyes
Wintertime brings big walleyes to the Elk as these mighty fish migrate upriver to spawn. This is the best time for anglers to intercept walleyes weighing in the double digits as these hefty fish move from the Elk's deep pools into shallow waters for spawning purposes.
Areas of bottom containing high concentrations of gravel serve as likely spawning sites. This makes the mouths of the Elk's large tributaries, such as Birch River, Strange Creek and Groves Creek, annual hotspots for marble-eye anglers.
Typically, winter precipitation produces above-average flows that tend to color the river's water, thus creating excellent conditions for walleye fishing.
Since trophy Elk River walleyes seem to crave big baits, most serious walleye anglers prefer live bait for enticing lunker walleyes. I've witnessed anglers on the Elk fishing with 10-inch chubs and suckers up to 12 inches long. Other anglers go with artificials but still utilize oversized baits, usually 8- or 10-inch muskie jerkbaits.
Don't expect to catch many walleyes while fishing the Elk, but if trophy specimens top your wish list, then the Elk is your ticket this January. In late winter, the lower Elk is the most likely water in the Mountain State to produce walleyes of 10 pounds or larger.
North Fork Of The
South Branch Trout
The North Fork is stocked with trout in January, February and then every week from March to May. With such numerous stockings, the river remains filled with rainbow, golden rainbow, brown and sometimes brook trout. While anglers may indeed catch more than one species of trout, the North Fork's countless riffles and deep runs seem especially suited for rainbow and golden rainbow trout.
Winter trout fishing can be tough in some regions, and
Pendleton County is no exception. However, this area of Pendleton County typically has milder winters than many of our state's other "trout counties," such as Randolph, Pocahontas and Webster.
The North Fork River parallels state Route 28, which means a slew of roadside pull-offs for anglers who are seeking convenient access.
The stretch from Riverton to Cabins offers a gorgeous section of river that contains relatively easy water to fish. This section is noted for producing the river's best trout fishing, which includes opportunities for trophy fish, some exceeding 8 pounds.
For anglers who like special regulation areas, don't forget about the three-quarter-mile-long catch-and-release section, which lies in the shadow of Seneca Rocks.
No water in the Mountain State contains a higher density of muskies than does the Buckhannon River. The Buckhannon is loaded with muskies in the 30- to 40-inch range, particularly the catch-and-release area that originates in Buckhannon. The primary access to the catch-and-release area sits behind West Virginia Wesleyan College on Wood Street. This access ramp is capable of handling most motorboats.
Downstream of Buckhannon the access turns primitive, but
locations to fish the lower river remain available. Fishing in these sections can be exceptional. The lower Buckhannon doesn't receive nearly the fishing pressure, as does the catch-and-release section.
A striking feature of the Buckhannon River is the crystal-clear water, which makes "raising" muskies in the Buckhannon exciting, even if you don't catch them. Based on many trips to the Buckhannon River, it's not uncommon to see at least 10 fish in a single outing.
The Shavers Fork of the Cheat River is loaded with trout every week from March through May. In addition, 46 miles of the river upstream of Bowden receive special railroad stockings, which create some of the best remote trout fishing opportunities anywhere in West Virginia.
The upper Shavers (upstream of the U.S. Route 33 bridge at Bowden) serves as an ideal destination for trout anglers looking to escape the crowds, and the area features a stunning wilderness landscape. Thick spruce forests tower over patches of dense rhododendron and mountain laurel. However, don't be concerned about becoming lost because the rail grade parallels the river through the entire section.
A good portion of the upper Shavers lies within the Monongahela National Forest, so access points are available, but be ready to walk up and down the stream to find the best fishing.
The lower Shavers Fork (from the U.S. 33 bridge at Bowden to the Stuart Recreation Area) showcases multiple streamside accesses for folks who don't want to travel very far to fish. This section of the river is also home to generous numbers of trophy-sized trout including rainbows, golden rainbows, browns and brookies.
Anglers will find some of the highest densities of trout anywhere in the state within this Randolph County stream. There are plenty of places to fish for them. However, note that the lower Shavers does experience intense fishing pressure at times, especially near roadside access points.
As with most waters in West Virginia, the bass spawn peaks
on Burnsville Lake during May. That means a whole lot of big bass will be moving into shallow water. Such a migration gives Mountain State anglers their best chance at catching a trophy bass, and few lakes hold larger bass than Burnsville.
Anglers fishing during late April and early May will find bass carrying up to a 1/2-pound of eggs, which means females will be carrying their heaviest weights of the year before depositing their precious cargo.
Shallow-water fishing and bulky bass serve up the right ingredients for a memorable day on the water.
Burnsville Lake bass present anglers with a unique mix of both quantity and quality. Trophy specimens of largemouth and spotted bass inhabit the lake, but good numbers of smaller bass are also present. Burnsville maintains its ranking as one of the state's leading producers of citation-size spotted bass.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Burnsville Lake produces trophy bass, because the lake contains a good bit of prime bass habitat. Anglers will find numerous areas of quality bass habitat, such as sloping points, rocky dropoffs and submerged timber. Knawl Creek, Little Knawl Creek and Big Run all contain excellent sections of submerged timber.
Why is timber so important in May? Bass love to spawn around submerged wood or root wads adjacent to the shore.
For up-to-date information on lake conditions, contact the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' recorded message at (304) 853-2398.
Pound for pound, the Cranberry River presents anglers with the most trout per acre of any public fishery in the Mountain State. Whether just receiving a fresh stocking or relying on holdover trout from last year, the Cranberry River is simply flush with trout.
For anglers looking to find quality fishing close to the road, the lower Cranberry (below Cranberry Backcountry lower gate) provides plenty of streamside access inside the boundaries of the Monongahela National Forest.
The remote 16-mile Cranberry Backcountry (no vehicle access) gives anglers a prime opportunity to experience trout fishing in the mountains like it was meant to be: tons of trout, gorgeous scenery and plenty of solitude. Mountain bikes have proved to be a popular mode of transportation for getting anglers in and out of the backcountry.
June also marks the transition when springtime anglers begin to lose interest in trout fishing, thus the crowds begin to disperse. Surprisingly, this period coincides with some of the river's best hatches, so flyfishermen take note.
Catch-and-release areas on the lower Cranberry and in the backcountry welcome those who are interested in special regulations, and a fly-fishing-only section on Dogway Fork (within the Cranberry Backcountry) offers flyfishermen a unique experience to catch wild trout.
Whether you're looking for big trout, plenty of trout or wild trout, the Cranberry will fulfill your expectations.
South Branch River
After several years of sub par fishing, the South Branch seems to be recovering from the devastating fish kills that have plagued the river since 2002. Smallmouth fishing continues to improve each year, although the river is still hampered by mysterious fish kills.
Summertime on the South Branch generates one of our state's best top- water smallmouth bites. Poppers, prop baits and buzzbaits generate some of the year's most exciting fishing opportunities for South Branch smallmouth anglers.
The South Branch is also an easy river to navigate with only a few spots that would be considered hazardous. Catching one smallmouth after another while drifting along the South Branch's gliding currents should be a highlight of any serious Mountain State angler.
An eight-mile stretch, from Welton near Petersburg to Fisher Bridge, as well as a 9.5-mile section from Romney Bridge to Blue Beach Bridge, downstream of Romney is designated a catch-and-release area for smallmouth and largemouth bass.
With nearly 20 quality access sites along its reach, the South Branch offers more public access than any other stream in the Mountain State. Pick the float that best suits you and experience smallmouth fishing on the South Branch today.
Stonewall Jackson Lake
While it's no surprise that Stonewall Jackson made the list of top places to fish in 2008, featuring muskies during August probably drew your attention.
Stonewall has housed giant muskies for years, and each year a few fish in the 50-inch range and a fair number in the high 40-inch range are caught from the lake (many of which are released).
Spring and fall are normally the times that serious muskie anglers pursue trophy specimens, but over the last few years a number of big muskies have come from Stonewall Jackson as early as August.
Anglers trolling deep portions of the lake with oversized baits catch most of these fish. Anglers theorize that muskies suspend near the thermocline (an oxygen-rich layer of cool water) and hold there during the summer months.
Trolling for trophy muskies is not an action-packed adventure. Anglers must put in a considerable amount of time before they can expect to hook into a lunker muskie or two.
The keys to success: right depth, right location, the right time (muskies are very selective during lethargic times like summer), and the commitment to spend plenty of time on the water.
Up-to-date conditions on the lake and tailwater, as well as a weekly fishing report, can be obtained by calling (304) 269-7463.
Mount Storm Lake
Check out this Grant County lake if you like to catch catfish. There are so many channel catfish in Mount Storm Lake that the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources removed the daily creel limit a few years ago. You heard correctly, anglers can catch and keep as many channel catfish from Mount Storm Lake as they wish.
Just about every inch of the lake holds catfish, so boat and shoreline anglers have many opportunities. Boat anglers have an advantage of escaping Mount Storm's brutal wind by moving to wind-sheltered coves, but from a fish-catching perspective, the entire lake can be productive.
Mount Storm catfish aren't large, but decent-sized channels up to 20 inches can be caught. Most run in the neighborhood of 10 to 16 inches, and man, are they a blast to catch. If you have a child or a beginning angler you want to become hooked on fishing, then head up to Mount Storm right away.
September is a great time to be at Mount Storm because the leaves will be getting ready to change colors, and the mountaintop is always cooler than the hot valleys below.
No one seemed surprised when a state-record smallmouth emerged from New River. In fact, the New River is West Virginia's No. 1 trophy water for smallmouth bass and it has been for a number of years. If you're after giant smallies, the New offers the Mountain State's best bet.
October marks a time when smallmouths are feeding heavily to bulk up for winter, and since many sportsmen have vacated the waters for hunting opportunities, the fishing pressure will likely be at a minimum.
The New River offers fishing for shore-fishermen as well as float-fishing anglers. Good-sized smallmouths are routinely caught from the New River's banks, including sites upstream from the Interstate 64 bridge at the Hinton exit.
Anglers fishing from a boat have more options, but the New is no place for inexperienced boaters. Anglers need to choose what sections to float very carefully, as some stretches of the New River include rugged water.
Anglers will find a ton of high-quality habitat on the New River, and sometimes all the potential hotspots make it difficult to decide where to cast a line. Areas featuring the best habitat include riffles, shoreline weed beds, rock boulders and pool tailouts.
Gauley River Trout
Some of the best trout fishing in West Virginia lies deep in the heart of the Gauley River Canyon, and relatively few people know about it.
Trout are stocked in the Gauley River tailwaters throughout the spring, and sometimes the tailwaters receive bonus stockings during the summer. Additionally, the Gauley is stocked twice each October, and special helicopter stockings put in even more trout in late October. Starting to get the picture?
The Gauley receives plenty of trout, and November is a great time to take advantage of the cumulative effects of yearlong stockings. Anglers willing to tough out the November conditions will likely encounter some of the best trout fishing of the year.
Late-season water temperature provides prime feeding conditions for trout, so anglers can expect vigorous action, provided the weather hasn't turned nasty.
Cold weather and a hot sauger bite seem to go hand in hand. The Kanawha River generally serves up dependable action for Mountain State sauger anglers, although some years are clearly better than others.
The system of locks spanning the Kanawha at London, Marmet and Winfield continue to offer the best locations for sauger fishing, and that's where you'll find most serious sauger anglers come winter.
The dams are sauger hotspots because they form a natural barrier that concentrates fish. Once in the tailwater, these fish stay because of the well-oxygenated water and constant food supply coming through the dam.
Each dam features angler enhancement facilities, such as fishing piers and shoreline walkways designed to make fishing more productive, so make sure to take advantage of those.
There you have it, a look at some of our wild and wonderful state's finest fishing from the beginning of the New Year to the very end.
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