Fishing season never ends in our state, not with so many top waters to choose from for trout, bass, catfish and more. Here are 36 places to try throughout the year! (February 2010)
When the subject of fishing new waters comes about, one of the most frequently listed advice items is the hiring of a guide for the initial outing. Doing so -- says the recommendation -- will often dramatically shorten your learning curve on the "new" waterway.
As a fishing guide myself, I like to think this is a wise suggestion, and money well spent. But guides come in forms other than a fish-savvy physical presence holding down one end of the boat. In this case, it's our 12-month guide, one that leads you to top-quality fishing options all around the Mountain State.
Ohio River White Bass
Providing the border for much of northwestern West Virginia, the finned bounty of the Ohio River is easily accessible to anglers from many of the state's population centers. The Ohio River plays host to a wide variety of fish species, including white bass. White bass are eager biters, sometimes even aggressive ones, a trait that doesn't diminish much even in winter's frigid water.
While searching for something to eat, white bass will cruise many zones of the river during the warm weather -- often making their presence known by visible surface feeding activity. But when the bottom falls out from frigid water temperatures, expect to find these feisty battlers in more specific areas. Tailrace areas, river/creek mouths and deep, slow-moving pools provide the food and current conditions necessary for white bass to survive the winter months.
The most significant areas, as well as the most obvious, are the locks and dams at tailrace areas. White bass, like many species, will stack up below New Cumberland, Pike Island, Hannibal, Willow Island, Belleville, Racine and Robert C. Byrd locks and dams. In regard to tailrace areas, this is strictly shore-fishing; boats are not permitted in tailrace areas. Good facilities are available at many of the dams, such as the nice setup at Hannibal Dam where ample parking, fishing piers and cleaning stations are provided.
White bass will often congregate at the mouths of the larger creeks -- such as Fishing Creek in New Martinsville. As winter gives way to spring, white bass will run up the creeks on spawning runs.
Tygart Lake Rainbow Trout
West Virginia's outstanding trout-stocking program kicks into gear come January, when some of the higher quality and more accessible trout waters receive their first supply of trout. Following the January stocking, these waters get trout twice this month, then weekly during March, April and May. This includes the tailrace area of Tygart Lake.
At a time when cold weather and snowy/muddy roads can limit access into some of the state's premier trout streams, one can usually count on dependable sport in the outflow area of 1,700-plus-acre Tygart Lake.
Both shore- and boat-fishing are available. The town of Grafton has a boat launch located within its park. Stocked trout are just one of the highlights of the "Grafton Dam" spillway. The state also stocks the lower Tygart River with tiger muskies; these game fish show up regularly in spillway area, too. Tygart Lake also has a nice walleye population; so don't be surprised if a few of these tasty species make their presence known.
Take county Route 44 south from Grafton to reach this area.
Bluestone Lake Crappie
The spring's warming rays usher in a list of angling opportunities. Among these is crappie fishing, with Bluestone Lake being one of the better venues.
Basically a widening of the New River, Bluestone Lake lacks much in the way of significant bays and coves. The one exception is the Bluestone River arm, which provides a significant backwater. Bluestone is relatively shallow by West Virginia standards, with a maximum depth around 30 feet, thus it warms quickly. Expect to find crappie this time of year up in shoreline laydowns. Bluestone also has some extensive mud flats, which will heat up quickly. These areas will also draw in papermouths.
There are some minor coves located at the mouths of several of the feeder creeks that enter the lake.
Bluestone Lake is easily accessible from Interstate 77 and I-64. Six boat ramps are available, though not all are suited for larger size boats. For additional information, contact the Bluestone State Park at (304) 466-2805, or phone the Corps of Engineers Project Manager office at (304) 466-1234.
There is no horsepower limit on the lake.
South Branch Trout
Come April, there's no better place to be than on one of the state's blue-ribbon trout streams, which would have to include the South Branch of the Potomac.
The state manages the South Branch in three sections -- the Franklin, Smoke Hole and catch-and-release sections. Between the three there is something to meet the needs of pretty much any trout angler.
The Franklin section is stocked from about a half-mile from the Virginia line downstream, past Franklin, to about two miles south of the Upper Tract, located near the old Poor Farm. U.S. Route 220 provides good access to most of this stretch. The Franklin section is stocked every week from March through May. It also received a stocking in January and two in February.
The Smoke Hole section runs from the Route 220 bridge downstream to the Big Bend Recreation Area. U.S. Forest Service Route 74 provides access to a portion of this stretch, as does Route 220. The Smoke Hole section is stocked on the same schedule as the Franklin section.
Located within the Smoke Hole section is a one-mile stretch managed as catch-and-release waters. This stretch begins about two miles below the Route 220 bridge. The catch-and-release area is stocked once in April.
The South Branch is located in Pendleton County.
Tygart Lake Smallmouths
May is one of those months you'd like to stretch for an extra 30 days or so. The middle spring conditions provide so much to do. But choices must be made, and in this case it's a trip back to the Tygart River valley, this time on the lake proper for smallmouth bass.
The good water quality, coupled with a hard-bottom habitat, makes Tygart a great place for growing lots of brown bass. Though Tygart isn't known for producing many exceptional bronzebacks, it does have a healthy supply of fish in the 1- to 2-plus-pound range.
Since Tygart is a popular boating lake, the pre-Memorial Day period is a nice time to hit it in relative peace. Expect the bass to be in shallow water, in various stages of the spawn, depending on the weather of the year. Under normal conditions, the lake is clear, upping the chances of sight-fishing, particularly on sunny, windless days. Wet springtime weather will put a damper on this option, though.
Boat launches serving the lake include the state park ramp and Pleasant Creek. The lake's marina is located off county Route 9, a few miles south of Lucretia.
Stonewall Jackson Lake Largemouths
Stonewall Jackson Lake was developed with a more enhanced plan in mind than older Corps of Engineers flood-control lakes. Anglers continue to benefit from this, largemouth anglers in particular.
Unlike most state reservoirs, bass anglers will find plenty of cover in Stonewall Jackson Lake. Flooded timber, present in many of this 2,650-acre lake's bays and coves, will be one of the cover options you'll want to investigate as you search out post-spawn bass. The 26 miles of shoreline present ensure it will take you some time to do so. Catch-and-release regulations on black bass, put in place since the lake was first opened, ensure the potential for lunker-sized largemouths.
Stonewall Jackson is somewhat wide and shallow. About one-fifth of the lake is under a no-wake restriction. Boat launches are found at Glady Fork, Georgetown, Jacksonville, as well as within Stonewall Jackson State Park. There is no horsepower restriction. It is located in Lewis County, near Weston, just off of Interstate 79. Being a flood-control lake subject to changing water levels, it's wise to check on conditions before embarking on a trip there. Daily lake and recreation information on Stonewall Jackson can be obtained by calling (304) 269-7463.
East Lynn Lake Hybrid Stripers
Hybrid striped bass provide excellent angling options throughout much of the year. During the summer anglers can expect a good hybrid bite, particularly after the sun sets. Being one of the state's better hybrid waters, East Lynn is a good place to cool off with some line-stretching hybrids.
The state's hybrid populations are maintained by way of regular stocking. The dynamics of East Lynn's fish populations, which don't include competition from white bass, place it high on the stocking priority list. Consistent stocking results in a good population, numbers-wise, as well as some quality-sized stripers, in this steep-sided lake.
Three boat ramps are located on East Lynn Lake. There is no horsepower restriction.
Additional information on the lake can be obtained by calling the resource manager's office at (304) 849-2355. To reach the lake, from Huntington take U.S. Route 152 south to Wayne.
Burnsville Lake Catfish
Chasing cats is a popular activity in the Mountain State, with August being a prime month to do so. Burnsville Lake, playing host to both channel catfish and flatheads, is a good choice for a late-summer outing.
Anglers targeting catfish will find that they tend to concentrate along points, just as many other species of game fish do. Burnsville Lake has a number of long, extended sand points and flats, excellent spots to intercept the lake's channel cats. Though occasionally caught during the day, most flatheads are taken at night.
Boat access is available at three sites. This includes the Riffle Run Day Use Area, the Bulltown Day Use Area and the Bulltown Camping Area. Many of Burnsville's better shoreline accesses for anglers are found within these areas. The Falls Mill Fisherman's Area provides access for the handicapped, as do other day use areas.
Burnsville Lake can be reached by taking exit 79 off I-79. Follow state Route 5 to the lake. A daily report on lake conditions can be heard by calling (304) 853-2398.
Gauley River Smallmouths
If you are looking to combine smallmouth bass fishing with some whitewater adventure, few places are going to match the opportunity provided by the Gauley River below Summersville Dam.
The seasonal drawdown of Summersville Dam begins after Labor Day. Flow rates escalate during weekends, which serve the white-water rafting industry well. But typically, the dam discharge is throttled back during the week, lowering flows to the level that provides good fishing.
Though some smallies in excess of 3 pounds are possible on the lower Gauley, average fish will run a bit smaller. High catch counts are likely, however. Other fish species include muskies and walleyes. Trout are also present, particularly in the reaches closer to Summersville Dam.
Access is an obstacle in the remote gorge that flows through the Gauley River National Recreation Area. The best option here is via a float trip with one of the professional outfitters that float and fish these waters.
This isn't a place for folks lacking extensive whitewater rafting experience. Conditions slow down in the river section near the town of Swiss, to where it joins the New River to form the Kanawha River at K&M Junction.
Public access areas are found at Persinger Creek in Nicholas County and Jodie in Fayette County.
Shavers Fork Trout
A component of West Virginia's outstanding trout-fishing program is its fall stocking efforts, which take place on the higher quality waters. Shavers Fork of the Cheat River certainly falls into the "quality" category; as such, portions of it are stocked twice during October.
Shavers Fork offers something for trout anglers of all types. There's plenty of easy access water, but if you are looking for a tad more wildness to your quest, there's much of that too.
Likely the most popular section of Shavers Fork during the fall is the highly accessible portion that flows from the Bowden area several miles downstream. Route 33 provides easy access to the waters here.
Upstream of Bowden, the stream is much more remote. Heavy stockings from the late winter and spring create a situation where good numbers of trout are available come fall, independent of fall stockings. This is especially true following cool, wet summers, such as that experienced in 2009. Over 40 miles of the Cheat's remote stretch are stocked twice annually by railroad car, including a 5.5-mile catch-and-release project that runs from Whitmeadow Run down to McGee Run. The special regulations area can be access by way of Forest Service Route 92.
Buckhannon River Muskies
One of the more popular muskie fishing spots in the state is the 6.5 miles that represent the Buckhannon River's catch-and-release muskie area. The combination of colder weather, coupled with the many hunting opportunities, will take much of the fishing pressure off the river.
Fueled by regular stockings of fingerlings by the DNR, the Buckhannon River has one of the most dense muskie populations in West Virginia. Anglers can expect to find plenty of cover to harbor muskies; the river is laden with laydowns and submerged timber. A dam at the town of Buckhannon impounds this section, creating a flowage of sorts.
In terms of average muskie sizes, don't expect to catch a lot of fish over 40 inches. But for those 30- to 40-inchers, fish that put up perhaps the most frantic fight, it's a tough place to beat.
Being semi-impounded water, the special regulations area is navigable up to the free-flowing riffle that feeds into it. Boaters should be aware, however, of the woody underwater hazards that can present a problem.
Boat access is by way of the town of Buckhannon's ramp near the downriver end of the project waters.
Summersville Lake Walleyes
The naturally reproducing walleye population of Summersville Lake is a big-time draw for Mountain State anglers. And late fall and early winter, before the lake surface has had a chance to freeze, is one of the best times to catch old marble-eyes.
At full pool, Summersville Lake covers about 2,700 acres, making it the state's largest reservoir. The lake's fall drawdown -- which sees it lowered by over 75 feet -- significantly shrinks the surface acreage, making its walleyes much more accessible.
Summersville Lake contains not only the highest numbers of impoundment-dwelling walleyes, but some of the largest specimens as well. Chances exist for anglers to catch a 10-pound trophy 'eye.
Once the lake has been drawn down, a process that begins in early fall, only two of the lake's four launch ramps lead to water. This includes the Salmon Run landing, as well as the Corps of Engineers ramp found near the dam.
Summersville Lake is located just off Route 19. For lake conditions, contact the park office at (304) 872-5809.