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West Virginia's Family 'Fishing' Vacations

West Virginia's Family 'Fishing' Vacations

It's that time of year again when school is getting out and families are ready to head off to their favorite summer getaways. (June 2009)

As Bluestone State Park superintendent Brett McMillion helped his 9-year-old son, Travis, put a squirming night crawler on a hook, I did the same for Brett's 12-year-old daughter, Samantha. We were spread out along the shoreline of Bluestone Lake, a focal point of the 2,100-acre state park.

"Who usually catches the first fish, you or your brother," I inquired.

"I do," said Samantha immediately. "You know how boys are."

Not really sure how we boys are, although having heard for years about the gender's many flaws from my wife, Elaine, I decided not to ask a follow-up question to Samantha.

But she was right about who would catch the initial fish, for about 10 minutes later, Samantha derricked a pumpkinseed sunfish upon the shore. However, let the record show, that less than a minute later, Travis likewise scored as he, too, landed a member of the sunfish clan, a bluegill.

I will not record for posterity who of the duo caught the larger of the two fish. Just let me pen that the two sunfish were roughly equal in size; besides, the length and weight of the pumpkinseed and bluegill were not important that day. What was special was that Brett was able to take his kids fishing -- something that many West Virginia sporting families enjoy doing every year.


Certainly, Bluestone State Park, which lies in District IV, is one of those places that should be considered for a trip.

"Bluestone is a very family-oriented park," McMillion said. "There's very good fishing for bass, catfish and sunfish in the lake, and we have about eight miles of trails. An excellent one for families is the 1.7-mile Big Pine Trail."

Big Pine begins at a campground and follows a rolling path for most of its length, though there is a steep descent toward the end. The superintendent says that his youngsters have trekked the trail since they were 5 years old and enjoy the deep woods nature of much of the hike. The trail also comes close to several creeks, which children often like to explore.

Bluestone also features nature programs, a fishing rodeo, and arts and crafts projects such as pinecone birdfeeders. Trail hikes, magic shows, raptor displays, volleyball and kickball are other activities and a stop at the snack bar is a must. One of the most popular nature programs is "Let's Make Tracks," where kids can construct plaster molds of wild animal tracks they find.

My family and I first visited Bluestone State Park in the mid-1990s and for Elaine's and my getaway last year, we brought our daughter, Sarah, and her husband, David. We spent several days in one of the 26 cabins. The four of us played heated games of Spades at night after grilling out in the front yard of the cabin.

One day Sarah and Elaine walked to the park's pool while David and I drove to the nearby Pipestem State Park and wade-fished for smallmouths and sunfish. If your family would prefer to camp, there are 126 sites available at four campgrounds. Each campground has a bathhouse and the sites range from rustic to modern with tent and RV camping and hot showers. For those families who want to really enjoy nature, the East Shore Campground has 42 primitive sites and is accessible by boat only.

West Virginia's state parks can be reached by dialing 800-CALL-WVA. For more information, contact the park online at, or call (304) 466-2805.

Here's a look at some other where-to-go destinations for this summer.

At 1,398 acres, Tomlinson Run State Park is one of the smallest of West Virginia's parks; it is situated at the tip of the Northern Panhandle. Tomlinson Run is also, obviously, the farthest north of any state park or forest in West Virginia. Ken Caplinger, chief of state parks, says that the 25-acre lake there, the aptly named Tomlinson Run, has been rejuvenated.

At one time, the Hancock County lake was 33 acres, but it was drained because of silt problems and the reconstituted impoundment now is smaller, as it has wetlands about it. Tomlinson Run currently boasts a two-story fishery, as it receives trout stockings once each month from January through April. Very few trout are likely to be alive, though, by June.

The main attraction of Tomlinson Run is its warmwater fishery for bass, channel catfish, bluegills and black crappie. Two boat ramps exist and are ideal for launching canoes and johnboats; gasoline-powered motors are not allowed. Park superintendent Jim Harvey says the warmwater species are very popular with families as are the park's pool, water slide, 18-hole miniature golf course, game courts and hiking trails.

Harvey says that his favorite pathway, and one that is ideal for families, is the Laurel Trail, which winds its way by historical landmarks, such as the remains of a covered bridge and an old stone wall that was part of the Fairview Turnpike. Laurel Trail also follows a stream for a while and meanders through the park's wilderness area. That area, too, may hold attraction for family adventurers with its heavily wooded hillsides, sandstone and shale cliffs and wildflowers.

Additionally, anglers may want to make a quick five-mile drive to the Ohio River and the New Cumberland Lock. Harvey has done so himself and regularly catches bass, catfish and walleyes.

Tomlinson Run features a 54-unit campground, 10 cabins that can only be rented as a whole for group activities, and four yurts, which are Mongolian tents situated on wooden platforms. The park also possesses two "sleeping cabins," which are available to groups or families. These structures are Amish log cabins that are 12 by 18 feet and are designed, as the name implies, just for sleeping.

For more information, contact Tomlinson at www.tomlinsonrunsp. com, or call (304) 564-3651.

As the name applies, Berkeley Springs State Park does possess water within the 4 acres that the park encompasses, but no fishing possibilities exist. But park district administrator Bob Beanblossom believes that combining a visit to the park, the town itself, and the nearby Potomac River would be a fascinating family outing.

"Kids who are interested in history might enjoy learning that since before the time of George Washington, folks have been coming to this area to take advantage of the mineral water," he said.


Springs is one of only three towns in West Virginia, with Lewisburg and Shepherdstown being the other two, that I consider touristy towns with lots of shops and businesses that are attractive to all ages. And when a family has seen the town and park, the Potomac River is only a few miles away."

The park itself features mineral water baths, Roman baths, massages, and that kid favorite -- a swimming pool. Lodging can be found nearby at Cacapon Resort State Park, which also offers a nature recreation program, horseback riding and hiking.

I have floated the entire Potomac River in West Virginia, and much of the upper river offers good populations of smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish. The closest access point to Berkeley Springs is the one at Hancock (Maryland), which is just a few miles up state Route 522 from the park. Folks can fish from the shore, wade or employ a canoe or johnboat in the vicinity of the ramp.

Please note, however, that the distance from Hancock downstream to the next access point, McCoy's Ferry, is 14 miles, which is too long for most youngsters to tolerate. But again, plenty of calm water, replete with sunfish, exists in the vicinity of the Hancock ramp.

Another option is to drive some six miles in the opposite direction from Berkeley Springs and head toward 205-acre Sleepy Creek Lake. The lake, which is part of the Sleepy Creek WMA in Berkeley and Morgan counties, is known for its hefty largemouths and solid populations of crappie and bluegills. Both standing and submerged timber exists in the lake's coves, which are often the best places to seek out the aforementioned game fish. Adding to the appeal of the WMA is the fact that 75 primitive campsites are available.

For more information, contact the park at, or call (304) 258-2771. For information on Cacapon, contact the park at, or call (304) 258-1022.

At 8,101 acres, Holly River State Park is the second largest park in the Mountain State. The park certainly looms large as an attraction in District III, which is mostly in the central part of the state. Superintendent Ken McClintic maintains that several fishing destinations are in the mix for your consideration.

Laurel Fork flows through the park and it is stocked twice a month from February through May. I have fished the stream in the summertime and anglers can rest assured that it harbors carryover fish. Laurel Fork is a beautiful, rhododendron-shrouded mountain rill that features mini-waterfalls and plunge pools, plus long riffles bordered by moss-covered rocks. A trail runs along much of the stream. Holly River also has a rearing pond where youngsters can view rainbow, brown, brook and golden trout.

"Our park naturalist leads field trips to the rearing pond where kids can learn about trout biology and the types of things that trout eat," said McClintic. "Kids love to feed pellets to the trout, which act like packs of piranha. A lot of folks have never seen a golden trout, and the naturalist explains that these fish are a genetic variation of rainbows. And a lot of kids don't realize the special nature of trout in this state and what they need to thrive."

Besides Laurel Fork being an on-site destination, McClintic says that families can also make short trips to visit two major state trout waters: the Elk River and the Back Fork of the Elk. Or they can fish another stream right in the park, the Left Fork of the Holly River.

On a previous visit to Holly River State Park, McClintic and I floated the lower Elk River for smallies, spotted bass and panfish. That section of the river is less than an hour from the park.

Holly River provides some of the most enticing kid-friendly programs of any state park that I have ever visited. McClintic relates that the summer naturalist offers nature hikes, tree, fern and wildflower identification, stream stomps where such creatures as crayfish and aquatic insects are netted and identified, and a program on bats. The superintendent says that a major goal of the latter activity is to debunk myths that exist about these creatures and to show how they are actaully quite helpful to humans.

Another popular activity is to venture forth on night hikes where young people have the experience of walking an hour or so in the dark without benefit of a light. They thus are able to tune in to night sounds and the constellations. Finally, an arts and crafts program is available for younger children.

Also available are visits from a magician, raptor experts, geologist, and an expert on Appalachian dance. Swimming and various sports activities such as volleyball and badminton are in the mix, too.

Holly River also boasts a number of trails through scenic areas, as the park has three major waterfalls. Finally, a short drive will take you to the West Virginia Wildlife Center, one of the best places I have ever been to view native wildlife, which dwell behind enclosures.

For more information, contact the park at, or call (304) 493-6353.

Bob Beanblossom believes that one of the most colorful place names in West Virginia -- and the state is known for its unusual appellations -- is Cabwaylingo State Forest in Wayne County. Bob relates that many people mistakenly believe that the name comes from a long-ago Indian tribe. However, the word Cabwaylingo originated from a high school student who entered a contest -- the goal being to name a new state forest in the area of Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mingo counties. The student borrowed letters from all four counties and came up with the prize-winning entry.

The state park district administrator maintains that families won't have to travel far to wet a line, as the West Fork of Twelvepole Creek flows through the forest and is stocked with trout once each month from January through April. Other outdoor activities on-site include hiking (trails run from one to three miles), swimming and picnicking. Lodging is available in the form of 14 cabins, plus a 20-site primitive campground. A group campsite is also on the premises.

During hot and/or dry years, the trout fishing can slow by early June, and if that is the case, Beanblossom suggests that anglers journey to East Lynn Reservoir, approximately 20 miles away. The 1,005-acre Wayne County impoundment contains largemouth and spotted bass, hybrid stripers, channel catfish, and bluegills among other species.

A tailrace trout fishery exists below the lake's dam with trout being stocked once a month from February through May. In fact, these tailrace trout may well be more active than those in Twelvepole Creek. One other possibility is to drive westward from the state forest and go after the smallmouth bass and catfish in the lower reaches of Tug Fork.

For more information, contact the state forest at www.cabwaylingo. com, or call (304) 385-4255. For more information on fishing at East Lynn, consult the following site:

State Park Chief Ken Caplinger says that the 1,405-acre North State Park and its namesake impoundment is a good option for families who live in District VI, which covers much of the northwestern part of the state.

"North Bend Lake is turning into an outstanding place to go fishing," he said. "From what I understand, local folks are very excited about the lake, and the fishing for largemouth bass and bluegills is quite good. The lake also has smallmouth bass and muskies."

A campground exists near the lake, which adds to its appeal. And if your young people tire of fishing, consider taking them on the nearby 72-mile long North Bend Rail Trail. Caplinger says the trail for the most part is very level; it is ideal for parents with small children who just want a short walk or for older kids who are more venturesome and may want to hike or bike a goodly portion of the byway. Kids of all ages will enjoy trekking through the trail's many tunnels.

Of course, there's much to do right at the park. Caplinger lists the pool, game courts, and a nature and recreation program. Within the Cairo area park are also 16 miles of hiking trails. Another activity is a chance for kids to earn a Young Parks Person (YPP) patch, which is designed for youth from 6 to 16, assuming they complete three environmental related tasks.

For more information, contact the park at, or call (304) 643-2931.

West Virginia's state parks and forests combine outstanding family fun and fishing, and one or more of these establishments are located within a short drive of just about everyone in the Mountain State.

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