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5 Fall Fishing Picks In West Virginia

5 Fall Fishing Picks In West Virginia

There's still plenty of good fishing to enjoy this month and on into the fall, especially for anglers who are looking to catch bass, muskies, catfish and more. Try these waters right now. (September 2007)

Photo by Eric Engbretson.

Most outdoors oriented folks here in the Mountain State usually start turning their interests back toward hunting once we "round the bend" just after Labor Day. However, some of the finest fishing you can experience can occur now at this most spectacular time of the year. It matters little what species you are focused on, as most game fish kick it back into another gear after the dog days of summer are gone.

As water temperatures cool down, and the water turns over in our reservoirs and lakes, numerous species get ready to spawn and feed. Temperatures have now turned around and become cooler. Most game fish species will take advantage of these late-season conditions to feed heavily to put on weight before winter.


Another factor to like about fall fishing is the relative lack of anglers one has to deal with in comparison with spring and early summer. There are usually fewer insects to deal with as well. In addition, you can add in the possibility of a combination trip where you hunt a little in the morning and mix in a little fishing in the afternoon.


ELK RIVER TROUT

For many folks who head to the mountains, the fall is a super time to seek trout. All kinds of salmonids are active at this time of year and brook and brown trout will now be sporting their spawning colors. For those anglers who enjoy fall trout fishing, you could not pick a better spot than the upper Elk River.


You can pretty well start right at Cherry Falls just outside of Webster Springs, and work your way for 35 miles all the way to Slatyfork and above and be into excellent fishing. The river holds a considerable number of wild brown trout in addition to the numerous stocked brook, rainbow and brown trout. In addition, a number of the feeder streams hold native brook trout for those who love to pursue nature's finest.

You can pretty much cover the whole spectrum of water types in the Elk. It matters little if you prefer larger pools, pocket water or narrow chutes interspersed with riffles. You can find just about anything in the way of water types in this blue ribbon river. From a technique standpoint, fall on the Elk is a time when spinning and flyfishermen will more than hold their own. Spin-fishermen would do well to lean on Rooster Tails, small Mepps Aglia spinners, spinner- fly tandem rigs, Blue Fox Vibrax spinners and small jointed Rapala minnow lures.


Flyfishermen should look to streamers like Woolly Buggers in olive, black, and yellow matuka-style patterns, Clouser minnows and Mickey Finns. Nymph fishermen will want to lean on patterns such as the Prince, Pheasant Tail, olive and grey Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear, hellgrammite and red squirrel nymphs. You will want to have these patterns in both beadhead and the normal non-beadhead configuration. Dry-fly anglers will want to use ant and beetle patterns, small grasshoppers, stimulators, elk hair caddis and midge patterns.

There are numerous places to camp along the river, and the trout will usually cooperate at this time of the year. You can catch all four species of trout on the same day, and it matters little what technique you opt for. Often, the water will be low, so a stealthy approach becomes even more critical than normal. The upper Elk is a great place regardless of the season, but it is an especially fun place once autumn starts to unfold its spectacular colors.

STONECOAL LAKE MUSKIES

If catching trophy muskies is your game, you need look no farther than Stonecoal Lake in Lewis County just south of Weston. There is a 3,000-acre wildlife management area here and a decent semi-improved campground. You can access the lake from off Brushy Fork Road just east of Weston. This road takes you back to the upper lake access. You can also get to this impoundment from off Georgetown Road, which will get you to the west end access and ramp.

Stonecoal has been a great place to get in some great topwater activity for muskies, especially once the lake has "turned over." Most folks will rely on big plugs, crankbaits, buzzbaits, tube baits and spoons. Both of West Virginia's state muskie records for length and weight are from Stonecoal. The weight record is a monstrous 49.75-pound muskie taken by Anna Marsh in 1997, whereas the length record is a 52.7-inch giant caught in 2003 by Glenn Boyd.

Even if the muskie fishing is slow, you will probably catch largemouths, as Stonecoal also holds some better than average bass. However, for those who persist and effectively work the numerous prongs of this lake, odds of latching into one of the lake's big muskies is good, especially once the lake's waters turn over.

Kevin Yokum, a fisheries biologist for District 3, recently said that the most effective way to get into one of these monsters is to troll, and to run your crankbait, spoon or plugs deep. He stressed that Stonecoal is a little abnormal when compared with many of the other muskie fisheries in the state because of its water clarity and the deeper main channels found at this impoundment.

Biologist Yokum stressed that Stonecoal will not put up great numbers from a muskie standpoint, but if you are after a 45- to 50-inch fish, then Stonecoal is tough to beat. Jerry's Sporting Goods is just off the western edge of the lake and carries most of the latest, hottest baits the avid muskie angler may need.

NEW RIVER SMALLIES

For those folks who have a hankering for some top-flight smallmouth bass fishing, you can hardly go wrong when focusing your efforts on the lower New River from Thurmond, upstream to Shanklins Ferry at the Virginia line. Over the past 10 years, a number of the whitewater outfitters have been targeting the fine black bass fishing later in the season as it often gives them additional business before the fall whitewater releases.

This fishing, if you can catch it when the water levels are right, can be world class. Four- to 5-pound smallies are not uncommon and there are occasional 6-pound-plus fish boated by anglers with the expertise and the prerequisite amount of luck.

A recent conversation with former outdoor television host, Ed Hayne (Channel 12, WOWK, Charleston), who has floated and fished the New River extensively from the Virginia line downstream to Hawks Nest State Park, provided considerable grist for the fishing mill. Hayne said that the New could be super through the first two weeks of October.

Hayne also stressed how critical it is to have a properly fitting personal flotation vest, as this huge, brawling river should not be taken lightly. He also m

entioned that you would do well to focus more on the middle river structure and not the river's banks, as many folks are prone to do.

Hayne said that he likes tiny Torpedo plugs, Bass Assassins, crankbaits), super flukes and pig-and-jigs when using spinning or casting gear. When fly-fishing, he said his best success is on Woolly Buggers with a tungsten beadhead, Clouser minnows, Sneaky Pete's, popping bugs, and bubble puppies. Hayne favors a 6-foot medium-action spinning rod and a reel loaded with 8-pound-test mono. When fly-fishing, he opts for a 9-foot rod that would comfortably handle a 7X, weight-forward floating line.

These trips often can be turned into multiple day adventures when you add in a night or two of camping on the river. There are a number of outfitters who provide top tier guiding service on the New River. The key here is to make certain you do the requisite background homework to ensure you are connected with a good outfitter. If you really want to get the most out of your initial exposure to this super fishery, hire a good guide and the expenditure will be more than offset by the fabulous fishing this river usually provides at this time of year.

How you approach the New River will more than likely be determined by water levels. If it is still down at late-summer flows, chances are good that both spin- and fly-fishing anglers can have a good time of it with their topwater offerings. However, if flows are up, you will probably have to fish subsurface lures, especially if want a chance to hang the bigger smallmouth bass. Again, do not forget to focus your efforts on the middle river structure! Chances are good you may catch a 4- to 5-pound bass. You might be able to hang one of those bigger bronzebacks.

TYGART LAKE WHITE BASS

When I start thinking about super white bass fishing, Tygart Lake immediately comes to mind. After all, Tygart Lake contains excellent numbers of these voracious panfish. Fall is a great time to be on Tygart. All you will need to get into a mess of these hyperactive fish is a small ultra- light spinning rod and some small pearl spoons, in-line spinners, micro jigs or spinner-fly tandem rigs.

Just cruise the edges of the cover and search for the schools of white bass chasing down pods of emerald shiners. When you spot a pod of the schooling bass, cast out ahead of the school and quickly retrieve your lure back through it. Kind of like fishing to stripers except on a much smaller scale!

You will usually find white bass in some type of cover or just off one of the points that project out into the lake. Tygart Lake is easily accessed either off U.S. Route 119 at Pleasants Creek or through the state park on the east side of the lake off county Route 44 out of Grafton.

For this type of fishing, lightweight tackle, such as 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-foot ultralight spinning rods and reels filled with 2- to 4-pound-test monofilament, is the way to go. If the lake is ultra-clear, which it normally is at this time of year, you will probably want to lean toward the lighter line.

The fly-rodder can get in on this action, too, by casting small wet flies and little streamers once a pod of fish is located. Tygart Lake is also home to some jumbo-sized yellow perch, which you will turn up on occasion while crappie fishing here. A tastier bonus fish one will never find!

There's a state-run campground that can handle a decent number of RVs, a tent camping area and the cabins at the state park that are moderately priced. These cabins each have a fireplace, a kitchen, comfortable beds and a shower.

OHIO RIVER CATFISH

When it comes to top-drawer channel catfish angling, one needs to look no farther than the mighty Ohio River. There are a number of areas one might consider; but for just numbers and accessibility, the Hannibal Pool and its tailwaters would be a good place to start one's efforts. Moundsville sits almost smack in the middle of the Hannibal Pool, which is approximately 42 miles long. There are 70 different tributaries that enter the river over the length of this stretch of river.

Frank Jernejcic, a fisheries biologist for District 1, told me that the Hannibal Pool and its tailwaters produce superb fishing for both channel cats and their larger brethren, flatheads. He mentioned that accessibility is excellent to the Hannibal Pool, especially once you get below Moundsville where the river becomes slightly more pastoral.

The Hannibal Dam is just below the village of Steelton, and just north of New Martinsville on state Route 2. Director Jezioro reiterated what I had heard from Bernie Dowler, the former head of the Wildlife Resources Division, almost 10 years ago. Back then, Dowler stated, "Channel cats are probably distributed more universally throughout all habitats in the main stem of the Ohio river than any other sport fish."

There are a variety of approaches fishermen might consider in their quest for Old Whiskers. Night-fishing with chicken livers, cut baits, live minnows, night crawlers, skipjacks and creek chubs all have their followers. What might surprise some folks is how frequently channel cats will take artificial lures like Silver Buddies, small jigging spoons, Little Cleos, crankbaits, and just about any type of bait that has a metallic blade.

Usually areas with some current will be more productive than the more stagnant areas of water. Subsequently, the tailwaters below the dam is a great place to focus your efforts.

In addition, since channel cats grow up to 25 to 30 pounds, you will want to break out your heavyweight spinning and baitcasting gear. A 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot stiff spinning or casting rod that will handle 200 yards of 20- to 30-pound-test mono should be your gear of choice for doing battle with these big whiskerfish.

Catfish in the 5- to 10-pound range are common, and if you do hook into a 20- to 30-pound bruiser, you will have the type of gear necessary to get one of these brutes to the net. If you are serious about fishing the Ohio, a great reference book is Mark Hicks' Fishing the Ohio River, published by Big River Press, P.O. Box 130, Millfield, Ohio 45761. It is a necessary read for anyone who regularly fishes the Ohio River.

So there you have it, five prime picks to go fishing during the fall season. You're likely to find great fishing with less company right now. After all, most outdoors types are gearing up for hunting -- and that's not a bad idea; however, it's still a great time to enjoy tight lines on your favorite lake, reservoir, river or stream!

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