September 29, 2010
Don't pack away your fishing gear just yet! Not when there's still plenty of great angling on tap right now (and in the coming months) for trout, muskies, walleyes and more!
Fall is an incredible time to fish in the Mountain State. After all, most of the traditional fishing pressure is long gone, with many sportsmen concentrating on hunting ventures rather than fishing opportunities. Such a mass exodus leaves many prime West Virginia waterways barren, subsequently creating fabulous fishing opportunities under solitary conditions.
The Buckhannon River has more muskies per acre of water than any other waterway in West Virginia. Raising 10 fish a day isn't unusual on this river, either. Photo courtesy of Kevin Yokum.
Loading up on forage in preparation for the long winter, fish begin a feeding frenzy as the fall season approaches. During warm fall days, anglers will find fish in an aggressive mode. Fall trout stocking also takes place on many of our state's best streams, adding even more incentive for anglers to hit the water.
Fall is a time when the Mountain State offers a colorful spectrum of fall leaf foliage, as the trees give off one last burst of color before shedding their leaves. The eastern hardwood forests that cover much of West Virginia add a real sense of splendor to fall fishing trips. If you haven't witnessed the fall color collage from atop Spruce Knob, the state's highest point, you are truly cheating yourself of a visual delicacy.
You might consider fishing Gandy Creek on your travels to the Mountain State's highest peak, especially since this gem of a fishery is right along the way.
GANDY CREEK TROUT
Gandy Creek remains one of our state's most charming mountain streams as it meanders through portions of rural Randolph County. The stream's headwaters run directly from Spruce Knob, so its water flows pure and cold.
Anglers will find this highly accessible stream loaded with stocked browns, rainbows, golden rainbows and brook trout. Even coveted native brook trout will make their way into the stream from icy mountain tributaries.
Stocked trout are the stream's mainstay. Because of its prime accessibility and quality habitat, Gandy receives lavish loads of trout. Gandy Creek is stocked with trout in January and February, and then every week from March through May. Gandy Creek also receives stockings during the first two weeks of October.
While additional trout from the fall stockings add surplus trout into Gandy, holdovers from spring stockings continue to inhabit the stream. Such holdover capability adds wariness to Gandy's surviving trout population, giving the stream a sense of "wildness," which many anglers find appealing.
The downside of having such a high-quality trout stream so close to a well-traveled roadway is the amount of fishing pressure Gandy Creek attracts. County Route 29 (turns into Forest Service Road 41) runs alongside Gandy for most of its length, providing plenty of streamside parking opportunities. (Continued)
To counteract the effects of fishing pressure, try fishing backstretches of Gandy Creek where the stream ventures away from the road. Several such stretches can be found throughout the narrow valley.
Gandy Creek's best fishing spots continue to be large pools. Summer trout are often confined by such suitable habitat and most of the fall stockings will take place in the stream's larger pools. As the fall season progresses, the trout will scatter as cooler water temperatures allow them to invade new sections of the stream. Fall trout dispersal increases the quality of an already good trout stream.
In-stream habitat such as boulders and large rocks create fine trout habitat. These shelters serve as prime locations for trout to hide and feed. Several portions of the stream also contain undercut banks that brown trout seem to be attracted to, so make sure to target these areas as well while fishing Gandy Creek.
Just about the entire reach between the community of Whitmer and the area where county Route 29 breaks away from the creek can be considered prime trout water. Ample parking can be found along the road and near Forest Service hiking trailheads, so take advantage of convenient access along one of the Mountain State's best small trout streams.
BURNSVILLE LAKE LARGEMOUTH BASS
The opportunity to catch trophy bass is what draws anglers to Burnsville Lake. The fact that Burnsville Lake is situated in the middle of the state and is surrounded by a picturesque landscape doesn't hurt either.
Burnsville's bass fishery consists of all three species: largemouth, spotted and smallmouth, but anglers primarily catch spots and largemouths. The lake has long been known for producing fair numbers of bass, but on special occasions, Burnsville can yield bass of lunker proportions.
As for yielding big bass, Burnsville can hold its own with any other Mountain State impoundment, including Stonewall Jackson. However, Burnsville doesn't possess the quantities of 5-pound and larger bass like Stonewall does.
Spotted bass remain the most abundant bass species in Burnsville Lake, making up approximately 60 percent of the lake's bass population. Largemouths fill out the other 39 percent. Smallmouths comprise about 1 percent of the bass fishery on Burnsville Lake.
Burnsville is fortunate to possess several areas of high-quality bass habitat. Standing timber remains the most visible structure on the lake and areas such as Big Run, Knawl Creek, and Little Knawl Creek incorporate the greatest concentrations of the woody habitat.
Burnsville also contains numerous rocky points. These long, submerged points generate consistent bass fishing opportunities all year long and can be particularly good fishing spots during the fall when fishing pressure subsides.
While Carolina rigging a lizard might put your bait in the face of a giant largemouth, running a crankbait over the rocky points is probably the best way to generate fantastic action during the fall frenzy.
Launch ramps can be found on both ends of Burnsville Lake. Along U.S. Route 19, anglers will discover the Bulltown daytime and the Bulltown campground areas on the upper end of the lake. The day-use area remains open until November, and the campground ramp typically stays open year 'round.
On the lower end, the Riffle Run boat ramp stays open year 'round and is adjoined to the lake's only marina, Burnsville Docks. To access the Riffle Run area, take exit 79 from Interstate 79 through th
e town of Burnsville and follow signs to the lake.
GREENBRIER RIVER SMALLMOUTH BASS
The Greenbrier River is one of the Mountain State's premier waters to fish for smallmouth bass, both for wading and float-fishing anglers.
The river is an easy one in terms of navigation, and even novice anglers should have no trouble paddling the Greenbrier River. Floating the Greenbrier remains the best way to garner a complete river experience, but wading anglers also share numerous opportunities to fish along its length.
The river contains a slight gradient, plenty of rocky substrate and fertile terrestrial banks. Smallmouths thrive among such structure, and this fishery is certainly a destination to rack up big numbers when fishing for smallmouths. Largemouth bass also inhabit the river, but their numbers remain substantially lower than smallmouths.
The Greenbrier is a heck of a place to catch plenty of good-sized smallmouth bass, with the majority falling in the 10- to 15-inch category. Occasionally, smallmouths exceeding 20 inches are caught, but the real attraction for anglers fishing the Greenbrier River remains the numbers of 10- to 15-inch bass.
As the fall season approaches, two lures really stand out for Greenbrier River smallmouths: the Rebel Crawfish lures and twistertail jigs. Crayfish stay active well into the fall and smallmouths are in the process of bulking up before the onset of winter, thus the rebel crayfish provides an enticing package for hungry bronzebacks.
During the fall, small jigs (1/8 to 1/4 ounce) consistently outfish other baits on the river, and small bass in particular really take a liking to the jigs. By hitting jigs so readily, small bass can in effect prevent larger bass from striking the baits. The consistent action can become a bother, or at other times a terrific problem to encounter depending on your outlook.
Topwater lures that are so successful during the summer months, such as buzzbaits and prop baits, can also remain effective in the fall and should be included in any angler's Greenbrier River tackle box.
The six-mile special regulation section from the U.S. Route 60 bridge near Caldwell to the U.S. Route 219 bridge at Ronceverte is a showcase float on the river. This area features a 12- to 20-inch slot limit and allows for harvest of one bass per day over 20 inches, and up to six bass per day under 12 inches. Anglers will find some real lunker bass in this stretch of river.
Another favorite float for Greenbrier River anglers is the 8.5-mile jaunt from Alderson to Pence Springs. This is one section of the river anglers will traditionally target when looking to rack up impressive numbers of smallmouths.
The versatile Greenbrier River offers a wealth of fishing opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. Remember to give yourself some extra time while fishing this river because anglers coming to the Greenbrier know that this destination is more than a fishing excursion; it's an uplifting experience.
SUMMERSVILLE LAKE WALLEYES
Summersville Lake remains West Virginia's best walleye fishery, particularly for anglers who are looking to catch a limit of marble-eyes. Catching a trophy walleye is always a possibility on Summersville and big ones do show up on occasion, but this Nicholas County water is much more noted for filling up stringers with walleyes destined for the dinner table rather than the wall.
At 2,700 acres, Summersville Lake remains West Virginia's largest impoundment. The lake even looks like a textbook perfect walleye factory with its large boulders, rock cliffs and clear, icy water.
Scattered from one end of the lake to the other, Summersville contains plenty of quality walleye habitat. Perennial hotspots include McKeys Creek, Battle Run and the U.S. Route 19 bridge.
Located near Long Point Marina, Mckeys Creek encompasses a lengthy arm of the lake. The area is marked with several mini coves and numerous rocky points that attract walleyes like crazy. Additionally, walleyes tend to congregate near the mouth of Mckeys Creek, especially in the fall.
Battle Run is another area known for producing good catches of walleyes. Perhaps the best places to fish in Battle Run would be on sloping points that extend into the lake from both sides of the area's numerous miniature coves. These points are lengthy structures, so at nearly any water level, walleyes will continue to hang on these points.
When walleyes are holding deep or suspended over deep water, no place on the lake becomes more productive than around the Route 19 bridge. Located near the mouth of Salmon Run, the bridge offers the type of cover walleyes are strongly attracted to. The bridge also sits in a narrow section of the lake, funneling current and food through the bridge piers to waiting marble-eyes.
Each fall, Summersville Lake undergoes a significant drawdown. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowers the lake about 80 feet from its summer recreational pool in order for the lake to accommodate winter and spring runoff. The Corps of Engineers will raise the lake elevation sometime around April 1 of the following spring, and then lower it again the proceeding September.
Lake walleyes adapt to this drawdown routine readily and will concentrate in the previously mentioned hotspots during the winter drawdown.
At normal summer pool, Summersville Lake offers plenty of boating access from four separate launching facilities. However, during drawdown, only two ramps, Salmon Run and the winter ramp located beside the dam, remain open. The ramp at Long Point is sometimes open during drawdown season. Anglers can call the lake's fishing hotline at (304) 872-5809 for more information.
BUCKHANNON RIVER MUSKIES
Muskies feed heavily before the onset of winter, so the fall becomes a fabulous time to fish for these hefty game fish. No water in West Virginia holds more muskies per acre than the Buckhannon River, and the most exciting part is you can see them coming.
The Buckhannon River features incredibly clear water and plenty of submerged log piles. Such structure serves as the main habitat for muskies in the area, and it's quite a rush to see one of these fish charge from under one of these submerged logs to annihilate a lure.
Quantity is the key attraction when fishing the Buckhannon River, and it's not uncommon to raise more than 10 muskies on an all-day trip.
The Buckhannon showcases a muskie population that includes fish of various sizes. Anglers will likely encounter numerous sub-legal fish (less than 30 inches), as well as good numbers of 30- to 40-inch fish and some occasional 40-inch-plus trophies.
The river exhibits two distinctly different fisheries, and a low-water dam in the city of Buckhannon separates them.
The "lower" Buckhannon River is defin
ed as the section between the city of Buckhannon and the mouth of the river in adjoining Barbour County. This section of the Buckhannon River has traditionally offered plenty of muskies for anglers who are fortunate enough to gain access. Forage remains a limiting factor on the Buckhannon River, but restricted public access along the river has kept fishing pressure low, so the muskie population has prospered.
The Buckhannon Pool, a specially regulated six-mile catch-and-release section running from the city of Buckhannon upstream to Sago remains loaded with muskellunge. The entire section is one large pool featuring plenty of submerged logs, many of which harbor quality-sized muskies.
Studies by the Division of Natural Resources (DNR) have shown muskie numbers to reach staggering proportions in the catch-and-release section, but fishing pressure on this section of the river can be intense when compared with that found on the lower Buckhannon.
Access remains the limiting factor on the lower Buckhannon. Presently, there is a primitive access just below the Weyerhaeuser Plant on Hall Road, off U.S. Route 33 near Buckhannon. After a full day's float, anglers may take out downstream at yet another primitive access near a location known as Lenny's car lot. The DNR plans to develop an access sometime in 2008 just downstream of Lenny's car lot.
Conversely, the Buckhannon Pool is readily accessible and features a concrete launch ramp capable of handling motorized boats. The ramp sits behind West Virginia Wesleyan College inside a city park. While no motor restrictions govern the area, boaters need to use extreme caution when running the river due to submerged timber.
Fall fishing in the Mountain State is an experience anglers of all levels should appreciate. Fishing pressure substantially decreases on nearly all state waters; fall foliage explodes in a cornucopia of colors, while game fish are feeding heavily to prepare for the winter season.
What more could anglers ask for? If you haven't hit the Mountain State's fall fishing season, perhaps this year you'll give it a try and see for yourself just how good fall fishing can be in wild, wonderful West Virginia.