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West Virginia's Best Family Fishing Vacations

West Virginia's Best Family Fishing Vacations

Our wild and wonderful state has plenty of getaways that are sure to please all members of your family, no matter what their outdoor interests.

West Virginia's state park lakes, like Moncove shown here, typically offer excellent fishing for a variety of warmwater species. Photo by Bruce Ingram

By Bruce Ingram

The absolute best time my son, Mark, and I had together last year took place during a visit to Kumbrabow State Forest in District III in Randolph County. Last May, after we left the high school where he is a junior and I am a teacher, we traveled up U.S. Route 219 to the 9,474-acre state forest situated in the mountains of West Virginia near Huttonsville. Upon our arrival, Mark and I immediately began to experience what many people believe is so unique and appealing about this highland state forest.

First, we had to go to a well near our cabin, one of five such rustic abodes on the property, as the structures do not have running water. Then we had to gather wood for the wood stove and fireplace, as the cabins also do not feature "modern" heating. Next, Mark had to learn how to turn on the gaslights because the sun was rapidly setting.

Our basic housekeeping chores complete, I began to prepare deer burgers for dinner, cooking them over the stove. My boy, meanwhile, assembled the broccoli and carrots to boil on the stove and decided that he would have to replenish our wood supply for the night.

The outside temperature steadily declined throughout the evening and fortunately Mark had gathered a goodly amount of firewood. Even though it was mid-May, by morning the temperature had plunged to 38 degrees and an icy drizzle was falling. But Mark and I were warm and content in our cabin and we discussed how our sojourn was not dissimilar to the way Mountaineers had existed in the region in the 1800s.

The next morning, Mark and I went spring gobbler hunting in the surrounding state forest with park superintendent Matt Yeager. Although the habitat was excellent and the bird population healthy, we did not hear any gobbling, the cold weather and rain no doubt dampening the spirits of the local toms. Later that morning, Mark and I fished for native brook trout in Mill Creek, a stream that courses by the cabins and runs through the state forest.

Mill Creek is a scenic highland rill that cascades down from Rich Mountain, which has elevations ranging from 3,000 to 3,930 feet. So the stream is truly an upland one with its plunge pools, waterfalls and boulders. Under one such boulder, a brightly hued brookie lurked and managed to latch onto an in-line spinner. A few seconds later, Mark posed for a picture with the fish before releasing it back into the pool.


Our stay at Kumbrabow State Forest is one we will long remember. And this District III facility is certainly one of the crown jewels of West Virginia's state parks and forests system. But families looking for fishing and outdoor fun can also plan high-quality excursions in each of the state's other six districts as well. Here are some possibilities.

The Ohio River dominates the fishing scene in District I, which is in the north-central and Northern Panhandle part of West Virginia. And certainly one of the best places to fish on the Ohio is the Hannibal Pool portion. In recent years, Hannibal, as well as the other pools on the upper river (New Cumberland, Pike Island and Willow), has seen a major improvement in its smallmouth bass fishing. Plenty of smallmouths in the 2- to 3-pound range exist, and the fishing remains good for largemouths and spotted bass as well, though the latter species is typically much smaller than the smallies and largemouths present.

The best advice I can give a parent-child duo that want to fish Hannibal Pool is to concentrate on the tributaries. And the best of these tributaries is probably Sunfish Creek. Sunfish is known for its vast amount of rock and wood cover that extends a good five to six miles back.

Another popular stream is Fish Creek. The lower reaches of Fish Creek and its mouth are well known for producing solid bass action. Of course, numerous other tributaries empty into Hannibal Pool, and many of these small waterways can provide hot bass fishing. If anglers decide to stay out on the main river, then they should target the numerous islands that dot the Ohio. Often the downstream sides of these islands will provide the best fishing.

Of note is the fact that the Ohio, due to the multitude of mountain streams that flow into it, is slow to warm up in the spring. Therefore, during a summertime visit, a family may well find the bass fishing at its peak. The topwater action can be especially good, a real plus for youngsters - and adults, for that matter - who relish the thrill of seeing a bass hit a surface bait.

A convenient family-oriented place to stay is Tomlinson Run State Park in the tip of the Northern Panhandle. Indeed, the state park is located only a mile from the mighty Ohio. Tomlinson features a 54-site campground and also offers a complete group camping experience that clubs, scout, and church organizations often take advantage of.

A quality place for families to visit is Oglebay Resort and Conference Center. Oglebay is known for its nature programs and environmental awareness. A possible highlight could be visiting the Bird Café, an enclosure where visitors can watch songbirds go about their daily routines. The rare red wolf is being bred at Oglebay with the goal being to release these predators into the wild. In fact, so far a number of red wolves have been let go.

For more information on Tomlinson Run, dial 800-CALL-WVA. All state parks and forests mentioned in this article, including Kumbrabow, can be reached via that number. For more information on Oglebay, dial (800) 624-6988. For information on planning a trip to the Northern Panhandle, call the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, (888) 507-4569.

One of the favorite rivers for my wife, Elaine, and myself to float is the Shenandoah River in the Eastern Panhandle. This District II waterway, except for its lower reaches where it joins with the Potomac, is one of the most placid rivers of the East Coast. Last summer, my spouse and I had a most enjoyable float down the Shenandoah.

Although Elaine is what I would consider an ideal wife, her major flaw, to my way of thinking, is that she is an indifferent smallmouth bass angler - not understanding why these are the most superior fish that fin the Mountain State. My spouse would just as soon angle for redbreast sunfish and would rather catch a dozen of these 6-inch or so creatures than one keeper-sized smallie.

If you have a spouse like Elaine or if you have children who are more interested in catching numbers of panfish than big bronzebacks, then the main stem of the Shenandoah is an ideal family destination. Not to say that the bass fishing isn't super, it is, but the sunfish are abundant and easy to catch.

The main stem of this river offers many shaded outside bends where the redbreasts congregate in great numbers. Look for these panfish to lurk near downed trees, especially sycamores that have tumbled into the stream yet with their roots remaining attached on the shoreline. Another sunfish hangout is any riffle, specifically the midriver current breaks formed by rocks and various kinds of flotsam.

I prefer lures when angling for redbreasts, simply because artificials are less messy than live bait. You can use the same kinds of lures that you do for Shenandoah smallies; merely downsize them. For example, if you have been enjoying topwater action for smallmouths with 3-inch prop baits, try 2-inch models for the sunfish. A 3-inch grub works great for both bass and panfish, but a 2-inch version on a 1/8-ounce jighead is ideal for redbreasts.

Approximately 19 miles of the river flow through West Virginia, and three major float trips exist. These excursions are Castlemans Ferry to Avon Bend (seven miles), Avon Bend to Bloomery (eight miles), and Bloomery to Potomac Wayside (six miles). The first two miles of the Castlemans Ferry float are in Virginia, so West Virginians will either have to wait until they cross into West Virginia (near Parker Island) or buy an Old Dominion license if they want to fish this entire section.

The Bloomery float features very mild water for its first few miles, but major rapids exist for the last two-thirds of the trip. I strongly recommend that families not take the Bloomery trip. Probably the best float for families among the three trips is the Avon Bend to Bloomery one. This is the one Elaine and I navigated last summer.

If you and your family want to enjoy another fun activity besides fishing on your trip down the Shenandoah, consider bird watching. Some 25 years ago, I bought several bird field guides, some audiotapes and a pair of binoculars, and during the ensuing years I have spent very little additional money on bird watching. This is an inexpensive pastime that families can enjoy together in the outdoors.

For instance, on our trip, Elaine and I heard or saw some two-dozen species of birds. Among some of the more common Shenandoah birds are great blue herons, belted kingfishers, broad-wing hawks, ospreys, orchard orioles and wood thrushes. We even saw a bald eagle on our Avon Bend junket, a raptor that is becoming more common on the Shenandoah and other Mountain State rivers.

For more information on planning a trip to the Shenandoah, contact the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 848-TOUR. The nearest state park to the Shenandoah is Cacapon Resort in Berkeley Springs. Cacapon offers a 46-room lodge, 31 cabins, hiking, horseback trails, swimming, boating and much more.

I recently talked to Mike O'Brien, assistant superintendent at Greenbrier State Forest, and he told me that the bluegill fishing at Moncove Lake remains excellent. O'Brien, former superintendent of Moncove Lake State Park, took my son, Mark, and me on a fishing expedition there back in the 1990s.

Although Mark, Mike and I teamed up to catch some largemouth bass, the featured species that day was the omnipresent bluegill sunfish. A highlight of the trip was when O'Brien and my son tied into a duo of slab bluegills, and each one probably topped a half-pound.

Visiting families are likely to enjoy similar action at the 144-acre Monroe County impoundment. Moncove has a deserved reputation for being a superb spring largemouth lake, as the impoundment features a number of shallow spawning coves, grassbeds, and sheltered shorelines. But the bucketmouths head deep during the summer and are more difficult to entice, especially the larger specimens.

The bluegills, however, remain shallow and eager to hit throughout the summer. In fact, the dock and beach area is a marvelous place for family members who don't have access to a boat to load up on gills. A young angler dangling a night crawler under a bobber and casting out from the bank or dock is very likely to have a successful outing.

Fishermen are also welcome to bring their own boats, and canoes or johnboats are ideal for tooling around Moncove Lake. Boaters must use less than a 5-horsepower gasoline motor, but the lake is so small that a big motor is not needed anyway. Rowboats and paddleboats can be rented as well. Other amenities at the park include 50 tent or trailer sites, picnic tables, grills, fireplace, bathhouse and swimming pool. For more information on planning a trip, contact the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 833-2068.

The western reaches of West Virginia offer an interesting destination for families - the 3,655-acre McClintic Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Mason County. Located near Point Pleasant and the city of Mason, this WMA features 31 ponds, 29 of which contain largemouth bass and various sunfish species

The ponds have a number of features in common. They are all small and less than 75 acres. As a group, they typically have water between 5 and 10 feet deep and the bass habitat is very much standard: laydowns, brush and scattered rocks. As a plus, a few of these mini-impoundments conceal northern pike and channel catfish.

A good game plan at McClintic is to spend a day pond hopping. By that I mean, a parent and his offspring could fish a 5- or 10-acre pond for an hour or so and by walking along the shoreline, hit all the high spots. Then they could move onto another similar size impoundment and repeat the process. The WMA possesses so many bodies of water that a family could be fishing virgin water all day.

For a small fee, rustic campsites exist, so there is no need to go to a motel for the night. Actually spending the night on site gives serious fishermen in the family a chance at some evening topwater action. For more information on visiting the McClintic WMA, contact the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources office in Point Pleasant at (304) 675-0871.

District VI, which covers northwestern West Virginia, has a new lake for families to visit this summer. So new, in fact, that at this writing, the name for the 305-acre impoundment is only tentative. That conditional name is North Bend Lake, and it is located on the North Fork of the Hughes River at North Bend Lake State Park.

Kathy Metz, assistant superintendent for the park, says that the new body of water should provide excellent fishing for largemouth bass, bluegills and catfish. The river itself is renowned for its muskie fishing, and Metz expects that the lake, too, will conceal a good number of these predators.

A marina, docks and a handicapped fishing pier are planned for the lake and are scheduled to be in operation for the summer. As an additional plus for families, a new campground will be located near the lake, and this facility will offer approximately 90 campsites, says Metz. Eight cabins and a 29-room lodge are also available.

Metz said that families would also enjoy other activities at North Bend State Park. The North Bend Rail Trail, one of the most popular rail trails in the state, winds through the park and overall covers 72 miles. The pathway is ideal for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. A year-round nature program is also well received by camp visitors, continues Metz, and is especially popular during the summer. Swimming, bird watching and picnicking are other possible activities.

One of the great aspects about a family visiting a West Virginia stream or lake, in conjunction with a sojourn at a state park or forest, is the wonderful variety of things to do. Families can journey to a state forest such as Kumbrabow and return to the lifestyle of the 1800s or go to a new impoundment like North Bend Lake and a modern park like North Bend. Maybe that diversity is why my family and I have visited a different West Virginia state park or forest for the past 12 years on our annual vacation.

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