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May Madness: West Virginia Fishing Hot Spots

May Madness: West Virginia Fishing Hot Spots
Photo by Bret Alexander

Spring has sprung all across our wild and wonderful state. Trees and flowers are blooming-and the birds seem to be singing louder and happier tunes.

In the slightly quieter aquatic world of West Virginia's myriad lakes, rivers and streams, finny creatures of all types are also reacting to the warmer temperatures and slightly longer days of sunshine and rain. Every species, from catfish to walleyes, are becoming more active with each passing day.

If you're a diehard angler like me, you've already dusted off your fishing gear — and are pursuing your favorite game fish. Let's take a look at some of the state's best springtime angling opportunities.


STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE MUSKELLUNGE


Stonewall Jackson Lake (2,650-acres in Lewis County) may be better known for its excellent largemouth bass fishing. After all, each new spring brings out the best bass angling of the year at this big water. Yet, Stonewall Jackson is also one of West Virginia's finest muskellunge fisheries-and ranked as high as the No. 1 lake in the state during the 2010 season for muskies. What's significant about that? Well, the 2010 season's muskie catch statewide represented the largest ever in 40 years of record keeping by the state's Husky Musky Club!

Not only is Stonewall known for numbers of fish-but big ones as well. During the record-setting season, anglers caught 47 muskies from this lake, including two over 50 inches long! Now, that's a big fish anywhere. Add a mouth full of sharp canine teeth and even experienced anglers can have their hands full. Fortunately, as with a lot of bass anglers, most muskie fishermen practice catch-and-release as well.

Last spring, Dillon McDaniel's of Frenchton caught-and-released a fine 50 1/2-inch muskie from Stonewall. He was fishing with a custom lure, made by Jerry Myers of Crawford. Young McDaniel's used a pink, 7-inch proto-type trolling minnow made by Myers. Myers' wife had chosen the pink color — and apparently it is a hit with muskellunge! The trophy muskie hit while the two fishermen were trolling straight out from a main-lake point. The fish hit the lure on the turn.

Myers' lure is now called the Myers SJ-50 (for Stonewall Jackson and the first fish caught on it being more than 50 inches).


Some of the best places to troll for muskies right now and into the summer, according to Myers, include any of the bays like Skin Creek or Wolf Fork, along with any prominent lake point — any place where flooded timber is present. And, on Stonewall, there are plenty of places with flooded timber, leftover from when the lake was first filled.

Myers trolls with three or four rods out. These rods include 7- to 8-foot, heavy-duty Shimano models, along with a 10-foot Eagle Claw surfcasting outfit. Two SJ-50s lures — one each in perch or pink patterns — are trolled 20 to 40 feet back using Okuma Magna Pro 30 line counter reels.

On the shorter rods the lures are just 10 to 15 feet back and Myers trolls another of his creations, the Myers Gill Crank. It has a panfish profile and a crappie pattern. These lures are fished off two Abu-Garcia 6500 C-3 reels. The lures are run between 4 to 6 feet deep through good fishing areas, such as flooded timber. You can get snagged often, but that's where you also receive strikes from an ambushing muskie.


"I'll troll by the bays and then head down the main lake, targeting lake points at about 4 to 5 miles per hour. Some folks prefer to troll at 3.5 to 4.2 mph. It's a matter of preference to what speed you feel will get you the most hits," Myers said.

Myers' lures are of exceptional quality. Anglers can contact Jerry Myers by calling (304) 924-6875 or e-mailing him at myersmuskylures@yahoo.com.

OHIO RIVER CATFISH

It's been said that over 50 percent of all fish caught each year in West Virginia are taken from the Ohio River. At first glance that seems amazing, yet, when you consider the size and length of this great river, it's certainly not so unbelievable. After all, the Ohio River establishes West Virginia's western border for some 272 miles, entering near Chester in Hancock County, flowing southwesterly, and leaving near Kenova in Wayne County. So it's not really that big of a surprise to realize how many fish and how much fishing this huge waterway produces each season.

Along the way, the mighty Ohio passes through seven lock-and-dams in the Mountain State, where great angling for all kinds of game fish occurs each season. And some of the biggest of these fish are catfish.

One local expert who loves to catch both flathead and blue catfish from the mighty Ohio is Randy Conrad of nearby Ona. Randy and his son Jason can often be found plying the waters below the Robert C. Byrd Lock and Dam. They'll fish a 15-mile stretch of river between Huntington and Glenwood during the late spring into the summer season. As would be expected, the catfish angling gets better as the air and water temperatures rise.

During the late spring, Conrad says the big catfish aren't as deep yet, most likely being found in water depths between 15 to 20 feet.

"I'll be fishing around logjams, bridge pilings and over holes. Look for any kind of structure that'll attract catfish," he said.

Like in real estate, Conrad emphasizes the importance of "location, location and location." You've got to be where the fish are holding to have consistent angling success. He also said it's important to put your time in on the water, in order to locate where the whiskerfish are holding.

Flatheads seem to love to wait out the day in ditches or holes in the river bottom. When Randy Conrad locates one of these hotspots with his fish finder he motors upstream about 50 yards and drops anchor. He then works his way back downstream until he's positioned the boat nearby or over the hole. His anchor of choice is an 18- to 20-pound mushroom shaped weight, which allows for easy movement without getting hung on the bottom if you don't want to be.

Big flatheads, blues and even large freshwater drum are all possibilities when fishing on the Ohio River. Thus, Randy Conrad — and his crew of son Jason and daughter Skylar — uses heavy-duty gear. Penn 209 conventional reels are matched up with heavy-action 7-foot Shakespeare Ugly Stiks. The reels are spooled with either Cajun Red or Berkeley Big Game lines in 30-pound-test line.

His favorite baits are live bluegills and big creek chums up to 7 inches. He just hooks these baits behind the dorsal fin.

To get his live baits down to the bottom, Conrad uses a simple slip rig. The rig consists of a good-sized barrel swivel, with a 4- to 5-ounce homemade egg sinker placed above the swivel. This allows the line to slip through the sinker and the live bait to swim freely. When a catfish hits, it doesn't feel the weight of the sinker-and holds on to the bait.

On the business end of the line are Eagle Claw size 8/0 j-style hooks, attached by using the simple, quick, but strong Palomar knot.

SUMMERSVILLE LAKE WALLEYES

Summersville Lake (2,700-acres in Nicholas County) is an enigma of sorts when it comes to walleyes.

First off, it is truly one of the state's best marble-eye fisheries — and one of the few where natural reproduction keeps the walleye population at sustainable levels. Yet, at the same time, biologists and fishermen have noticed fewer big fish lately, though big walleyes are still caught each season. But most fish these days seem to be having trouble getting over 15 inches. Why? No one knows for sure, though research is being conducted to find some reasons.

"We're continuing research on walleyes due to the smaller sizes we're seeing in our surveys," Fisheries Biologist Bret Preston said. "We don't think it's over fishing, but it may be some forage issues going on. After all, Summersville is not a particularly productive lake with very clear water. But the fishing is still good."

The forage base in the lake consists mainly of shiners, fathead minnows and young-of-the-year fish such as bluegills, bass and other species. The lake's clear, less fertile waters aren't exactly ideal conditions for maximum production of phytoplankton and zooplanktons, which are early building blocks in the food chain.

But good walleye angling is still going on, though most of the fish caught are in the 15-inch range or smaller. By the end of April on into May, most walleyes at Summersville Lake are finished spawning in the shallows. They're actually beginning to move back to their home range, according to District 3 Fisheries Biologist Jim Walker.

"They'll be done spawning and heading down to the mouth of McKeys Creek," Biologist Walker said. "Look for them around any tributary of McKeys Creek. Also, look to the Persinger Creek's boat launch, which is the lake's uppermost launch. The walleyes will be passing there as they migrate back down into the main lake."

Walker said walleyes are found in water depths ranging from 15 to 20 feet, mostly due to the clear nature of the lake. He mentioned that these fish swim back into shallower water at dusk and during the evening hours.

That's when anglers can bounce small crankbaits and minnow or worms on jigs along the bottom to enjoy some great catching.

Also, now that the spawn is basically over, these fish are scattered throughout the lake, actively feeding and hanging around rocky drop-offs close to good feeding areas. Look for walleyes on gravel ledges, points and submerged humps. Follow rocky points and other solid structure until you find the proper depth where the marble eyes are actively feeding.

Interestingly, despite the problems with fewer Summersville Lake's walleyes reaching longer lengths and the heavier weights that come with it, their smaller cousin, the yellow perch, is reaching trophy sizes.

On May 9, 2010, Craig Hollandsworth of Cowen caught a 15.44-inch, 1.2-pound yellow perch from Summersville, which is now the new state record for length. Hollandsworth used a live minnow to entice the yellow perch to bite. However, the yellow perch state-record for weight still belongs to Charles Mayle for a 1.83-pounder, which was taken from Tygart Lake back in 1985.

Anglers looking for up-to-date fishing information on Summersville Lake should call or stop by to see Robert Lee Friend at Friendly Bass & Buck Shop. This complete tackle shop has everything you need for a day or evening of fabulous walleye fishing. Call (304) 872-0385, or stop in the shop, which is located two miles north of Summersville Lake and the town of Summersville at 952 Glen Oaks Road.

ROUNDING IT OUT

Spring has sprung throughout the Mountain State, so it may be time for you to show a little spring in your step — and get out there to tussle with whatever your favorite game fish species happens to be. With so many places to choose from and so many fish to target, surely there is topnotch water near you. And you definitely won't miss out if you decide on fishing one of the three prime picks detailed here.

Get Your Fish On.

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