Seven Great West Virginia Fishing Destinations
Hit the road and tap into some of the greatest fishing found in West Virginia.
The summer signals the beginning of what many West Virginia anglers consider as the best fishing of the year.
And that, of course, means it’s time for a road trip around the Mountain State to experience this high quality sport. Here are some of the most enticing destinations.
NATIONAL FORESTS: NATIVE BROOK TROUT
One of the best things about fishing for native brook trout in West Virginia is that the Monongahela and George Washington national forests (which together sprawl over much of southwestern, southern, and the eastern part of the state) sport numerous highland creeks that host these fish. Patrick Skeen, who operates the fly shop at Elk Springs Resort in Monterville, relishes his time in the backcountry of the Mon.
“I’m having more and more clients requesting to go into the Monongahela,” he said. “Now, these brook trout aren’t large, most are 5 or 6 inches long and really nice ones are 8 to 10 inches. But for myself and other people, the experience is what draws me to the national forest. You’re going after the state’s only native trout in a harsh environment where they have survived for thousands of years.
“And you have to stalk these fish because they’re so easy to spook. That’s especially true later in the spring and all summer when the water is low. Casting those little Size 12 and 14 dry flies is also a challenge because you’re fishing in such tight quarters.”
If You Go
Ethically, listing the names of tiny brook trout streams for publication is questionable because such small water can’t take concentrated pressure. But anglers can gain insight on where to go by contacting individual ranger districts of the two public lands: www.fs.usda.gov. For lodging and guided trips: www.elkspringswv.com, 1-877-ELK-SPRINGS.
OHIO RIVER: LARGEMOUTH BASS
Northern West Virginia’s Ohio River ranks as the best largemouth bass fishery in that part of the state and draws anglers from across the Mid-Atlantic. Dave Maurice operates Venom Lures and calls the Ohio his home waterway.
“In May and the summer months, the two pools to concentrate on are Willow Island and Belleville,” he said. “And the three types of places to zero in on in both pools are backwaters, grass beds, and barge docks. The backwaters and barge docks are the most consistent places to fish.
“Backwaters will draw largemouths during the pre-spawn period in May and on through the summer. Barge docks create current breaks and really draw bass. Weed beds come into play in May if we’ve had a moderate winter and runoff has not caused the Ohio to have long stretches of being high and muddy.”
Even if spring has been late in arriving, weed beds will eventually form sometime during the summer and become a major part of bass patterns. For all these locales, Maurice likes to work finesse plastics such as a Texas-rigged 4-inch ringworm or Venom Super-Do, a tube-bait. Other choices are 1/8 and 1/4-ounce buzzbaits and 3/16 and 1/4-ounce spinnerbaits. Keep the color selection simple, says the lure manufacturer — black skirts on cloudy days and white on sunny ones.
If You Go
Huntington makes for a convenient base for fishing the Ohio: visithuntingtonwv.org, 800-635-6329. The Huntington CVB can provide information on lodging, dining, and more.
POTOMAC RIVER: CHANNEL CATFISH
Herschel Finch, a national pro staffer for Jackson Kayak and a volunteer for the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, raves about the excellent channel catfish sport on the Potomac in the Eastern Panhandle.
“I like to go to the ramp at Shepherdstown and fish upstream and down from there,” he said. “You don’t need a shuttle, and you can find plenty of good places to fish.”
Above Shepherdstown, those places to fish include numerous rock ledges and riffles along with outside bends choked with woody debris. Near the Shepherdstown ramp, you’ll also spot other targets of opportunity: the James Rumsey Bridge, the remains of another bridge, and a railroad bridge. The first mile downstream from Shepherdstown offers sycamore and box elder shrouded shorelines, scattered riffles, and a bounteous amount of underwater rocks and woody debris.
Any place where sycamores have fallen into the river is also worth working, says Finch. No major rapids exist in the 2 miles above or below the town, so paddling upstream shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, standard stinkbaits will produce channels, but Finch offers a lure, too.
“The white miller mayfly hatch is a big thing for channel catfish and other gamefish from late spring through summer here,” he said. “When the mayflies are coming off, I use a 1/16-ounce Mepps spinner with a white skirt, and the channel cats really smack it.”
If You Go
For lodging and accommodations, www.shepherdstown.info, 304-876-2786. At Shepherdstown, the ramp is off Princess Street and concrete; limited parking is available in the adjacent lot.
GUYANDOTTE RIVER SPOTTED BASS
The Guyandotte River is one of the least-known bodies of water in the Mountain State, and the spotted bass certainly can be considered as the least popular member of the three black bass species (largemouths and smallmouths, of course, are the other two) that fin our state’s waters. So it may be surprising to some that David Stafford, a clerk at Twin Falls Resort State Park in Mullens, ranks the spot fishery there as worth a road trip. In fact, he thinks this river in the southwestern reaches of the state holds 5-pound-plus spots — and if he’s right, fishing here could give you a chance the state record, which currently is 4.77 pounds and came from R. D. Bailey Lake, which has as its major tributary the Guyandotte.
Stafford adds that the river also holds plenty of spots in the 10- to 15-inch range; enough, in fact, to keep any angler satisfied.
The best section for these bass is from below the R.D. Bailey Dam to Pineville. A number of float trips exist on this stretch and all have potential.
Spots prefer more slack water than smallmouths, and more of a flow than largemouths, which helps explain why they do so well in this section. Riffles are much more common than rapids and deep pools with a consistent though not brisk flow are major haunts. As for bait, simple is sometimes best.
“Live earthworms are my favorite bait for big spots,” says Stafford. “Just drift worms along with the current.”
If You Go
Twin Falls Resort State Park offers camping, cabins, a lodge, and restaurant, 1-833-WV-PARKS. For a map of the Guyandotte along with potential trips and their lengths, www.guyandottewatertrail.com.
WEST FORK OF THE GREENBRIER RAINBOWS
Dave Carpenter of Anglers Xstream in Parkersburg has angled for trout over much of West Virginia. He says a stream high in the mountains of the east central part of the state is one of his favorites for rainbow trout.
“The West Fork of the Greenbrier from Durbin to where the Little River enters has some of the best rainbow fishing in West Virginia,” he said. “The Greenbrier River Trail provides access. People can hike, horseback ride, and camp along the trail — it’s just a perfect setting with great access. You could probably fish much of this 5- or 6-mile section over the course of a weekend.
“The West Fork has a lot of typical trout cover: riffles and pools, pocket water and runs. Rhododendron, speckled alders, and river birches provide cover. And there are both stocked rainbows and carryover ones.”
Carpenter says that Size 16 Stonefly nymphs are excellent late spring and summer patterns, as are Size 14 Adams parachutes as they “look a little like just about every bug that comes off the river.” Brook trout sometimes make their way into the river from highland tributaries and brown trout can be part of the experience, too.
If You Go
Carpenter says that Anglers Xstream can supply info, patterns, and gear for trout fishing in much of the state, 877-909-6911. For trip planning and lodging, contact the Pocahontas County CVB, 800-336-7009. For maps, www.greenbrierrivertrail.com.
NEW RIVER MUSKIES
Do you want a chance at some super-sized muskies? Tommy Cundiff of River Monster Guide Service has just the river and just the trip. The guide says the New River from below Bluestone Dam in Hinton to Brooks Falls (7 miles) is ideal for “regular anglers.”
“The vast majority of the New in West Virginia is best float fished in a raft or dory,” Cundiff said. “All those Class III, IV, and above rapids make fishing in a canoe, kayak, or jet boat unsafe. But the Bluestone Dam float only has one Class II, the Tug Creek Rapid, so it’s a much more accessible section.
“Another great thing about the Bluestone trip is the muskie cover is pretty easy to identify. Lots of water willow beds hold muskies, and a series of islands at the beginning of the float concentrate these fish, too. Target the ends of the islands and also concentrate on any fallen trees along the sides. There’s riprap at the start of the trip and bridges, too – just lots of good muskie cover.”
Regarding lures, two of the guide’s favorites are in the 7- to 8-inch long range: Size 12 Rapala X-Raps and 1/2-ounce inline bucktail spinners. For topwater action, he relies on the Whopper Plopper 130.
If You Go
For guided trips, contact Cundiff at 844-LUV-2-Fish. For lodging, nearby Bluestone State Park offers cabins and campgrounds, 304-466-2805. Wade fishing is possible below Bluestone Dam. Be sure to wear a life jacket as drop-offs exist.
STONEWALL JACKSON LAKE CRAPPIE
What would summer road trips be without one of them including an excursion to Central West Virginia’s Stonewall Jackson Lake?
It certainly is a favorite destination for Cundiff, especially if the goal is to catch some nice crappie.
“Stonewall is certainly one of the best crappie lakes in the state,” he said. “There’s still a lot of woody cover left over from when the lake was created. No wake zones and brush piles just add to the fishing experience. There’s also really good wood cover in Skin Creek, one of the best tributaries.
“In late spring and summer, the crappie go deep after the spawn, maybe as deep as 20 to 30 feet. So I like to drop 1/16-ounce hair jigs down to the fish. When the day starts, I always start with white jigs, but you’d better bring jigs in a wide variety of colors.”
A good-size warm-season crappie at the lake is 12 inches, but Cundiff says that excellent numbers of fish 8 to 11 inches long are available, too.
If You Go
For current fishing information, contact the Marina at Stonewall Resort, 304-269-8895. Pontoon rentals are available. For lodging (cottages and a lodge), contact Stonewall Jackson Resort, www.stonewallresort.com, 304-269-7400. A variety of dining experiences are available.
So there you have your West Virginia road trip list of destinations. With glamor species such as muskies, rainbow trout, and largemouth bass, underrated fish like spotted bass, backcountry fish like brook trout, and fine-tasting fish such as crappie and channel catfish, the choices are numerous.