January 26, 2015
In today's hectic world planning your life seems to be a necessary requisite, not only for the required day-to-day commitments but for leisure time as well. The 2015 West Virginia Fishing Calendar will help with that, providing a monthly look at many of the state's best angling options, along with a tip or two for each choice. And if the number one monthly pick doesn't appeal to your interests, there are two more to consider.
Ohio River Walleyes
If you love catching river walleyes as much as I do, then you won't be surprised at the suggestion of hitting the Ohio River for some cold-weather action. Because when the weather is cold, the river walleye action can be hot!
Frigid water temperatures make walleyes concentrate in defined areas. Fish run up the river in the late fall, so expect to find lots of fish below the lock and dam systems. Other places that tend to collect walleyes are the mouths of feeder streams, where rock bars and scour holes create quiet pockets for the fish to lie in wait for an easy meal.
The upper most dams on West Virginia's portion of the Ohio tend to hold the most walleyes, more specifically, the New Cumberland, Pike Island and Hannibal Locks and Dam systems. As folks venture further downriver, the habitat becomes more conducive to sauger rather than walleye.
Other Options: Some other January choices include walleyes on the Gauley River, where anglers should concentrate on the deep holes of the lower river; and Mount Storm for black bass and hybrid stripers, where hot water discharges keep the lake open throughout the winter months.
Cranberry River Trout
West Virginia has one of the most aggressive trout stocking programs in the country, planting tons of trout in state streams and lakes on an annual basis. Topnotch streams like the Cranberry River, which flows through Nicholas, Webster and Pocahontas counties, receive trout on a frequent basis, beginning in January. Weather permitting, the Cranberry River is stocked once in January, twice in February and once a week in March, April and May. It also gets two fall stocking in mid October.
The Cranberry River contains areas that are easily accessed, as well remote sections, such as the portion that flows through the Cranberry Wilderness Area. Anglers planning a February trip would be wise to hit the accessible waters, saving the backcountry stretch for more moderate weather later in the year.
Countering the effects of acid rain, liming stations located in the watershed have made the entire river hospitable to trout. A catch-and-release section stretches 4.3 miles from the mouth of Dogway Fork upstream to the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Cranberry.
Other Options: Additional February options include Stonecoal Lake trout and Ohio River white bass. It's likely Stonecoal Lake trout will be near the bottom at this time of year, and will take worms, salmon eggs or Berkley Power Bait fished on a bait rig. White bass will likely be in tailrace areas, and will take a jigging spoon.
Stonewall Jackson Lake Crappie
The first signs of spring usher in the desire to pursue crappie. There's nothing like having a few slabs in the livewell to celebrate the season. And Stonewall Jackson Lake is a great place to do it.
Unlike most federal flood control lakes, Stonewall Jackson wasn't given the "hatchet job" before being filled. As such, substantial amounts of flooded timber remain, particularly in the lakes many bays and coves. This cover, along with shoreline laydowns and brush piles, should be where your early season casts go. Cover like this sucks up the sun's rays, warms quickly and attracts baitfish and crappie.
Other Options: For stocked trout in March, check out White Day Creek (near Morgantown) and the Kanawha River for hybrid stripers.
White Day Creek trout should be prime to take a threaded minnow fished in slower pools. For the Kanawha hybrids, try swimming a soft-bodied swimbait like Storms Wild-eye Shad near the mouths of incoming streams.
Williams River Trout
In the warming water of April the trout should really be on the bite. Seems a return to the Monongahela National Forest is in order, though this time it's time to try out the Williams River.
Like the Cranberry, the Williams River is stocked with trout in January and February. But while the Cranberry has significant remote areas, the Williams is easily accessible throughout much of its length.
One of the more popular sections lies between the Tea Creek Campground and the Three Forks of the Williams. A 1-mile delayed-harvest area is located 2 miles below the Tea Creek Campground.
Other Options: April is "trout month," so also consider trips to the highly productive South Branch (of Potomac) River and Upper Elk River.
For both the South Branch and the Upper Elk, fly fishers should be prepared for a variety of conditions. If the water is up a bit, Woolly Buggers fished close to the bank should bring success. Also, be prepared for early season hatches such as the Hendrickson.
Summersville Lake Walleyes
By May, walleyes will have completed their annual spawning run, and will be in the mood to feed to make up for lost energy. The warming waters of Summersville Lake provide a great place for Mountain State walleye anglers to test their skill on a lake setting.
At more than 2,700 acres, Summersville is the largest lake in West Virginia, and also enjoys the reputation as being the state's finest walleye lake. Its steep dropping shoreline is rich in rocky habitat. Anglers will find boulder fields, rocky point and cliff-like outcroppings along its extensive shoreline.
Other Options: Other good June adventures include smallmouth bass on the New River, and native brook trout in the many smaller runs that help drain the Monongahela National Forest.
In May, smallmouth bass on the New River will likely be in the pre-spawn or spawning period, and will be ripe for a Senko drifted around shallow points and incoming creeks. Native brook trout are suckers for the color pink. Small Woolly Buggers and Inch Worms tied with pink chenille score well.
Cheat Lake Largemouth Bass
It wasn't that long ago that Cheat Lake was relatively lifeless, fishery-wise, due to acid mine drainage. Liming devices placed upstream of the Cheat River watershed have improved the water quality to the point where Cheat Lake is now one of the state's most productive largemouth bass lakes.
Cheat Lake is close to Morgantown, which makes it a favorite for anglers from the area. But its location just off of Interstate 68, a few miles from the I-68/I-79 interchange, makes it accessible to anglers from many directions.
Other Options: Also in June try out Burnsville Lake for channel cats and Elk Fork Lake for largemouths. Fillets cut from a sucker or chub make good summertime baits for channel cats. For largemouths on Elk Fork Lake, try soft jerkbaits like a Zoom Super Fluke along shorelines, to catch post-spawn bigmouths.
Potomac River Smallmouth Bass
I don't know about you, but river smallmouth bass are one of my favorites. However, don't tell a 12-inch river smallie it's only a foot long, because it will fight like a 3-pound lake largemouth. A good place to put such a comment to the test is the North Branch of the Potomac River.
Like the Cheat River, the North Branch had a history of acid mine drainage, but has benefitted greatly from cleanup work. Reintroduced in the 1990s, smallmouth bass now thrive all the way to the North Branch's merger with the South Branch.
Perhaps the best smallmouth bass portion of this border water is the section that runs from Keyser, W.V., to Cumberland, Md.
Other Options: Largemouths in Stonewall Jackson Lake, and muskies in the Buckhannon River are other fine July options. Stonewall Jackson has an abundance of standing timber in many of its bays and covers. Target these areas with flippin' jigs. For the Buckhannon's muskies try fishing an over-size spinnerbait near along the wood-lined banks.
Kanawha River Cats
Though the tough fishing associated with the "dog days of August" is a bit exaggerated, now is a good time to slow the pace down and enjoy some relaxed fishing. An evening of soaking bait for channel and flathead catfish is in order. And the Kanawha River is a good place to do it.
The most focused effort on cats takes place on the lower end of the river, where navigational lock and dams, such as Winfield, London and Marmet, form a slower, deeper river.
Other Options: Additional August choices include cats in the Monongahela River, and Tygart Lake's bluegills.
For Mon River cats, seek out the deeper river holes for productive late-summer fishing, and plan on fishing after dark. Tiny under-spin jigs like the Blakemore Road Runner often excel when prospecting for Tygart Lake's bluegills.
Beech Fork Hybrid Stripers
Just about any time is a good time to chase hybrid stripers. These striped bass/white bass crossbreeds are one of the hardest fighting freshwater fish out there. So let's escort the fall season in with these thick-bodied battlers on a trip to Beech Fork Lake.
At 720 acres, Beech Fork is one of the state's smaller reservoirs. But it makes up for size by way of healthy fish populations, including hybrid stripers, a fishery maintained by the state Division of Natural Resources.
Beech Fork has a substantial gizzard shad population, one of which the hybrids make good use. Keeping in touch with shad location will assist in finding these eating machines.
Other Options: Also in September consider a trip to the Greenbrier River for smallmouth bass, and Mountwood Lake for muskies. The water should still be warm in September, so try working a small jerkbait like Rapala's X-Rap to trigger strikes. For Mountwood Lake muskies, consider trolling crankbaits over the 10- to 15-foot depths. Bring plenty of battery power, though, as only electric motors are permitted on this 47-acre lake.
Tygart Lake Smallmouth Bass
Although river smallmouths are something special, taking them from lakes isn't too bad either. Especially when surrounded by the colors of the season on a scenic water like Tygart Lake.
Located near Grafton, Tygart Lake is a good choice for those from the Morgantown and Fairmont areas. Of course its proximity to Interstate 79 makes it an option for anglers from greater distances away, especially the north and south.
An impoundment of the Tygart Valley River, its nearly 1,800 acres (summer pool) feature a predominately rocky shoreline. The shore's irregular features create plenty of points and cuts for fall smallies to relate. And there are good numbers of smallmouth. Tygart Lake is considered one of the top bass lakes in the state, and one with a strong smallmouth population.
Other Options: Another good spot for smallmouth bass in October is the South Branch of the Potomac River. Anglers can also give the Hughes River a try for muskies. In October's cooling water, deep-diving crankbaits, such as the Rapala Fat Rap, conjure up strikes from South Branch bass. On the Hughes River, try casting shallow minnowbaits like the Crane 200.
Elk River Muskies
Muskie fishing has always had a strong association with late fall. In a state where an angler has several options on where to cast a lure for river muskies, it can be difficult to make a choice. But if one were to pick the Elk River, it would be difficult to argue with the decision, particularly if the target is a trophy-size muskie.
Muskies are present in the entire stretch of the Elk River from Sutton Dam down to its merger with the Kanawha River. But the best habitat lies in the portions that flow through Braxton and Clay counties.
Other Options: Some other good November options include trips to Sutton Lake for largemouth bass and Tygart Lake for crappies. By November largemouth bass will be relating to steeper drop offs. These areas can be targeted effectively with a drop shot rig. On Tygart, try fishing a minnow suspended under a float near the lake's numerous rocky ledges.
Shenandoah River Smallmouth Bass
Should you consider heading out in December for river smallies? For sure, and anglers can often catch the biggest ones in the river at that time.
Even though all but the most dedicated of river rats will have hibernated for the year, those hardy souls that stay out on the river catch the biggest brown bass of the year. And the Shenandoah is a great place to enjoy the action.
West Virginia's portion of the river is short, the extreme lower end that runs from the Virginia state line, into Jefferson County, to the river's merger with the mainstream Potomac at Harper's Ferry. Access areas are numerous, though, and include Bloomery Bridge, Harper's Ferry, Meyerstown, Millville, Potomac Edison (ramps both above and below the dam) and Shannondale Springs.
Other Options: Also in December, consider the Kanawha River for saugers, and the Monongahela River for walleyes. Sauger in the Kanawha, and walleyes on the Mon, can both be taken with a jig-n-minnow fished in the deeper pools.
These are just a few of the options for West Virginia anglers. Now, consider what to go after and when.