March 19, 2018
Anglers can find great West Virginia bass fishing in all manner of waters, from flowing streams to impoundments.
April escorts in a wide host of angling opportunities in the Mountain State, and black bass fishing rates high on the list for many, as the state has a wide variety of venues from which to choose.
West Virginia contains free-flowing streams and rivers to reservoirs of many size, all of which play host to all three black bass species, which are managed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.
In general, black bass are a species that pretty much takes care of itself. Unlike trout, walleyes and muskies, which in some cases need a boost in the form of stocking, bass populations tend to be self-sustaining. Exceptions to this include situations where bass numbers are being reintroduced, perhaps in waters where pollution decimated the fishery.
This doesn't mean that the resource managers responsible for the state's bass fisheries coast. During the past several years, the WVDNR has been involved in several programs that directly affect (or examine) the bass fishing.
One of these projects was a largemouth bass tagging study. The object of the effort was, according to WVDNR, to determine the percent of largemouth bass caught and/or harvested annually, the influence of catch and harvest, and the influence of regulations on harvest.
During a three-year span, more than 4,000 largemouth bass were tagged by fisheries personnel. This took place in 14 reservoirs ranging in size from 30 to over 1,500 acres. During subsequent years, anglers have reported catching 36 percent of these fish.
In lakes were harvest was allowed, an average of seven percent of bass were kept. Taking the data into consideration, the agency concluded that despite fairly high angler catch rates, harvest was extremely low, an indication of acceptance of catch-and-release ethics.
The Ohio River presents an interesting situation, both for anglers and fishery managers. Due to its size, it provides an important recreational resource. A few years back, the WVDNR formulated an extensive plan regarding this highly industrialized river, one that called for extensive stocking of several species, smallmouth and largemouth bass included. These stockings should have helped bolster bass numbers, and should now be up in the size range desirable for anglers. The Ohio River currently is under special regulations for bass. All fish less than 12 inches in length must be released.
Another bass-related issue of interest is that of Dunkard Creek. This northern West Virginia stream — a tributary to the Monongahela River — was an important fishing resource for that area of the state, particularly for smallmouth bass and muskies. In September of 2009, it experienced a significant fish kill caused by toxic golden algae. The event had a devastating effect on Dunkard Creek's fish community, as well as its mussels.
Most of the limelight on the state's bass fishing picture falls on the bigger reservoirs, which are for the most part U.S. Corps of Engineers lakes established primarily for flood control purposes. In general, these are the places where big boats and big motors can run.
Stonewall Jackson Lake
Stonewall Jackson Lake is considered the premier lake by many in the state. Until recently, it was managed under a catch and release restriction for bass, something that was enforced since the lake's creation over 40 years ago.
Observations by fisheries personnel and the angling community regarding a gradual down cycle in the size structure of the lake's largemouth, as well as an escalating number of spotted bass, led to a regulation change. Anglers can now creel six bass a day, only one of which can be over 18 inches. It's hoped that the thinning of the largemouth population will allow the remaining largemouths to grow bigger — avoiding the stunting that is taking place — and get the size back up to what folks are more accustomed to seeing there.
Formed by an impoundment on the West Fork River, Stonewall Jackson Lake covers over 2,600 acres. It has no horsepower limit, though there are extensive no-wake zones. The state manages most of the land surrounding the lake, through both a state park and an extensive wildlife management area.
Smallmouth bass like current, and West Virginia has lots of rivers that furnish that current. So it would be possible to overlook the smallmouth bass fishing adventures an impoundment provides. In the case of Tygart Lake that would be a shame, as it's one of the better smallie waters in the state.
Tygart Lake harbors plenty of the rock/boulder cover brown bass prefer.By early summer, the lake will be at full pool, which means fish will have shoreline-related cover options, such as boat docks. Smaller arms, fed by secondary creeks, are an option, as will the rocky points that guard such inlets.
Boat access sites are found at Pleasant Creek and within the state park that sits along a portion of the shore.
The Tygart River, below the dam, also hosts a good smallmouth fishery, particularly during the summer when water warms up (its cooled significantly from the bottom discharge of the lake).
An impoundment of the Elk River, Sutton Lake's 1,500-plus acres plays host to all three black bass sub-species. A key to finding bass in Sutton Lake is in concentrating on the numerous laydowns that rim the shoreline, which provide the bulk of the bass-attracting cover in the lake. Other spots to key in on include the mouths of coves, such as Wolf Creek and Flatwoods Creek.
SMALL TO MEDIUM FLOWING WATERS
A lot of great fishing is overlooked in this region of the country. Small- to medium-sized creeks and rivers often support good numbers of bass, smallmouths primarily, but spotted bass and largemouths as well in some circumstances.
In general, the better flowing bass waters are of low to medium gradient, and are of a warm water nature (as opposed to cold water environments suitable for trout).
The Greenbrier River provides good smallmouth bass action for over 60 miles. Access is excellent, thanks to the Greenbrier River Trail that borders much of the river as it flows through Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties.
Perhaps the best section is the special regulations area that runs for six miles, from the Route 60 bridge at Caldwell to the Route 219 bridge at Ronceverte. A slot limit is in effect on that section, protecting fish in the 12- to 20-inch range. Only one bass over 20 inches can be kept per day.
Though the Greenbrier is noted more for numbers than big fish, it does produce some quality-sized brown bass, particularly during the spring and fall.
The Greenbrier is a fairly mild river, though potentially hazardous areas are found along its lower end, from Alderson to its merger with the New River.
The New River pretty much counters good bass fishing being found on rivers and streams with moderate drop. Whitewater and big bass are indeed the combination of the New River, particularly that area within the New River Gorge.
This is an area best fished with a professional outfitter, unless a person has extensive whitewater experience. But it's an investment in both safety and the best chance at taking one of the 4-pound-plus smallmouth bass for which the New is noted.
Shore fishing is possible, one of the best areas being at the Glade Creek Access, near Prince. Other good shoreline spots are near McCreery and Grandview Sandbar, where the road is proximate the river.
The Hughes River, a tributary to the Little Kanawha River, is best known for its musky fishing. But the Hughes also holds bass, with both spotted and smallmouths being present.
Expect to catch spotted bass from pools and slower runs of this low-gradient stream. Smallmouth bass will be more common in current areas, especially once the water warms up.
A boat access site is found at Chucks Ford, in Richie County, but only shallow draft boats are appropriate for the Hughes River.
Fishing Tips from the Pros
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Throughout much of West Virginia there are smaller, easy-to-wade streams that harbor bass populations that rarely see a lure or bait. Oftentimes these are the lower ends of trout streams, where the water becomes too warm for trout, but just right for bass.
Smallmouth bass are most common, but largemouth bass can be caught, particularly in areas just upstream of smaller impoundments.
These are places that might take a bit of exploring to discover (something easy to do with resources like Google Maps, and the GIS mapping programs available at www.wvdnr.gov), but are worth the effort. When found, anglers tend to guard the spots with the same secrecy afforded grouse cover and wild brook trout streams.
LARGER IMPOUNDED RIVERS
In addition to reservoirs of various sizes, and free-flowing streams and smaller rivers that harbor bass, there are also options provided by larger impounded rivers, like the Ohio and Monongahela.
The Ohio River has been a focus of the WVDNR, one aimed at increasing fish populations. And not just bass, but walleyes and blue catfish are also getting attention.
Big rivers such as the Ohio are hybrids, part river, part reservoir, thanks to the navigational lock and dam systems. Thanks to the inundated river channel — and the resultant loss of natural habitat — most of the bass fishing is concentrated in specific areas. The tailwater sections bellow dams are most obvious, and attract the most anglers.
The more upriver dams — Hannibal, Pike Island and New Cumberland — feature a fair number of smallmouth bass, though largemouths and spotted bass are both present. As one moves downriver to the Willow Island L&D and below, the latter become the dominant bass species.
Like the Ohio, the entire Mon River is included by locks and dams. Once one of the country's more polluted rivers, the Mon now supports a good fishery, one that includes bass. Though smallmouths make up most of the mix, there are some largemouths, including some big ones.
Lock and dams along the West Virginia portion of the Mon include the Opekiska, Hildebrand and Morgantown facilities. Boat access is found at Uffington, Star City and Morgantown.
Besides the tailrace areas on both the Ohio and Mon, bass anglers should concentrate on incoming streams, and "city structure," such as bridge piers, pilings, docks and moored barges.
There are, of course, many other places to fish for bass in the Mountain State, especially since bass populations overall are doing quite well.