March 17, 2016
April escorts in a wide host of angling opportunities in the Mountain State, with black bass rating high on the list for many. It's no wonder as the state has a wide variety of venues from which to choose, including free-flowing streams and rivers, as well as reservoirs and lakes of many sizes that feature largemouth, smallmouth and even spotted bass.
In addition to being fun to catch, black bass are a species that pretty much takes care of itself. Unlike trout, walleye and muskie, which in some cases need a boost from stocking, bass populations tend to be self-sustaining. Exceptions to this include areas where bass numbers are being reintroduced.
However, this doesn't mean that the resource managers responsible for the state's fisheries coast along. During the past several years, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has been involved in several programs that directly affect (or examine) the state's bass fishing.
One of these projects was a largemouth bass tagging study. The object of the study was 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 in 14 reservoirs ranging from 30 acres to over 1,500. During subsequent years anglers have reported catching 36 percent of these fish.
In lakes where harvest was allowed, only an average of 7 percent of bass were kept. As such, the agency concluded that despite fairly high catch rates, harvest was extremely low, an indication of acceptance of catch-and-release ethics. However, some areas can have issues.
The Ohio River was extensively stocked with several species a few years back, including smallmouth and largemouth bass. It also has a special 12-inch minimum regulation regarding bass.
Another bass-related issue of interest is that of Dunkard Creek — a tributary to the Monongahela River — which had a major fish and mussel kill caused by golden algae. Though destructive, the event was singular in nature. Water quality soon returned to pre golden algae state, so the WVDNR has been working to restore fish and mussel populations.
Of course, most of the limelight on the state's bass fishing falls on the bigger reservoirs, which are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes established primarily for flood control purposes. In general, these are the places where anglers can run big boats and big motors.
Stonewall Jackson Lake
Stonewall Jackson Lake is considered the premier lake in the state by many. Until recently it was managed under a catch and release restriction for bass, something that was enforced since the lake's creation nearly 40 years ago.
Observations by fisheries personnel and anglers regarding a gradual down cycle in the size of the lake's largemouth, as well as an escalating number of spotted bass, led to a regulations 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 bass population will allow the remaining largemouths to grow bigger and get the size back up to what folks are more accustomed to seeing.
Formed by an impoundment on the West Fork River, Stonewall Jackson Lake covers more than 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 a wildlife management area. Boaters can again access at the Vandalia, Georgetown, Jacksonville ramps, as well as the state park. A handicap fishing area is found near the dam site.
Now 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 would provide. Which in the case of Tygart Lake 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 the fish will have shoreline-related cover options, such as boat docks. Smaller arms, fed by secondary creeks, will also be an option, as will the rocky points that guard such inlets.
Boat access sites are found 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 the water warms up (it's cooled significantly from the bottom discharge of the lake). A boat ramp is available at Grafton City Park.
An impoundment of the Elk River, Sutton Lake's 1,500-plus acres play host to all three black bass sub-species — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
A key to finding bass in Sutton Lake is in concentrating on the numerous laydowns that rim the shoreline. These provide the bulk of the bass-attracting cover in the lake.
Other spots to key in on include the mouths of coves, such as the ones fed by Wolf Creek and Flatwoods Creek.
Boat access areas are located at the Bee Run Day Use Area and the Bakers Run campground. There is no horsepower restriction. Sutton Lake and Stonewall Jackson Lake are easy to get to from Interstate 79.
While not as popular, small- to medium-size 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 more than 60 miles. Access is excellent, thanks to the Greenbrier River Trail, which borders much of the river as it flows through Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties.
Perhaps the best section to key in on 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 of smallmouth bass than big fish, it does produce some quality-size brown bass, particularly during the spring and fall, when bigger bass tend to be more catchable.
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 contains some amazing fishing within its banks. Whitewater and big bass are indeed the combination of the New River, particularly the 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 muskie fishing. But it also holds populations of both spotted bass and smallmouths. 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. Only smaller, shallow draft boats are appropriate for the Hughes River.
Throughout much of West Virginia there are also 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 also 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 on the WVDNR website www.wvdnr.gov), but are worth the effort. When found, anglers tend to guard areas with the same secrecy afforded grouse cover and wild brook trout streams.
In addition to reservoirs of various sizes, and free-flowing streams and smaller rivers that harbor bass, West Virginia also has options provided by larger impounded rivers, such as the Ohio and Monongahela.
The Ohio River has been a focus of the WVDNR, one aimed at increasing fish populations, and not just bass, walleye and blue catfish are also getting attention.
Big rivers, such as the Ohio, are hybrids, part river and part reservoir, because of the navigational lock and dam systems that impound them. Thanks to the inundated river channel — and the resultant loss of natural habitat — most of the bass fishing is concentrated in specific areas. The tailwaters sections below the 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 both largemouth and spotted bass are present. As one moves downriver to the Willow Island L&D and below, spots become the dominant bass species.
In general, good fishing access is available below the dams for the shore bound angler; Hannibal, has a nice parking area, and boat access is found just downriver, in the lower end of Fishing Creek in New Martinsville.
Like the Ohio, the Monongahela River is impeded by locks and dams. Once one of the country's more polluted rivers, the Mon has (for decades now) supported a good fishery, one that includes bass.
Though smallmouths make up most of the mix, there are some largemouths, including some big ones about 4 pounds.
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" like bridge piers, pilings, docks and moored barges.
Now April is one of the more popular times to pursue bass, but the fishing in West Virginia good pretty much throughout the year. And anytime is a good time to be out on the water in this state.