July and August have long been my favorite months to fish West Virginia's best bodies of water. I know that, statistically, the best time to catch the majority of trophy game fish, just about regardless of the species, is the early to mid-spring period. Nevertheless, those hot muggy days can be extremely productive if state anglers know where to go.
One such destination is the Greenbrier River in the southern reaches of the state. Bob Bociek, who recently purchased the Greenbrier River Company from long-time owner and local legend Virgil Hanshaw, states it's not hard to realize why he came to the Greenbrier River Valley.
"The Greenbrier is undammed, incredibly beautiful and unspoiled, and offers a nice mix of rapids and pools," said Bociek. "Of course, the smallmouth bass fishing on this river is equal to or better than that in other rivers in the state."
The Greenbrier as it flows through Pocahontas County can become extremely low by mid- summer, so I avoid fishing that section of the river then. But the Greenbrier County section down to where the river enters the New in Hinton typically remains floatable. Some of the better trips (with their mileage in parentheses) are Caldwell to Ronceverte (6.0 miles), Ronceverte to Fort Spring (8.5 miles), Fort Spring to Alderson (6.0 miles), Talcott Bridge to Barger Springs (4.5 miles), and Barger Springs to Willow Wood Bridge (6.0 miles).
Please note that two of those junkets, the Fort Spring and Talcott Bridge ones, feature major rapids and Talcott Bridge has two falls that must be portaged. For summertime action on the Greenbrier, I fish mostly topwater lures like Heddon Tiny Torpedoes, Rebel Pop-Rs, and fly rod poppers. In the ultra-clear water that the Greenbrier is known for in the summer, surface offerings are often the best choice. My backup stratagem is to burn a crankbait, such as the Bomber Model A and Cordell Big O, through riffle areas that lie in water a half-foot deep or so and that contains rocky cover. As much as I enjoy using soft plastic bottom baits, I seem to have less success with them on this river than others in the summer — again perhaps because of the clear water.
For more information check out the Greenbrier River Company Web site at www.greenbrierriver.com, or call 1-800-775-2203.
OHIO RIVER LARGEMOUTHS
The Ohio River dominates the northern West Virginia fishing scene and that preeminent sport continues during the dog days. Dave Maurice, owner of Venom Lures, emphasizes that the Ohio has entered one of its boom periods.
"The bass fishing last summer and last year continued to be excellent," he said. "The largemouth fishery is pretty good, but the fishing for smallmouths and spots is now excellent with good size ones being caught as well.
"I don't think there's any secret why the bass fishing has become so good. We've had excellent spawns the past few years, and there are two reasons why this is so and they go hand-in-hand. We haven't had spring flooding in recent years and because of the stable water levels, the vegetation has flourished giving the fry and young bass plenty of cover to hide in. Too much spring rain equals poor spawns and scoured out river beds with little vegetation."
Not surprisingly, the aquatic vegetation plays a major role concerning where anglers should concentrate their efforts in July and August says Maurice. Two of the most important grass species are coontail and hydrilla, and shad and minnow species often can be found near patches of the green stuff.
Another likely locale is any place where barges have docked or regularly do so. Often these spots feature water of 12 feet or more, and bass concentrate in these areas during the heat of summer. Always good is any kind of wood cover that either adjoins the bank — such as blown-down trees — or submerged brush piles. The Ohio typically offers quite a bit of this kind of cover, given the river's past history of flooding, though, as Maurice emphasizes, water levels have been much more stable in recent years.
Maurice adds that the Willow Island and Belleville pools are producing outstanding action in the northern reaches of the state while the Gallipolis Pool "down south" can make the same claim.
What's the red-hot tactic on the Ohio during the dog days?
"I would say it's drop-shotting," said Maurice. "I like our 3-inch Better Beever or 2 3/4-inch Bingo Shad, which is a swim bait with a paddle tail. That paddle tail moves in the slightest bit of current and makes the lure a good choice for dead drifting."
Maurice rigs these soft plastic baits with a size No. 1 hook positioned 10 inches above a drop shot. The weight of the drop shot can vary a great deal depending on the current flow or the depth at which the fish are holding. One-quarter to 1/8-ounce weights are always handy. Effective summertime colors include green pumpkin and watermelon with red glitter for the Better Beever and watermelon seed and green pumpkin for the Bingo Shad. Although many anglers prefer fluorocarbon line, the lure company president opts for a co-polymer: clear, 10-pound-test Yo-Zuri. Another solid choice is Venom's 4-inch Big Shot tube, dead drifted on a jighead or rigged Texas style.
STONEWALL JACKSON CATS
Whereas the southern reaches can claim the Greenbrier and the northern region can do the same with the Ohio, central West Virginia's lake of renown is Stonewall Jackson. Ken Caplinger, chief of West Virginia's State Parks, recalls an epic summertime visit to the 2,630-acre impoundment for channel catfish.
"My three sisters and their husbands and I spent a wonderful mid-July day catching numerous 16- to 18-inch channel cats," he said. "All we did was position our boat about 40 feet off the bank, cast nightcrawlers below split shot toward the shoreline, and slowly bring the rig in by bumping the worm and the shot along the bottom.
"I don't think there's any question that Stonewall Jackson is the best warm water lake in West Virginia. I would even go so far to state that it is also one of the best lakes in the entire East. It's just not the catfish that offer a great fishery, but also the largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappie as well."
But it's the channel cats that especially shine during the dog days, Caplinger said, and make the lake a superb destination for individuals and families looking to enjoy the outdoors and catch abundant, good size "eating" fish. A major reason why the channel cat sport is so superior is the huge amount of underwater cover that litters the lake's bottom. Overwhelmingly, that cover consists of downed trees that have crumpled into the lake. When Stonewall was created, the lake's designers decreed that vast fields of standing timber be left to form vertical cover then and horizontal cover later. The lake is in its horizontal cover stage now, and the channel catfish certainly have taken advantage of that situation.
Adding to the appeal is that some of the lake's coves feature both submerged woody cover and no-wake zones. One of the things I have always enjoyed most about my visits to West Virginia's largest lake is that this is a body of water that was created with the angler in mind.
Also of note, Caplinger says, are the other charms that the lake has to offer because it is part of Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park. Among those allures are a marina, lodge, cabins, campground, boat rental, and even a fish cleaning station. Interestingly, says Caplinger, an Arnold Palmer signature golf course dots the park should chasing the little white ball be a hobby of the fishermen who visit.
For more information online, go to www.stonewallresort.com or call 1-888-278-8150.
BLACKWATER RIVER TROUT
For summertime trout fishing in an idyllic setting, Caplinger feels that the Blackwater River as it flows through Blackwater Falls State Park is a sublime destination.
"The comeback of the Blackwater River is a very interesting story," he said. "No trout fishing existed for years until a liming station was placed upstream. That station restored the fishing downstream all through the park."
Caplinger said that anglers can divide the river into two parts as far as how to approach fishing it. Above the park's namesake falls, the stream flows through relatively flat terrain, although several drops in the river bottom occur. But the Blackwater through here is mostly riffles and runs that feed into pools, and intense rapids are lacking. Below the falls, though, a major metamorphosis occurs.
"In the Blackwater River Canyon below the falls, rapids flow into plunge pools," Caplinger said. "Huge boulders lie in both the pools and the rapids and are major fish holding areas, especially in the summer. Fishermen also find deep rock ledges and swiftly flowing water in many places.
"The hike down into the canyon is something fishermen should not attempt by themselves nor do I recommend that people fish by themselves in the canyon. This is very steep terrain and it's easy for folks to lose their footing in the river."
Caplinger's description is accurate. Several summers ago, I hiked into the canyon and found the going challenging. On my way back, I lost my footing several times on the precipitous mountainside. However, I plan to return because the combination of beauty and other worldly trout fishing is a rare combination.
For safety sake, I also must emphasize that my sojourn in the Blackwater was with several other anglers. One of them regaled me with stories on how he knew someone who had broken a leg while fishing. The hapless gentleman had to be removed from the canyon via helicopter.
Pack rods are great choices for the canyon, as are streamers and various attractor patterns. If you plan on doing some fishing with nymphs and other subsurface patterns, be sure to have some means of adding weight to your offerings. Given the strength of the current, many flies have a tendency to spiral upwards and out of trout holding areas.
The state park offers 34 cabins, a 55-room lodge, and 65 campsites. My wife Elaine and I have enjoyed dining in on the onsite restaurant, and an indoor pool and hiking trails are among the many other amenities.
For more details on Blackwater Falls State Park check out www.blackwaterfalls.com, or call (304) 259-5216.
PLUM ORCHARD BLUEGILLS
When I asked Caplinger to list the premier summertime destination for bluegills in the Mountain State, I already had an inkling concerning what his response would be. For not only is this body of water the best place for bluegill action during the summer months, but it's also the hot spot during any time of the year.
"Plum Orchard is West Virginia's best lake or river for trophy bluegills," he said. "That's no secret and has been true for many years."
Located in Fayette County and a part of the 3,201-acre Plum Orchard Lake WMA, this 202-acre lake flaunts some outstanding bluegill habitat. Because it is convenient to folks living in both Beckley and Charleston, the body of water receives a great deal of fishing pressure. Although some game fish suffer from too many human "catching-and-keeping" trips, bluegills thrive, as they are unable to overpopulate a lake or river. Many folks who come to the lake do so with the intent of taking fish fillets home for dinner.
A second reason for the lake's productivity is its abundant cover.
"Lily pads are thick in the lake's coves," said Caplinger. "Those pads often make it difficult for bank anglers to present baits to the fish. The person who chooses to fish the outside edges of those pad fields and uses a canoe or kayak to cast to the fish is the individual who does well."
Don't be surprised if you tie into some 10-inch-plus 'gills at Plum Orchard. Live crickets and nightcrawlers are popular baits, but some anglers enjoy utilizing small fly rod poppers.
For more information, visit www.plumorchardlakewma.com.
BEECH FORK LAKE - CATFISH & BLUEGILLS
When I contacted Matt Yeager, superintendent of Beech Fork State Park, about the game fish that provides the best July and August action at 720-acre Beech Fork Lake, I was unsure which species he would choose. It turns out that Yeager could not select just one game fish that was predominant at the Wayne County impoundment.
"Some people really enjoy using chicken livers for channel catfish, and other folks prefer to go after bluegills with nightcrawlers," he said. "The one thing that both groups have in common is that our campground, which borders the lake, is where some of the best fishing takes place. That area has a lot of 12- to 24-inch channel cats and some really huge flatheads that can run up to 40 pounds."
Boat rental is available, says Yeager, but some anglers like to bring canoes or kayaks and use them to cruise the shoreline. The catfish often hold in the deeper water and drop-offs while the bluegills hold "any place where there is shade and cover."
Beech Fork offers six cabins, 275 campsites, and numerous hiking trails.
For more information visit their Web site at www.beechforksp.com or call (304) 528-5794.
SUMMING IT UP
Obviously, these six destinations aren't the only quality ones in the Mountain State, but they are surely nice places to start enjoying fine summertime angling.