Spring may be the time when the best action for West Virginia's trophy fish takes place, and fall may be the best time aesthetically to wet a line. But for all round angling pleasure and the overwhelming joy of being outdoors, summer is the premier period to sample the Mountain State's diverse waters. For this summer, numerous possible destinations exist.
Several years ago, then West Virginia Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Kevin Yokum extolled the virtues of the lower Gauley.
"Floating on the Gauley below Summerville Dam can be rough and even dangerous for the initial 5-mile stretch below the dam," Yokum said. "Due to the steep gradient, most of the fishing is done by clients in the company of commercial guides."
Nevertheless, a big "but" emerged from the conversation — the wade fishing for trout in that section can be fantastic, even during the summer. I kept those comments by Yokum on file. On a hot summer day last year, Brian Hager, a guide for Mountain State Anglers in Fayette County, and I journeyed to the waterway in the south central part of the state.
"The water coming out of the dam is quite cold, so the trout fishing remains good all summer," Hager said. "Lots of major rapids are in the first few miles below the dam, and fishermen, unless they are truly whitewater experts, would need a professional outfitter to take them floating down the river.
"But fishermen can also catch a lot of trout by hiking along the river's banks, looking for openings in the vegetation, walking down an incline to the stream, and wade fishing. Some of the outfitters stock this section by using helicopters. So some really large trout live below the dam."
A flat, grassy pathway runs along the river right side of the Gauley below the dam, so Brian and I, joined by Scott Wilson of Ansted, ambled down the travel way until we encountered one of those breaks in the riparian zone.
"Some of the fly fishermen like to use streamers and sizes 12 and 14 topwater patterns," Wilson said. "Spin fishermen can do really well with Berkley Powerbait and live minnows. Minnows and nightcrawlers drifted through the deep pools are great baits."
Indeed, they are as on our excursion using the above game plan, Wilson quickly caught his six-trout limit. Hager employed spinners and landed several chunky rainbows, while I hurled jerkbaits and ingloriously struck out. By the time I realized my mistake of using too large a lure, the morning action had ended.
Both Wilson and Hager agree that the best time during the summer to visit this part of the Gauley is between dawn and 10:00 a.m. and again during the evening after 5:00.
If you go, avoid wading in areas of major rapids and keep in mind that huge boulders pock both sides of the river. Take your time making your way along the river and always go with a friend.
For guided trips on the Gauley check out www.mountainstateanglers.com or call (877) 359-8463. For water level information visit www.waterdata.usgs.gov/wv/nwis/rt.
MONCOVE LAKE LARGEMOUTHS & BLUEGILLS
Another superlative summertime destination is 144-acre Moncove Lake in Monroe County. Southern West Virginia sports a number of small impoundments that host largemouths and bluegills, and this is certainly one of the better ones.
On my most recent trip, my son-in-law David Reynolds and I deployed one of the rowboats available for rent and immediately headed for a patches of vegetation that rim the impoundment.
On my first cast, I caught a 16-inch largemouth on a Texas-rigged plastic worm. Over the course of the day, David and I dueled with a number of fish between 12 and 16 inches — all caught within or parallel to the numerous aquatic vegetation fields.
Later I used a fly rod to catch quite a few bluegills on a popping bug. The DNR also has stocked channel catfish in Moncove, and many folks visit the lake on summertime evenings to take advantage of this fishery.
Jesse Anderson, superintendent of Moncove Lake State Park, believes the fishing should be quite good this July and August.
"Last summer, we had several sizeable bass caught and released that I got to see and that were in the 6- to 8-pound range," he said. "My wife and I did a good bit of fishing with our kids June through August in the evenings and we caught lots of crappie, bullheads, perch, and bluegills as big as your hand. We also had some really good runs of crappie fishing and saw folks filling stringers or buckets.
"For kid-friendly fishing, 2011 was the best summer in years for catching panfish. A dozen worms kept my kids and myself busy most of the evening, as I was baiting hooks and removing fish. The walleye fishing seemed quieter in 2011, but it may be that I didn't happen to talk to the right folks or use the right baits. Topwater fishing at dusk was the most exciting time with crappie and bass both hitting lures."
Adding to the locale's appeal is that Moncove Lake State Park surrounds the body of water. The park features 47 tent/trailer sites, a swimming pool, picnic areas, and five hiking trails. Additionally, the 500-acre Moncove Lake WMA encompasses the state park.
For more information visit www.moncovelakestatepark.com or call (304) 772-3450.
The Ohio River's black bass fishery dominates the northern part of the state and understandably so, as largemouths, smallmouths, and spots all dwell in this lowland waterway. But it is the latter two that have booming populations right now, according to Dave Maurice, president of Venom Lures.
"The Ohio has really changed over the past decade or so," Maurice said. "The backwaters have largely silted in, and the past few years not much grass has been around. The backwaters were the main spawning areas for largemouths, so populations for them have really declined.
"But the smallmouth and spotted bass populations have just exploded. When the largemouth bass numbers went down, so did the number of tournaments being held on the river. So what we have now is less fishing pressure and more bass."
Maurice added that visitors to the Ohio this summer can legitimately expect to catch 50 to 60 smallmouths and spots per day with a few largemouths in the mix. However, few 4-pound-plus bass of any species fin the waterway.
"It's true we don't have a lot of trophy bass here, but the river is just full of 13- to 15-inch smallies and spots. I receive reports of anglers commonly catching 20 to 30 fish in that size range. That's not a bad way to spend a hot, summer day."
The lure company president suggested that anglers access the water right before dawn. Typically, a strong topwater bite exists early in the morning with buzzbaits and a Rebel Pop-R being sound choices. That surface frenzy concludes about two hours after sunrise, then it's time to probe deeper.
"After the topwater bite dies, my favorite bait is the Venom 3 1/2-inch Better Beever on a drop-shot rig. This bait has a very slim profile and it imitates a prey species that is vulnerable. Lots of guys have success using straight-tailed worms on a drop-shot rig as well."
Numerous patterns exist on the main river now that the backwaters no longer are options. Maurice targets areas where barges are tied; typically these places have concrete moorings and draw lots of baitfish and bass.
Another effective pattern is fishing any place where a barge has been beached along the shoreline to prevent erosion. Openings eventually form or exist under these derelicts and the bass soon find them. Also good are where creeks enter the main river.
"You can catch bass right in these tributary mouths, but often the best place is the first drop-off out from the mouth," Maurice said. "The Gallipolis, Racine, and Willow Island pools all have a lot of these types of cover, and all of them have a lot of bass."
Interestingly, Maurice said that one new angling trend has emerged on the Ohio. Many anglers are employing the Alabama rig, which features five wires coming out from its main body. Flashy lures are attached to each of the wires with the effect being that of a small school of shad swimming through the water.
"The Alabama rig is red hot on the Ohio right now," Maurice said.
WALLEYES & SMALLMOUTHS
Jim Browning, assistant superintendent at Tygart Lake State Park, stated that two fish are currently garnering much of the attention at this 1,750-acre impoundment in the north central part of the state.
"Smallmouths and walleyes are the two most popular fish here, and the fishing was very good for both last year," he said. "The only problem we had in 2011 was that water levels were very high during the time the fish were spawning. I'm concerned that we may have lost many of the fry.
"One of the anglers that fished here a lot told me that he regularly caught 30 bass a day. I was astounded by that number. And during the evenings last year, I noted quite a few fishermen coming here to go after walleyes and doing well. I don't think the general public realizes how good the fishing can be here."
Browning said that the impoundment has a smattering of largemouths, plus crappie and white bass. Whether anglers are after marble-eyes or bronzebacks, one form of cover stands out.
"If fishermen come here, they will be largely fishing rock of some kind," Browning said. "Tygart is a very narrow lake and along the shoreline we have rock ledges, rock piles, riprap, and rocky points. One of the few non-rock forms of cover here are the many sunken evergreen tree piles that are marked as fish attractors. Crankbaits are very popular baits, especially for bass."
The following tidbit won't much help anglers for this summer, but it is useful information for the future. Browning said that every winter, Tygart Lake has a major drawdown. That is the time to visit the lake and mark potential hot spots for the rest of the year.
Anglers who bring their families to Tygart find the state park very welcoming. Visitors can choose from 11 cabins, and 40 campsites, 14 of which have electric hook ups. Trails and picnic facilities are also available.
For more information: go online to www.tygartlake.com or call (304) 265-6144.
Bob Beanblossom has been with West Virginia's state parks for 38 years and has fished more places in the Mountain State than any one I have ever met. He knows our waters.
Biologically, smaller impoundments typically feature better bluegill action than larger lakes. Beanblossom offered some suggestions regarding which state parks' mini-impoundments offers the best bluegill action.
"Watoga Lake is certainly one of the best in our system if not the best," he said. "Oddly enough, Watoga is mostly known for its spring trout fishing, as the lake is stocked heavily until May. And it's a highland impoundment that has very heavily wooded shorelines, two characteristics that are not normally associated with great bluegill fisheries. Watoga also has very clear water, again something not usually associated with bluegills.
"Yet, despite all those things, Watoga produces a lot of bluegills and some very nice ones, too. The best place to go for these fish is in the upper end of the lake where the water is shallower and the bluegills are more accessible. Look for openings in the shoreline and start fishing there."
Watoga State Park also sports 30 cabins, two campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, and the Greenbrier River Trail lies nearby.
Beanblossom raves about the 10,100-acre park's attributes.
"Watoga is the perfect example of what a state park should be," he said. "It has the history with the Civilian Conservation Corps cabins, the ideal setting in a Pocahontas County mountain valley, and it's the largest state park in the state. I think it's a wonderful destination for a family fishing vacation."
For additional details, check out www.watoga.com. The telephone number is (304) 799-4087.
SHENANDOAH RIVER CHANNEL CATFISH
Fewer than 20 miles of the Shenandoah River course through West Virginia. And only three float trips exist in that section on this Eastern Panhandle waterway. Nevertheless, the channel catfish action can be quite fetching on summertime evenings and nights.
Perhaps the most popular float with catfish fanciers is the Avon 8-mile Bend to Bloomery Road junket, which is the only one of the trio that begins and ends in the Mountain State. It is also the one I have undertaken the most often and on which I have witnessed some nice channel cats landed.
The Avon Bend float features one Class II, several Class 1 rapids, and many eddies. Also of note are the many outside bends that feature heavily wooded shorelines. Those curves, in places where goodly amounts of rock and wood cover exist, are where fishermen are likely to experience the best catfish action.
For information on guided float trips on the Shenandoah River go to www.bassriveroutfitters.com, or call (304) 724-7373.