Gauley offers good summer trout fishing
After West Virginia's official trout stockings end on the last day of May, anglers tend to forget about trout fishing until the following spring.
Who could blame them? Most trout streams get low, clear and warm during the summer months. Trout, which prefer cold water, start feeding at night to escape daytime's high temperatures.
The only major Mountain State trout stream immune to the "low, clear and warm" affliction is the Gauley River downstream from Summersville Dam.
The water that flows from the hydropower station just downstream from the dam registers a leg-numbing 55 degrees. The river is large and swift, with tumbling rapids, huge boulders and deep pools. It's terrific trout water.
And it's recently stocked.
That's right. On June 5, a helicopter made several passes up and down the remote Gauley River canyon, and hatchery workers inside the chopper dumped 1,500 pounds of trout into the river's chilly waters.
The stocking, a cooperative effort by the state Division of Natural Resources and the West Virginia Professional Outfitters Association, has become an annual event.
It's designed to compensate trout fishermen for the days of fishing they lose during the fall trout-stocking season. The river isn't fishable then because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers keeps the water artificially high to allow more whitewater rafting.
The 24-day Gauley rafting season is when outfitters make a huge chunk of their money. The Gauley attracts paddlers from all over the country, and the promise of high flows from the dam allows outfitters to guarantee those paddlers a fun time.
About the only downside to the Gauley season is that it overlaps the DNR's annual fall trout stockings.
Before rafting became insanely popular, the whitewater season ended well before the fall stockings began. Then the outfitters, corps officials and the DNR found a way to make the season even more profitable.
Instead of opening the floodgates and having high flows for three weeks straight, the powers-that-be decided to spread the flows out into a series of four-day weekends. The weekend-centered format allowed more people to raft the river.
Unfortunately for fishermen, it also extended the season into the trout-stocking weeks of mid-October. The outfitters recognized the inconvenience they were creating, and they agreed to fund a supplemental Gauley River trout stocking to compensate aggrieved anglers.
But why does the stocking occur in early June?
Think about it. If it occurred in the fall, after the whitewater season ends, anglers would have a Hobson's choice of activities - fish for trout in November's often-iffy weather, or go bow hunting for deer. In West Virginia, deer always win out.
From the first of March to the end of May, DNR hatchery crews stock the dam's tailwaters every two weeks. That doesn't leave much time to work in an additional stocking.
The early June date coincides with National Fishing Week, and it comes just in front of the state's annual Free Fishing Days. It also comes at a time when anglers haven't completely shoved trout fishing aside for the year.
About the only disadvantage to the date is that it comes when brush and undergrowth are most lush, making access to and from the river difficult in the remote, roadless Gauley canyon.
For anglers hardy enough to beat the brush and walk a few miles, the rewards can be great. Even if the fish don't bite, at least the water will be cold and refreshing. In West Virginia's broiler-like summer months, that's no small reward.