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New River offers more than trophy smallmouths

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's "whopper time." The warm months between late spring and early fall are when lots of people go fishing, and it's when they catch lots of big fish.Last year, West Virginians earned 684 Trophy Fish Citations from the state Division of Natural Resources. DNR officials award the certificates to anglers whose fish meet the agency's size requirements.They also keep records on which waters yield the most trophies. The list for 2012 included 89 creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds. Twenty-five different species of fish were represented.Problem was, the list didn't clearly indicate which bodies of water produced the most of any given species. Well, I'm a nerd. I wanted to know.So I took the supplied information, entered it into a computer spreadsheet and printed out the results.Very quickly, it became apparent that a handful of species garnered the lion's share of the trophies.To be precise, seven species - largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, muskellunge, brook trout and rainbow trout - accounted for 441 of the 684 citation-sized fish.But before you dig into the statistics, remember a couple of things:One, the brook- and rainbow-trout numbers are more a reflection of where the DNR stocks trophy-sized "brood fish" than an indication of a true trophy fishery.
Also, bear in mind that some waters' numbers might be artificially inflated because a local angler fishes a lot, catches a lot of fish, and has a goal to wallpaper his or her house with citations.With no further ado, then, here are the top waters for each species:
  • Largemouth bass - This might surprise some people. The New River topped the list with 17 citation-sized fish. Most people think of the New as a smallmouth stream. Apparently it harbors more than a few bragging-sized bigmouths too.
  • Smallmouth bass - The New River, hands down. Anglers pulled 41 trophy bronzebacks from the New in 2012. No other water was even close; next closest were the Greenbrier River with six and the Shenandoah River with five.
  • Rainbow trout - Again, these primarily reflect where the DNR stocked large numbers of hatchery brood trout. The South Branch of the Potomac led with 28. Kanawha County's Ridenour Lake produced 20, and the North Fork of the South Branch had 13.
  • Brook trout - Another hatchery-decided blow away. The South Branch had 18 and the North Fork of the South Branch had eight. After that, the list consisted mostly of onesies and twosies.
  • Muskellunge - If you figured the Elk River would top the list, you figured wrong. The New River yielded the most trophy muskies with 19. The Elk and Stonewall Jackson Lake shared the runner-up spot with 11 apiece.
  • Channel catfish - The Ohio River stood head-and-shoulders above other popular channel-cat fisheries with 25 citation-sized fish. Somewhat surprisingly, the Coal River tied the New River for the runner-up spot with 10, closely followed by the South Branch at nine.
  • Flathead catfish - Once again, the Ohio headed up the category. Anglers hauled 23 trophy flatheads from the Ohio. The Kanawha River was no slouch, either; anglers there landed 17 citation-sized fish. The Coal River's 12 and the New River's nine were the other notable numbers on the list.
  • So what do the statistics mean? Well, if you like to catch big bass, catfish or muskies, plan to spend some time on the New River. If you like to catch big trout, follow a stocking truck.
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