West Virginia has over 20,000 miles of streams and more than 100 fishing lakes offering a wide array of fishing opportunities.
In the Eastern Panhandle, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are popular with those who like to fish for muskie, largemouth bass and walleye. The South Branch of the Potomac is said to have some of the best fly fishing in the nation.
I have several friends who are fly fishermen. One lives in Harpers Ferry and recommends fishing along the Upper Elk River or Gandy Creek. Another friend (and former Gazette reporter), Mike Snyder, for years taught fly fishing classes from his home in Harman near Gandy Creek.
Avid anglers enjoy North Bend Lake, a hidden fishing spot in Ritchie County that offers fantastic fish habitat. It is a great place to fish for bass, catfish and crappie. It is one of the few lakes open for night fishing.
During the spawn in late April and early May, there are plenty of big bass to be found, but people tend to overlook September and October when the water is cooling and fish go into a feeding frenzy in anticipation of the winter dormancy period.
In Southern West Virginia, the Bluestone River offers up warm water fish like smallmouth bass and bluegill. In the winter, the river is stocked with rainbow trout.
West Virginia has one of the top trout-stocking programs in the nation. Between 700,000 and 800,000 pounds of trout and over 300,000 fingerling trout are stocked in West Virginia streams and lakes each year.
It may surprise you, but bluegill are one of my favorite, often overlooked, local fish. Years ago, John McCoy wrote an article for the Charleston Gazette saying that “bluegills are about the coolest un-cool fish on the planet.” I tend to agree with him.
Trout are snooty when bluegills are cooperative and just minutes away in nearly every small pond. Yes, they are tiny, but they are abundant. As McCoy pointed out, bluegills are small, but their flattened oval-shaped bodies provide delectable mild fillets.
Anglers should not overlook carp. One of the most delicious meals I have eaten was a carp dinner prepared by a Polish refugee whom we had taken in during Solidarity. Carp is the culinary symbol of Polish Christmas Eve and represents good luck.
Another great carp dinner was prepared by a Chinese friend who lived in Lesage. My husband and I needed only to supply the carp. We caught several at Beech Fork Lake. Our friend cooked the fish with the head intact. The marinade took away the muddy taste.
When my friend presented the dish, she asked if my husband or I would like the eyeballs. We thought she was joking, and we declined. With dexterous use of chopsticks, she removed the eyeballs and popped them into her mouth. They are apparently a Chinese delicacy.
There are stretches of wadable water and deep pools along the Mud River and local fishermen have reported catches of spotted bass, crappie, sauger and muskie. As long as you’re aware of the mercury contamination guidelines, eating muskie is perfectly fine. They do have big bones in the middle of the fillets, but they are easily removed.
If you are apprehensive about eating fish from West Virginia waters, the Department of Natural Resources puts out a fish advisory chart. It notes contamination and advises people of the fish that may pose health risks. They also publish a list of the state’s favorite fishing waters.
It is important to consult West Virginia fishing regulations before going fishing. In this state, fishing licenses are good for one calendar year. All anglers must carry valid identification while fishing. Some places do not allow the use of minnow and others, like Stonewall Jackson Lake, only allow for catch-and-release.
The most common reason people like to fish is that it is simply fun. Locally caught fish can also be the focal point of many delicious meals. Fish tacos with San Diego Sauce are a favorite at our house.