Summersville Lake: A recreation and watercraft paradise

Ready for a shakedown cruise in that spiffy new Bennington or Sun Tracker pontoon boat? You could do worse than head out to Summersville Lake.

As the largest reservoir in the state, Summersville Lake in Nicholas County is a hub of spring and summer recreation.

The lake’s clear water, 60-plus miles of shoreline, sandstone cliffs and surrounding hardwood forests make it ideal for a summertime excursion. The lake borders both the Gauley River National Recreation Area and the Summersville Lake State Wildlife Area. For Civil War buffs, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park is minutes away.

On any given weekend in season, a variety of watercraft can be seen on the 2,700-acre lake, including pontoon and fishing boats, speed boats, personal watercraft such as Jet Skis and Sea-Doos, kayaks, and even sailboats.

Off the water, outdoor activities in the area include rock climbing, hiking, bike riding and picnicking.

Not surprisingly, the Summersville Lake Marina is also the largest marina in the state. Rentals at the marina include pontoons, kayaks, paddle boards and Triumph inshore boats. The marina stocks everything needed for a day on the water, including ice, bait, marine supplies and food.

The lake’s depth and clear water also make it the Mountain State’s premier diving location. Sarge’s Dive Shop is located at the marina. As a full-service dive shop, Sarge’s offers scuba lessons, certification and gear. The shop has a custom dive boat, and charters diving, swimming and snorkeling trips.

The marina opens in mid-May and is located at 1706 Airport Road. For more information, call 681-355-5678.

Fishing tips

Summersville Lake can be challenging to fish for someone used to shallower lakes. The maximum depth is more than 300 feet at summer pool (the lake is lowered by 77 feet from November through April for flood control). Anglers should expect to share the water with recreational users, especially on weekends.

Regardless of the challenges, there are some who call it “the best numbers lake in the state.” This means lots of smallmouth and largemouth bass can be caught – mostly average in size. Walleye, crappie, perch, bluegill and rock bass are also plentiful. Use electronics to find groups of fish. This time of year, fish will be moving from deeper to shallower water. Look for coves and rock drop offs – places where shallow water is next to deeper water.

For bass, try crawfish imitations, tubes and plastic worms. Some anglers report good results using drop shot and Carolina rigs. Try switching to crankbaits as the water temperature gets warmer. Walleye will move to the upper end of the lake as temperatures rise; use jigs or bounce a nightcrawler off the bottom to entice walleye to bite.

While fish of smaller size are abundant, there are larger ones to be had. The state record yellow perch was caught here last year (14.5 inches, 2.04 pounds).

If fishing from a kayak, consider avoiding the main lake, and launching around McKees Creek or Battle Run. There is a good launch site on State Route 39 below the water treatment plant. Sites along State Route 39 are also good bets for those fishing from the bank.

Trout are stocked in the tailwaters through May. There is ample parking below the dam.

Camping

Battle Run Recreation Area, at the southern portion of the lake, has a popular campground. The camping area has 114 sites, including 107 with electric hookups, and seven tent sites. The tent sites are in wooded lots and face the water. The two public boat docks at Battle Run have been repaired and upgraded this spring.

During season, the campground is often fully booked; call ahead for availability. Battle Run is located at 2981 Summersville Lake Road (W.Va. 129). For reservations, call 877-444-6777; for more information, call 888-445-1474.

At the other end of the lake is Mountain Lake Campground & Cabins, on 1898 Airport Road. The campground has 250-plus RV and tent sites, plus cabin and yurt rentals. A new cabin built by students from the Nicholas County Career and Technical School was opened May 7.

“One reason we are popular is because we are family owned and operated,” said owner Susan James. She and her husband, Shawn, have operated the resort since 2005.

Mountain Lake is pet friendly and has free Wi-Fi. For cooling off on those hot summer days, the resort offers both a swimming beach and a pool. Other amenities include cabin rentals, golf cart rentals and a country store with a pizza shop. Kids can enjoy the playgrounds, a game of Goofy Golf, or pan for gold at the camp’s mining sluice.

For brides-to-be seeking an outdoor venue for a wedding, Mountain Lake offers several wedding packages. “We did 20 weddings last year and have several booked so far this year,” James said.

Mountain Lake Campground & Cabins also features themed weekends, such as Ice Cream Lovers’ Weekend (May 31-June 2) and Chocolate Lovers’ Weekend (June 7-9). Call 1-877-686-6222 or 304-872-6222 for more information. Reservations can also be made online at www.mountainlakecampground.com.

Another option is Summersville Lake Retreat & Lighthouse, home to the only lighthouse in West Virginia. Located on 278 Summersville Lake Road (W.Va. 129), the camp has ample room for RVs, including “big rig” pull-through sites. The Retreat also offers cabin rentals and scenic spots for tent camping. Call 304-872-5975 for reservations.

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