West Virginia’s anglers are used to feast-or-famine fishing. We have a different name for it, though. For us, it’s drought or flood fishing.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen both extremes. A prolonged dry spell caused creeks to drop almost to late-summer levels before the rains came and forced more than a few creeks and rivers out of their banks.
I’ve written plenty of columns and articles about dealing with low-water conditions, but it occurs to me that I’ve never done the same for fishing in a flood.
With my tongue tucked slyly into my cheek, I now present a brief primer for doing just that:
n Don’t worry about spooking the fish.
During floods, fish are so busy dodging rocks, logs, cars and other debris that they don’t much worry about anglers. The lone exception to that, of course, is if you happen to fall in and drown, the fish will have to dodge you, too.
n Get creative with bait.
Trout anglers know that when a creek is on the rise, trout start looking for insects and worms that get washed into the river. In West Virginia’s larger rivers, large gamefish such as muskies and catfish don’t bother with such trivial fare; they want meat.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to offer up something those fish might see during a flood. Chickens, cats, small dogs and road-killed possums come immediately to mind. If your fishing partner happens to be particularly understanding and olfactorily challenged, you also might want to offer up a road-killed skunk or two.
n Check your mailbox; you never know what you might find there.
During a recent flash flood in southeastern Kentucky, a woman whose property got flooded checked her mailbox soon after the waters receded. She found several crawdads inside. Mailboxes might not be the most efficient bait traps, but hey — anything is possible.
n Don’t be afraid to use heavier line.
Bass, walleye and other sight-feeding fish can become line-shy, especially when the water is clear. During a flood, line shyness ceases to be a problem.
Use line as heavy as you’d like. The flood’s high current speeds ensure that even if the water is clear enough for fish to see the bait, it’s moving so fast that the fish will hardly realize there’s a line attached to it. Expect reaction strikes, and heavy ones at that.
Aircraft control-surface cables make excellent flood-water lines. So do ocean-liner mooring ropes.
n Let water velocity govern sinker choice.
The faster the water, the heavier the sinker. The raging waters of the New River Gorge, for example, might require something along the lines of a 426 Hemi engine block. In the lower Kanawha, where currents aren’t nearly as swift, a straight-six block would probably get the job done.
n Keep an eye out for debris floating downstream.
Getting snagged on the bottom is bad enough; getting snagged on flotsam is worse.
Anyone who has fought a fish in swift water knows how much heavier the fish feels when it angles its body against the current. Tree branches, dog houses and chicken coops can be really difficult to handle, even with a stout rod and high-strength line.
And, while I can’t confirm this personally, I’ve heard that even the heaviest salt-water rigs can’t handle the initial run of a single-wide mobile home, let alone a double-wide.