West Virginia is a lush and fertile land of beautiful hilly countryside blessed with a glut of lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers.
From the West Fork running north toward the Pennsylvania border to Summersville Lake nestled in the southern central portion of the state, there is plenty of water throughout in which to indulge all of your sporting desires.
In fact, there is so many public fishing spots scattered throughout this natural wonderland that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
The state DNR engages in stocking activities throughout more than 150 bodies of water all over the state. In addition to trout, WV stocks warm water fish to help replace populations that have suffered the effects of habitat destruction and pollution.
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From popular, easily accessible locales to tiny, tucked away streams that require a bit of work for the reward, you’ll find a wide range of options for your West Virginia fly fishing adventures.
The North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River
This awkwardly named run rambles all the way through the state, passing between Virginia and Maryland, and finally emptying out into Chesapeake Bay. If you wade in off of Route 28/55, you’ll encounter a good mix of rainbows and browns, as well as some of the hybrid trout called golden rainbow – or palomino rainbow. Head south and you’ll find plenty of public access points with ample parking. This part of the river is on the narrow side so you’ll be able to practice your shorter casts. Just be careful if you’re taking a boat, as there are large rocks in the water that can be missed when the levels are high.
If you’re planning a little getaway, check out Harman’s North Fork Cottages in Cabins, WV. This little town is located within the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, and the private stretch of the South Branch which runs along Harman’s property is kept stocked with rainbows for the people who stay there. The surrounding woods and striking cliffs make for an unbeatable fly fishing experience as you soak in the natural beauty of the landscape while casting your line.
Tucked within the Monongahela National Forest is this two-part waterway that harbors browns, brookies, rainbows, and goldens. While some are wild, most of the inhabitants are the result of stocking. The backcountry – which is the 16-mile upper portion, is difficult to reach and does not have any vehicle access. The lower portion of the Cranberry features plenty of public access via the nearby roads. There are three designated catch-and-release areas, with the local favorite being the mile-long section between Woodbine and Camp Sprinter.
Shavers Fork of the Cheat River
Shavers is an 88.5 mile run that ultimately helps to form the Cheat River, when it collides with Black Fork at Parsons. Set upon a backdrop of the scenic Allegheny Mountains, this river is stocked along a 43-mile stretch from Bowden to Beaver Creek. If you follow Route 33, you’ll find that the river accompanies the highway for many miles, making it a popular site for anglers who prefer the easy access. Deep pools, riffles, and boulders characterize this waterway, and the abundant aquatic insects do an effective job of nourishing the fish population.
Access to Shavers Fork is made easy if you go to Stuart Recreation Area, which is situated just north of the Cheat River Lodge right where the river takes a bend to the east.
This is another prominent local favorite, with the most popular access being via the little town of Slatyfork. The Elk, dubbed the Lady by locals, runs right through the middle of the state and is made up of the Big Spring Fork and Old Field Fork converging through the Allegheny Mountains. The Elk is widely considered in the fly fishing community as one of the best trout fishing spots in the Eastern United States.
The beauty of the Elk is that it’s packed with browns, brookies, rainbows, and goldens, some of which measure 20 inches or more. While you can certainly use a guide on the Elk, you don’t have to – there is adequate access for the average angler to manage on their own. The combination of shallow riffles and deep pools will keep you on your toes as you exercise various techniques.
As always, fly fishing success is about matching the hatch. The general West Virginia rivers hatching schedule contains a bevy of critters, including the following:
Of course you can always tie your own, but hitting up local fly shops can help immensely in getting imitations that most closely match native insects. Plus, supporting the local industry helps to keep the hobby thriving in the area.
West Virginia offers year-round fishing. Spring and fall are generally the most lucrative, while summer is good depending upon the water level. Spring is especially favorable due to the hatches that are occurring. Winter is typically a good time at Shavers Fork, while summer usually brings waters that are too low and too warm. Seneca Creek is known for staying cool most of the summer, and of course spring and fall can be rewarding as well. In the fall, the brook trout spawn, plus you’re surrounded by the stunning colors of the turning trees. Winter at Seneca Creek may not yield very good results. Fly fishing on the Elk River is good all year round.
The important thing to remember when angling in summer is that you must maintain a low profile. The calm waters and sun’s ability to cast shadows easily make it more difficult to avoid disturbing the water. The stealthier you are, the less likely the little critters are to get wise to the fact that you’re not actually giving them something yummy.
When making your packing list of what you'll need for your fishing trip, start with the basics:
A good choice for all the local trout fishing is an 8.5-foot rod in a 5 weight with a 9-foot leader and 5X tippet. You could go one size either way, depending upon your preferences.
For flies, you should keep a wide variety of nymphs and dry flies on hand, including hare’s ear, blue-wing olive, caddis, and pheasant tails. Streamers can bring good results at Shavers Fork, and a long leader will help keep your line deep enough when the water levels get high. For the Elk, you may want Eastern green drake and little winter stonefly nymph imitations.
Fishing licenses are available through the West Virginia DNR. A regular fishing license costs $19 for residents and $37 for non-residents. A trout stamp is available for $10 for residents and $16 for non-residents. You can also purchase lifetime licenses for $805, and non-residents may obtain a one-day fishing license for $3. Children under age 15, those who are totally blind, active military members on leave, and residents who turned 65 prior to January 1, 2012 do not require a West Virginia fishing license.
Make sure to go over the state’s fishing regulations carefully before you set out on your expedition. There are specific limits and rules for various bodies of water, including a catch-and-release season and protection for certain species like the shovelnose sturgeon and hybrid striped bass.
There’s almost nothing that West Virginia doesn’t have to offer in the way of fly fishing experiences. From large rivers like the Potomac to tiny streams like the Seneca Creek, you can be as exposed or secluded as you want. Pull off of the highway and toss your line in right by the side of the road, or hike, bike, or horseback ride 10 miles up the backcountry of the Cranberry River, camp overnight, and truly embrace the wilderness experience.
When that extravagant vacation is feeling just a little too far out of your reach just yet, a rustic fly fishing trip throughout the hills and forests of West Virginia can be just the cure, and at a cost that won’t pinch your wallet too hard. Choose from cottages with all the comforts of home or crude shelters off the beaten path. Hire a guide to show you the hidden secrets and treasures of the state’s fly fishing community or explore on your own, hitting your own lucky pools as you go.