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.
West Virginia Fishing Map
Best Places to Fly Fish in West Virginia
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.
North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River
This awkwardly named river 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.
Best Time to Fish in West Virginia
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.
West Virginia Hatches
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:
Best Flies for Fly Fishing in West Virginia
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 also want Eastern green drake and little winter stonefly nymph imitations on-hand when these hatches happen.
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.
Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere. Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box.
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)
Essential Fly Fishing Gearing
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.
Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.
Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.
High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.
Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet. 3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.
Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable. If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.
Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market. Excellent foot and ankle support. Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.
Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!
Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats. Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish. Simply the best nets on the market.
Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam. If you need more storage - you have too many flies!
Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.
Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.
The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes. Game changer.
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West Virginia Fishing Regulations
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.
West Virginia Fishing Trip Planning
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 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.