The rivers of southern West Virginia are home to a variety of fish that thrill anglers from our hometowns, but increasingly we are experiencing visitors from afar to cast their lines in hope of a catch.
The flat-water rivers of the Guyandotte, Little Coal, Big Coal, and the ponds and lakes here near Madison have seen increased activity due to reclamation efforts and stocking initiatives by the State of West Virginia and some private philanthropic assistance to our rivers and anglers.
The first of our places to visit are Miflin Pond or Rockhouse Lake. This is a former mine site that has been refurbished into a wonderful place for family fun. The basketball court is the best outdoor facility around and the playground and picnic shelters are also very nice. The state stocks trout in this spring-fed deep pond once a month, April through February.
The lake also receives assistance from community members who want to see this lake flourish in opportunities. Local angler Rusty Mullins is as knowledgeable as they come when talking about the local fishing conditions and gear needed. Mullins is a salesman in the fishing department at Cabela’s and will share his knowledge of several of the waters included in this article. Mullins says of Miflin Pond he enjoys fishing there with a 10-foot ultra-lite and uses 2-4-pound test and loves the sport and challenge of the big bluegill found there.
The next stop on the adventure takes us to Mud River Dam. The bluegill can also be found there, but Mullins said his favorites there are muskie and large-mouth bass. He said carp also is another challenge and fun to catch at Mud River.
Fishing at Mud River can be much better by boat than straight shore fishing. Boat launches at Mud River make things easy for kayaks, canoes and boats with small motors. Mud River Dam also has a beach, and if you need a place to stay or eat, Old Henry’s campground has great food and nice cabins, kayak rentals and a campground for whatever suits your fancy.
Mullins, who lives at Van along the Pond Fork of the Little Coal, said the Little Coal River and its tributaries are home to the long-nose version of alligator gar, and he lists many places along the water trail — from his house at Van to Madison — where these fish can be found.
Beyond Madison, downstream in and around the loop at Waterways, sauger can be found. This fish is exciting to catch and is a cousin to the walleye. When fishing for these, Mullins recommends the tube baits, jerk baits, net rigs and top water baits. The loop at Julian is a special place as the river comes back around to itself and makes for a place where a second vehicle is not necessary to get upstream and return. This provides about a 45-minute ride and makes things most convenient.
These same baits are effective in the main draw to fishermen coming to the Little Coal River and Big Coal watersheds, the smallmouth bass. From Madison on down to McCorkle, the muskie present a great challenge. Mullins recommends a double-bladed buck tail or wake baits to get them in your boat.
Look for Mullins’ website about to appear at M@N outfitters. This site will include information on all things outdoor education related in southern West Virginia, such as fishing, hunting, beekeeping and what is happening in terms of events.
Mullins has listed some favorite places to fish in our region that he was willing to share, the Guyandotte from Justice to Man has become his favorite. The kayaking and ATV traffic has transformed the area and has created some success stories such as Keith’s, which is doing a nice volume of business catering to the adventure tourists.
One of Mullins’ other favorite trips is jetboat fishing with Bo Wolfe on the New River. He is the owner of Bronzeback Adventures, which leads fishing excursions on the New and Greenbrier rivers. Bronzeback Adventures has mentioned interest in expanding soon to our flat-water rivers.
Students at the Boone Career & Technical Center have been releasing trout into the Laurel Fork of the Spruce Fork for many years now. Some monster browns have been caught, and we like to think the efforts to place fish into the stream year after year are paying off. The career center gets eggs or fry from our partners at the non-profit Trout Unlimited. There are many places in Boone where the state stocks fish also — like Hopkins Fork, Spruce Laurel, Pond Fork and Miflin Pond. Prenter is another spot where great efforts are paying off to get anglers easy access to the improved waters.
The installation of the rock structures in the rivers has helped the fishing situation tremendously, as well as keeping the rivers at a navigable level even through the dry seasons. They were intended to aid in flushing silt and to a great extent, they have. The people of Southern West Virginia can do a better job in caring for their streams, especially if we want to continue to improve fishing for a tourism draw. The tires, especially, are problematic for collecting and trapping silt. Silt or sediment kills the bugs that feeds the fish.
From the Julian Bridge to Waterways, you could easily see 50 tires in one 100-yard stretch. This is the target for our next river cleanup. Our rivers are a great resource for low-cost recreation and a great draw to bring people to our region to spend money on other things while they are here.
Special thanks to Mullins for sharing his expertise and the relative location of a few of his honey holes.