Fishing Joy

By Cindy Ellis

We know about the joys of mountain streams. We know icy, rushing waters and rocky waterfalls and verdant banks with spruce or hemlock. In our recent history, Don Gasper and Don Garvin were two of our volunteers and board members who especially savored and shared with us the fun of fishing in such streams and worked to protect them.

But the Mountain State’s streams are among the issues for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy that demand our attention beyond the boundaries of the highest elevations. Some of us are helping with stream surveys in a variety of locations. WVHC funds have supported survey efforts led by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited.

Eighteenmile Creek, in Putnam County, is the stream I study as part of this program. It has been an especially pleasant duty to visit the creek in each month of the year. I vaguely knew some folks fished here and I wondered aloud to my survey buddy, Alex Cole, about anglers in this and all the meandering, quietly gurgling, leafy-edged waterways down here in the foothills.

Luckily Alex knew of Beau Whittington, a friend who is an avid warm water fisherman. Beau was kind enough to field my questions in online interview. First, I asked about “where” and “when.” Some answers were: “I am mainly a small river and stream fisherman with small watercrafts such as kayaks or canoes. I fish in Mud River, Coal River, and Eighteenmile Creek to name a few.

A good fishing spot needs to have a variety of things. Shallow feeding areas with access to deep water. The area needs a lot of fallen trees or stumps for good ambush spots. There also needs to be an assortment of food for predator fish such as minnows, suckers, small mammals and birds. Early spring and late fall will always be the best times to catch fish, In the spring fish move up shallow to look for places to nest and to put on weight to prepare themselves for the strenuous spawn.

Late fall is also a very good time to catch fish because they are feeding heavily to fatten up for the winter. Early morning and late evening are great times to catch fish. Also fishing during moon major and minor periods can be very productive. Weather is definitely a factor. When the weather gets hot fish will often move out deep to stay cool or get under logs and brush to stay in the shade. However, when the weather is overcast or raining the fish will come out of hiding and cruise the banks in search of wood being washed in from the rain.”

Then I posed questions about gear, fish species, and stream access. “Equipment: It is important to have the right equipment for the right species being targeted. You want a lighter rod and line for smaller species, and heavier rod and line for larger species. Bank fishing is always an option, but some sort of watercraft will give you the best opportunity to fish places not accessible by bank fishing. A proper net and release tools are the most important things to have. A good set of needle-nose pliers is a must, along with a pair of side-cutters for cutting hooks that are too deep to pull out. A rubber coated net is also recommended so that the soft coating won’t be abrasive to the delicate slime coat on the fish.

Fish species: The cool things about fishing small WV streams is you never know what you might catch. The most popular fish are Largemouth bass, Smallmouth bass, Walleye, Musky, Flathead catfish, Channel catfish, Blue catfish, and bluegill. Public access is something that is severally lacking in our state. Most lakes have adequate ramps to access but a lot of public rivers and streams have little to no access points. I believe this is why the kayak fishing scene has taken off dramatically in the past 5 years. People can now get to places they couldn’t get to before.”

Finally, Beau answered questions about negative impacts to streams, licenses, and number of those actively participating… “Littering is the number one negative impact on our streams. Fishing line is among the most dangerous things to leave lying around. I have personally cut fishing line off multiple birds that became entangled in it. I always say if you bring it with you, take it with you.

Every year that I go out fishing I see more and more people doing it. A lot of young teens are even starting to fish in high school fishing tournaments. It’s amazing to see how far this sport has come and volunteers/organizations that have helped it along the way. I think the streams are healthier and cleaner with each and every year. To fish in WV all you need is a standard fishing license available in most Walmarts or gas stations. An extra stamp for trout fishing is needed however.

Fishing is an amazing and rewarding sport. No matter how big a fish you may catch you will always try to catch one bigger. It’s a never-ending cycle fisherman see to call “The Chase”. It’s a great sport to get the younger kids into to teach them about nature and get them outdoors. It is also important to practice good catch and release and to follow the regulations to keep WV streams healthy for the future generation.”

Joyful! Well said! Whether any of us are participating in “The Chase” or simply enjoying tranquil moments by our favorite flowing water, we can be grateful for those such as my new friend Beau, who share the joy, and for all who do stream surveys, or actively work in any way to allow the pleasures connected with our West Virginia streams to continue.