By JON MAGEE
Contributing Outdoors Writer
Contributing Outdoors Writer
Summer is here and many people look forward to spending at least a few days fishing during the summer months. We are fortunate to be in an area that offers so many opportunities for just about any type of fishing you choose. One can make it a complex excursion with a high-tech bass boat in one of the area lakes with GPS units that will help locate specific hot spots and find fish with electronic fish finders that will even tell you the size of the fish available. You can go the wilderness route with a canoe trip or hike into a remote area for a day or more of fishing for trout or smallmouth bass on some of our most scenic water, hoping to escape the crowds. Then there is the simple way that was always so enjoyable as a kid when a can of worms dug from the garden would provide a day of fun catching sunfish and bass all day and then maybe some catfish or carp after dark.
Bass are probably the most popular fish pursued in the summer months. Largemouth bass are most common in lakes and slower sections of rivers as well as many farm ponds throughout the region. These are the largest of the bass species available to anglers, capable of growing to 10 pounds or more, though most common from 2 to 5 pounds. Most area lakes have good populations of largemouth bass but Stonewall Jackson Lake, with its catch and release program, is fast becoming one of best in the state for both numbers and size. Many anglers nowadays have big, fast bass boats with GPS units and electronic fish finders, but all that is not necessary. I have caught hundreds of largemouth bass in an old john boat with an electric motor and that many or more from the banks of rivers and ponds casting around weed beds and logjams.
Largemouth will hit a variety of artificial lures and provide a lot of excitement when crashing top water lures like jerk baits and buzz baits. Spinner baits and crank baits are also responsible for many fish but the best baits are usually plastic worms and jig and trailer combos. Color choices are trickier with the myriad of colors in lures these days but the rule of thumb is light color lures in bright conditions and clear water and darker shades for overcast days and stained water. Early and late in the day, you can find bass in the shallows feeding which is when it is productive to cast surface lures around weed beds or other structure like fallen timber and boulders. In the middle of the day, search for bass in deeper water around timber (fallen and standing), drop-offs, rocky shorelines or boat docks using deep diving crank baits and plastic worms casting into the thickest structure you can find where bass will rest.
Smallmouth bass are also found in lakes but they are more at home in the rivers and streams in the area, the Tygart, Cheat, Dry Fork and South Branch Potomac rivers are all excellent smallmouth streams. While not as large as their big mouth cousins, they more than make up for it with their tenacity and strength. While readily available to wading anglers in most of these streams, especially in late summer when the water levels are low, the best and most productive way to fish is by floating a section of river or planning an overnight canoe trip. There are many access points outlined in the DNR regulations handbook that lists the rivers and access points as well as the length of the float.
The same lures in smaller sizes work well for smallmouth but live bait is hard to beat. Hellgrammites, crawfish and minnows make up the bulk of a smallmouth’s diet and one of these drifted with the current through a deep hole or run will rarely be turned down. Early and late will find these fish in the shallows as well chasing minnows and crayfish as they are more active in the low light, while during midday the bass will be in deep holes and runs as well as shaded areas around rocks, fallen trees and other structures.
Trout are more plentiful in the spring when the stocking program is in full swing, but there are still many opportunities for anglers looking for trout in the summer months. Most streams that received fish in the spring will have holdover fish and some headwater and remote sections of streams will hold fish throughout the summer. I have caught trout in many popular waters all summer long and the catch and release areas of the Elk, Shavers Fork, Blackwater and others are popular destinations in the summer months. I find fly-fishing to be the most productive method in the summer, with many insects hatching in the evenings and all kinds of bugs available throughout the day. However, many trout are caught on spinners and minnow imitations by anglers preferring to use spinning gear. Trout will seek out cooler water in the summer so creek mouths and springs attract many fish in the warmer weather providing a respite from the warm water.
Bluegills are another popular summer fish to pursue. Abundant on most rivers, lakes and ponds, they are easy to catch and just about everyone’s fish of choice to introduce kids to fishing. Bluegill or sunfish, as they are commonly called, will take a variety of baits, everything from small top water poppers to small jigs and everything in between. The only requirement is a small hook since they have such a small mouth. They will also eat just about any live bait you can find, worms, crickets, grasshoppers, salamanders and minnows floated under a bobber will bring strikes from any bluegill in the area. They are found in just about any heavy cover and over shallow flats with some structure: Woody debris, treetops, docks and similar obstructions attract fish and provide protection from predators.
Catfish are another popular fish in the summer months. Best fished for at night, most people will head out when the sun goes down looking to tangle with a large channel, blue, flathead or other catfish that swim in our many lakes and rivers. Some species grow very large but anything more than 20 inches is good size for most species. Drifting bait along the bottom of submerged channels and old creek beds is a productive method if you have access to a boat, but many people will build a fire along the bank, cast out into a likely spot, and allow the bait to draw in the fish with its smell. Catfish feed by their sense of smell and I have seen some very smelly concoctions people make to entice these night feeders. There are many types of bait available commercially, but plain old night crawlers or cut bait will do very well most of the time.
There are many other types of fish available to area anglers such as musky, pike, walleye, crappie and others, but these are probably the most sought after in this area and the most accessible. Many of these fish can be caught in the same waters as the others, it is not uncommon to catch trout and rock bass when fishing for smallmouth bass in the streams.?Walleye also feed at night and will often take a night crawler while catfishing. Crappie like to hang out in the same areas as bluegill, and once in a blue moon you just may tie into a musky or pike while fishing for bass in one of our lakes or rivers for the thrill of your life.
WVDNR Fishing Handling and Release Procedures
When practicing catch-and-release fishing, survival of the released fish can be greatly enhanced by following these simple guidelines:
• Time is important - play and release the fish as quickly as possible to reduce unnecessary stress.
• Keep the fish in the water as much as possible and use a pair of forceps or needle-nosed pliers to remove the hook.
• Handle the fish with bare, wet hands. Do not squeeze the fish, put your fingers in the eyes or gills or cause scale loss.
• When releasing the fish, hold it gently in the water until the fish is ready to swim off on its own.