Fishing for the big bite in WVa waters

By Roger Wolfe - Contributing Columnist

With the recent run of spring like weather, many of us are getting the urge to wet a line.

There aren’t too many things that are more enjoyable than hitting the water on a warm, sunny day after a long, cold winter.

It doesn’t matter if you are after bream, crappie, native or stocked trout, there is just something soothing about the water, the wind and the sun. If you are feeling the itch to break out the fishing tackle and want to face just a little more of a challenge and have the opportunity to catch even bigger quarry, think about giving the mysterious muskellunge a try.

The fabled fish of 10,000 casts used to be thought of only as a big water and northern lake species. A fish you might hear of someone seeing in local waters, but would have to travel many miles to have a decent chance at catching. While that may have once been true, in recent years the muskie have been popping up all around the state and those who chase them say the fishing is pretty darn good.

This didn’t happen by accident or luck. It has taken years of hard work and dedication from the WVDNR and anglers alike to get muskie populations to where they are today. The great news is, they aren’t about to stop now.

The WVDNR currently has a couple of studies going to learn more about this toothy menace of the deep. They also have an ongoing muskie stocking program that stocks fingerling fish in lakes and rivers all over the state.

According to Jeff Hansbarger, District 5 fisheries biologist with the WVDNR, they are finding that many of the rivers that were once heavily stocked with fingerling muskies now have a very viable and naturally sustaining population of muskies. This means that they can cut back on the stocking of these streams and use those fingerling fish to foster other muskie fisheries in the state.

Muskie fishing in the Mountain State has exploded in the last couple of years. This is a direct result of the increased opportunity to catch the toothy fish. Another huge boost to the popularity of fishing for the mysterious beast is the fact that it may well be the largest fish many fishermen will ever have the opportunity to catch.

While catfish have long been the big fish of the state, in recent years some monster muskies have been hauled in all over the state. Muskies of in the 40-inch and above range aren’t uncommon, with some even reaching the gigantic 50-plus-inch size range. That is more than 4 feet of fish!

Granted, those familiar with the fish will quickly point out the well-known hotspots for catching the muskellunge such as the Elk, Buckhannon and New rivers, the big water impoundments of Stonewall Jackson and Stonecoal lakes as the go-to destinations for muskie. All those fishing holes are a short drive away and an easy one day fishing trip, but there are other opportunities much closer to home.

Reports of muskie from local waters are on the rise. If you want to try your hand at muskie fishing close to home, you might want to give Upper Mud River Lake and Mud River a try. There are also plenty of reports popping up of regular catches of the toothy giants in the Coal River and on up into the Big and Little Coal rivers as well.

To hook and land one of these big fish you want to take some pretty serious tackle with you. I don’t think that old rooster tail spinner you used for smallmouth bass last summer will get the job done.

Muskie fishermen prefer big baits for big fish and that 4-pound trout line won’t do either. Most muskie anglers are using heavy duty braided line and throwing baits that on most ordinary days would look like a nice-size catch.

The old saying of, “go big or go home” definitely applies to muskie fishing. This time of year, muskies are looking for a big meal to get them fattened up for the spawn, so throwing a 6-inch bait is a great place to start if you are trying to entice a big bite.

So, when you catch a warm spring day in the weeks to come, grab your heaviest tackle, your biggest baits and go out and beat the water and see what comes to the top. Muskies are notorious for following their prospective dinner while deciding if they are going to swallow it or not, so be watchful for those teeth swimming in behind your bait and just keep casting.

The odds are good that the fish of 10,000 casts might just take the bait well before cast No. 9,999. You just never know until you throw!

By Roger Wolfe

Contributing Columnist

Roger Wolfe is an outdoor columnist for Civitas Media newspapers in West Virginia.

Roger Wolfe is an outdoor columnist for Civitas Media newspapers in West Virginia.