Outdoors men and women are no longer able to keep West Virginia a secret. At one point in history, people passed over West Virginia to get to Washington D.C., Philadelphia or New York City. The big city life was more alluring than the Appalachian Mountains.
West Virginia always provided a beautiful drive, but exploring the tree covered mountains has become more popular in recent years. While it is only home to four miles of the Appalachian Trail, many say those miles are the most fascinating. The trail passes through the town of Harpers Ferry, a significant location in United States history.
For a much smaller outdoors community, West Virginia has become a draw for fly anglers. Large rainbow, brown and brook trout are found in the miles of public water. The DNR also stocks warm water fish all over the state for those interested in picking a fight with the giants. Choosing a place to go can be intimidating for those who are new to the area. This list should provide you with 11 of the best places to fish all across West Virginia.
1. The Cranberry River for Fly Fishing
The Cranberry is a must for anyone looking for trout in West Virginia. It is an offshoot of the Gauley River and begins on the far southeastern side of the Monongahela National Forest. It flows through terrain that is only partially accessible by vehicle. This river requires some hiking if you are in search of solitude. However, the brown and rainbow trout fishing is exactly what anglers think of when they imagine mountain trout fishing. Pockets, pools and riffles are all an option for anglers.
Where to Fish on the Cranberry River
This is a popular river for fishermen. However, the Dogway Fork section of the river is fly fishing only. This lightens up some of the pressure and helps anglers find solitude. The Cranberry is fairly tight water so be sure to practice your roll casts ahead of time. A 3 or 4 wt rod will be plenty for any of the fish you’ll catch. As far as what flies to use, March Browns and BWO’s are great. Also, terrestrial flies are great in late summer and early fall. Ants and Elk-hair Caddis are going to find fish. Pheasant Tail or Copper John flies will work well if you are partial to nymphing.
Park here and start hiking into the Cranberry Backcountry to the to the Dogway Fork:
2. North Fork Cherry – Easy Access
Before you get too stressed out about hiking and backcountry, West Virginia has plenty of options for those who only want to walk 30 feet from their car to the river. The North Fork Cherry is one of those options. Located near the Gauley District Ranger Station, this river presents opportunities to catch mainly stocked trout. While this river is easily accessible, it will still require skilled casts. The heavy cover of trees gives trout enough shade to hide, but the casts need to be accurate.
Where to fish on the North Fork Cherry
This beautiful stream doesn’t need anything more than a 2 to 4 weight rod. There are plenty of dry fly hatches that will produce 10-12 inch rainbows. The March Browns and BWO’s will be successful. Also, when the heat of summer comes, go ahead and try Elk-hair Caddis anywhere from size 14-20.
Here is a trailhead to park at that gives you access to the water:
3. Elk River – Challenges Your Skill
The Elk River is by far one of the most well known trout streams in West Virginia. The size of the fish attract anglers from all over. Brown and rainbow trout ranging over 22 inches are not rare in the Elk. There are also native brook trout and the occasional golden trout in the river.
This river is well cared for by Trout Unlimited and the West Virginia DNR. Extremely skilled fishermen come to test these waters so it can be intimidating to try. But if fly fishing interests you, overcome that fear and work the Elk. You may run into people who try to get you to hire a guide, but it is not required and you can have all sorts of success without one.
Where to fish on the Elk River
Quite a bit of the water is catch-and-release. The headwaters are going to be home to the large trout. Bring a 4 to 6 weight rod for this section. Small BWO’s and March Browns will do the trick. Also, Little Yellow Stoneflies and Eastern Green Drakes are going to find fish.
Here is a spot near the headwaters of the Elk:
4. Seneca Creek – Hike a Little Farther
Seneca Creek was at one time on Trout Unlimited’s “Top 100 Trout Streams in the United States”. Located near Seneca Rocks in Northeastern West Virginia, the stream is only nine and a half miles long and the definition of small stream fishing. It flows into the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River.
Since it was put on the top 100 list, the areas that are easily accessible usually have someone occupying them. Walk a few miles back on the stream and you’ll find water that sees little action. Be sure to fish going upstream using short casts. Small stream fish tend to spook easily so cast the fly into the bubbles and be patient on drifts. If water is low, wait until the tail end of pools to begin stripping back. Fish will hang out here and wait for food.
A small 2 or 3 weight rod will work on the Seneca. Little Yellow Stoneflies are going to be the most productive fly option, but late fall the terrestrial flies get in on the action. I highly recommend the TFO Drift 3wt (Amazon Link for Reviews and Prices) having the flexibility to switch up and High Stick Nymphs is a huge benefit.
5. Shavers Fork of the Cheat River
Shavers Fork is another great option for those seeking solitude. Why not stay in the mountains when you’re visiting the Mountain State? The best remote section to visit starts at the Cheat Bridge and continues downstream to U.S. Route #33. Anything below Route #33 is going to be fished heavily because the river follows the road.
While the rainbow and brown trout are stocked, there are more than enough insects for them to survive. It’s a rocky river with deep pools and shallow runs. You’re going to find the most success in the spring or fall. The temperatures in the summer get too warm and drive the fish to shade.
You can use a 4 to 6 weight rod on Shavers Fork. Stick with the March Browns and BWO’s because they are the most prolific hatches. Pheasant Tail or Prince Nymphs will work as well.
6. Second Creek – C & R for Fly Fishing
Second Creek is one of a few spots in West Virginia with a fly fishing only catch and release section. It’s located near Secondcreek and Ronceverte in the Northeastern portion of the state. It can be a popular spot for anglers, but the fly fishing only section makes it worth your while. You can find this section by heading south from Ronceverte on State Route #219 to CR 65. Take a left on County Road #62 and you’ll run into the low-water bridge and that marks the beginning of the fly fishing only section. The gravel bottom in Second Creek is fairly unique for West Virginia.
Stocked brown and rainbow trout can be caught on scuds and mayfly nymphs. Don’t be afraid to rip a few streamers through the large slow moving pools. A 4 to 6 weight rod should be enough to land any of the trout you catch in the creek.
7. North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River
The Potomac river is home to many species of fish. Sections of the river have anything from smallmouth bass to channel catfish. The North Fork is a small portion of the river with trout. Golden, rainbow, brown and brook trout are all present.
Bring waders, but there are opportunities to float it if you desire. There is plenty of access all along the 43 miles so you’ll never have to worry about parking. You can launch a canoe at the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center or try the launch at Weldon Park in Grant County. Your best bet for flies most of the summer are nymphs or streamers. The water temps can heat up so trout will sit at the bottom of the pools. A short cast to the front end of a pool will give you as good of shot as any of hooking into a nice size fish.
If you are tired of focusing only on trout, you can bring out the heavier tippet and flies and hook into a smallmouth. Poppers or minnow patterns should draw their attention. Use a 5 or 6 weight rod. It can hold its own against a smallmouth and trout.
8. Milligan Creek
Milligan Creek is another one of the fly fishing only catch and release bodies of water in West Virginia. It’s a few miles from Lewisburg in Greenbrier County. It’s a very small section of water, but it has a nice population of browns and the states only native brook trout population.
There are also largemouth bass stocked throughout the summer. It’s close to Second Creek so it’s a good option for the end of your day on the water. The small pockets require very technical casting and the fish can be spooky so it is best hit right before dark.
The March Brown’s and BWO’s are again going to be the best option. Also, Green Caddis early in the summer and Tricos at the end of summer will help you find fish. Use a small 2 or 3 weight rod with 5 or 6x tippet. The thick vegetation can make it a bit hard to access, but the best fishing usually comes after a hard trek.
9. Dry Fork Trout Fishing
The Dry Fork is another section of the Cheat River with quality fly fishing opportunities. This section is heavily stocked throughout the year. Brook, brown, rainbow and golden trout are stocked once in February and every two weeks from March until May. It’s flows through Randolph and Tucker Counties in the Monongahela National Forest and right along Dry Fork road. During the summer months, parts of the creek will dry up, but fishing is still worth it. You don’t need to bring heavy equipment to fish this stream.
A small packable rod that allows you maneuverability and freedom to use your hands is helpful. Be sure you’ve practiced your casting before embarking on the Dry Fork journey. Trees are more than happy to grab your flies. It’s sounding like a broken record, but March Browns and BWO’s for dries and Pheasant Tail nymphs will work. Wooly Buggers through the pools are a good choice as well.
10. Buffalo Fork Lake
Tired of trying to cast through tight mountain streams? Buffalo Fork Lake is a good option for some relaxed fly fishing. It’s a 22 acre lake that is heavily stocked with trout all throughout the summer. Located on the far east side of West Virginia near Thornwood in the Monongahela National Forest, this river is suitable for bank and boat fishing. It’s closed to swimmers and night fishing is permitted. There are also warm water fish prevalent throughout the lake.
Go ahead and bring the 6 weight along. It’s going to help you to make some further casts and cover more water. It may not be the most exciting fishing, but most of the West Virginia landscape makes you work hard for your fish. Trout over 20 inches can be caught in the depths of Buffalo Fork Lake. Large minnow patterns and other streamers amongst some cover will catch fish.
11. Bluestone River
Located in Southern West Virginia, the Bluestone River is a warm water fishery full of smallmouth and rock bass as well as bluegill. In the winter, rainbow trout are stocked to give anglers a new species to target. The water near Pipestem is the best trout water. It’s fast and clear and presents great fly fishing opportunities. The water upstream of Bluestone State Park is floatable with a canoe or kayak.
This river is challenging to cover. It requires an extensive amount of hiking, but the views are well worth it. Pipestone and Bluestone State park have bank fishing. Bring a rod that is collapsible. Preferably a 5 or 6 weight. You will be hiking and it’s best if your hands are free. Throwing large streamers in the slowing moving water will get the fish moving, but pay attention to the hatches. BWO and March Brown patterns almost always around.
Recommended Gear For Fly Fishing in West Virginia
Many of the streams on this list aren’t going to require more than a 4 weight rod. However, the Potomac, Buffalo Fork Lake and the Bluestone likely require a 5 or 6 weight. Also, waders are key. The cool mountain streams are best fished from inside the river.
Bank fishing becomes difficult with the overhanging vegetation. Streamers are helpful in slower moving water. BWO and March Brown patterns will work for dry fly bites. Terrestrial fly patterns (ants especially) are going to catch fish in late summer and into fall.
Official References for Fly Fishing in West Virginia
- West Virginia DNR: http://www.wvdnr.gov/fishing/fishing.shtm
- Interactive Trout Stream Map: https://www.mapwv.gov/huntfish/map/?v=fish
- WVAngler Club: http://www.wvangler.com