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For many anglers, hunters, and nature enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than the Mountain State. This Appalachian wonderful offers residents and visitors the best of all four seasons and the type of serenity that simply can’t be found many other places.
Country roads, take me home…
While West Virginia may not have the abundance of fishing spots as neighboring Ohio (including Ohio’s top 8 fishing lakes), there are still plenty of spots for angling mountaineers to ply their craft.
Across 48 of West Virginia’s 55 counties, there are 121 public fishing lakes and ponds. There are also nearly 300 rivers and creeks, as well as countless private ponds in the state.
While it’s hard to say just how many private ponds exist in West Virginia, these waters produce some of the biggest catches for the state.
A total of seven West Virginia fishing state records have been recorded on private ponds. These include:
- Largemouth Bass (Weight): 12.28 lbs in 1994 (Grant County)
- Bluegill (Length): 13.75 inches in 1964 (Fayette County)
- Bluegill (Weight): 2.75 lbs (Randolph County)
- Bowfin (Length): 32.25 inches in 1994 (Berkeley County)
- Bowfin (Weight): 7.66 lbs in 1994 (Berkeley County)
- Common Carp (Weight): 47 lbs in 1998 (Preston County)
- Grass Carp (Length and Weight): 47.1 inches, 52.5 lbs in 2002 (Mason County)
*It’s worth noting that West Virginia fishing state records can be record for both fish length and width.
How We Decided Where to Find the Best Fishing in West Virginia
In determining West Virginia’s best fishing spots, the Premier Angler team considers numerous factors. These include:
- History of Success: For every lake, river, creek and reservoir featured on our list, we take into consideration how many quality fish anglers have caught on those waters. This includes looking at both current and historical data.
- Available Species: We also look at data provided by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to determine the diversity of species found in a particular body of water. While some bodies carry excellent fishing for one or a couple species, they may lack the variety of others.
- Accessibility: West Virginia is a long and uniquely-shaped state with countless back roads, elevation shifts, and some challenging terrains. Location is especially important to this list and a journey across the state (either latitudinally or longitudinally) can take upwards of five hours.
- Personal Preference: Every good list is subject to a little human influence. As such, we admittedly have a soft spot for fishing spots that have been kind to us over the years. That said, we will never force an undeserving location into consideration.
Honorable Mentions: Some Great West Virginia Fishing Spots
With so many places to fish in West Virginia and so few spots on our list, how do we choose?
Here are some of our honorable mentions that just missed the cut:
- New River: Famous throughout the state largely in part to the New River Gorge Bridge, this body of water is also home to some good fishing. The New River is home to some of West Virginia’s best smallmouth bass fishing. In fact, the state record (length) smallmouth was caught here in 1976. West Virginia’s state record white bass was also caught on The New River.
- Sutton Lake: is located in Webster and Braxton counties and is a reservoir of the Elk River. Sutton Lake is a good destination for both largemouth bass and crappie. Trout are also stocked in February, bi-weekly between March and May, and twice on October. The 1,500 acre lake also allows both night fishing and live minnows as bait. One potential negative for some anglers is Sutton’s lack of horsepower restriction.
- R.D. Bailey Lake: is located in Wyoming County and boasts some of West Virginia’s best fishing. The lake often produces quality smallmouth, largemouth, crappie, panfish, muskie and walleye. Both spotted bass state records (length and weight) were also caught here.
- North Bend Lake: sits within Ritchie county and is home to 305 acres to quality fishing. Within these waters, anglers will find muskie, crappie, catfish, bass, and more. North Bend Lake also imposes a 10 HP maximum, so the waters should remain fairly calm.
- Spruce Knob Lake: is situated within Monongahela National Forest in Randolph County. It only covers 23 acres, but provides one of the most beautiful fishing locations in West Virginia. Boaters will only be able to use electric motors on these waters. Spruce Knob Lake also plays home to quality trout and smallmouth bass fishing.
Our List of the Best Fishing in West Virginia
Now, let’s take a look at the eight fishing destinations we determined as West Virginia’s best fishing spots.
As the largest lake in West Virginia, Summersville spans over 2,700 acres with 60 miles of shoreline. It is located in Nicholas County on and formed by a rock-fill dam on the Gauley River. It has been called the “Little Bahamas of the East” and boasts some of the state’s clearest and cleanest waters.
Trout are stocked here every February, every two weeks between March and May, and again in October.
Summersville Lake is also home to some of West Virginia’s best smallmouth bass, crappie, and walleye fishing.
The Elk River, located in central West Virginia, is a 172-mile tributary of The Kanawha River, giving anglers plenty of area to ply their craft.
This is considered the home to some of the best muskie, walleye, and smallmouth bass fishing in the state.
It is the Elk River’s trout fishing that really stands out, however. Anglers average around 10,000 trout annually on these waters. Fly fishing is also a popular past-time. Sites like Sulphur Run, Clay Banks, and Mill Pool are some of the river’s top fishing spots.
For anglers considering a weekend getaway, you may want to lodge up at the Elk Springs Resort and Fly Shop.
Stonewall Jackson Lake
One of the most popular fishing lakes in West Virginia, Stonewall Jackson also happens to be situated within one of the state’s most popular resorts.
Trout are stocked regularly throughout late Winter and Spring. Stonewall Jackson is also home to numerous species, including walleye, bluegill, crappie, muskie, carp, yellow perch and channel catfish.
Throughout the year, Stonewall Jackson Lake also plays host to several bass fishing tournaments and leagues. Some of these include Bass Anglers Extreme, Appalachian Bassmasters, WV Bass Federation, and Mon Valley Bassmasters.
Visit the Marina at Stonewall Resort for boat rentals, dining, lodging and more.
Located off of I-79 on the Kanawha River in Braxton County, Burnsville Lake is a tremendous seasonal destination for bass anglers.
One of many fisheries in the Mountain State to contain largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, Burnsville is one of West Virginia’s premier largemouth lakes. Smallmouth aren’t nearly as available on these waters. Spotted bass, while high in volume, are usually under 12 inches.
At 968 acres, however, Burnsville offers tremendous largemouth bass fishing for anglers in both Spring and Fall. That said, off-season months can be less-than-accommodating. In fact, serious anglers may want to avoid Burnsville during the mid-year heat.
In addition to bass fishing, anglers can also enjoy quality walleye, channel catfish, and muskie fishing on Burnsville.
Be advised that Burnsville does not employ a horsepower limit on boating, so the waters may be choppy.
Download a pdf copy of the Burnsville Lake Map (credit West Virginia Division of Natural Resources)
Situated between Buckhannon and Weston, Stonecoal Lake offers some of the best fishing in West Virginia.
Want some proof?
Three current West Virginia state fishing records were recorded on Stonecoal Lake, including:
- Muskie (Weight): 50.37 inches, 49.75 lbs
- Common Carp (Length): 41 inches, 41.5 lbs
- Golden Rainbow Trout (Length): 27.5 inches, 8.63 lbs
Stonecoal Lake also produced West Virginia’s state record muskie for length (52.7 inches) which was broken in 2017. Spoiler: keep reading to learn more about that one. Stonecoal was also home to the state record rainbow trout (31.7 inches) until 2014.
In addition to the record fish listed above, Stonecoal offers excellent walleye and channel catfish. The lake also enforces a 10 HP maximum.
For a better view, check out the Stonecoal Lake fishing map, created by the WV DNR.
Want to know how someone isn’t a native West Virginian?
They’ll call this “Tiger Lake”.
Jokes aside, Tygart is one of West Virginia’s top fishing lakes. Much luck other destinations featured on our list, Tygart boasts some WV state fishing records. These include:
- Bullhead Catfish (Length and Weight): 22.75 inches, 6.1 lbs
- Yellow Perch (Weight): 14.5 inches, 1.83 lbs
Looking to fish for other species? No problem! Tygart Lake is home to some fantastic smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye, crappie, channel catfish and white bass fishing.
Tygart Lake, near Grafton, also offers plenty of recreational options and some of the state’s most beautiful scenery.
Anglers should be aware, however, that Tygart is best suited for boat fishing. Shallow depth and a shortage of shoreline cover can be limiting for those fishing from land.
Think pronouncing “Tygart” properly is difficult?
Kanawha derives from an Iroquoi word meaning “water way” or “transport way.” It is joined or formed, in part, by several other WV rivers, including the New, Gauley, Elk, Coal, and Pocatalico Rivers.
It’s also home to some great fishing!
Some of the numerous West Virginia state record fish caught here include:
- Hybrid Striped Bass (Length): 32.1 inches, 14 lbs
- Hybrid Striped Bass (Weight): 31.5 inches, 16.75 lbs
- Longnose Gar (Length): 52.25 inches, 16.42 lbs
- Longnose Gar (Weight): 50.5 inches, 19.08 lbs
- Skipjack (Weight): 18.4 inches, 2.61 lbs
Anglers can also find a variety of other species on these waters. The Kanawha River houses quality muskie, smallmouth bass, walleye, hybrid striped bass, white bass, and channel catfish.
Spanning 97 miles, there is also plenty of territory to fish either by boat or shore.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with fishing in West Virginia.
Just like our list looking at the best fishing in Ohio, this entry crosses state lines and appears again. And for good reason.
The Ohio River spans 981 miles. All types of fishing live within those waters. And most of the western part of the state can fish here with relative ease.
But there’s more….
The Ohio River has produced a multitude of West Virginia state record fish, including goldeneye, bowfin, blue catfish, longnose gar, sauger (both length and weight), and skipjack.
More popular species are also abundantly available. Anglers regularly pull largemouth, smallmouth, and hybrid striped bass, channel catfish, walleye and muskie.
Know of any great West Virginia fishing locations we missed or that deserve more consideration? Let us know in the comments below.