West Virginia Fly Fishing

West Virginia boasts a number of special regulation trout streams, many of which feature catch-and-release and fly fishing and/or artificial-lure-only sections. For the trout enthusiast, these rivers and creeks offer some of the best action for rainbow, brown, and brook trout in the Northeast.

Following are brief profiles of nine of the better special regulation streams.

Shavers Fork of Cheat River

shavers fork
Shavers Fork

The first West Virginia trout stream that I ever fished was the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River, and today it remains my favorite salmonid stream anywhere. That is not to say that this stream has not had its ups and downs over the years, suffering at various times from floods and acidity problems in places. But this mountain waterway has also proven to be remarkably resilient and has a dedicated following of West Virginians and out-of-staters as well.

The catch-and-release water lies in Randolph County in the Monongahela National Forest. This 5.5-mile section runs from the mouth of Whitmeadow Run downstream to the mouth of McGee Run. Access is via National Forest Route 92, by means of U.S. Route 250 near Cheat Bridge.

Inside Tip: Once you arrive at the catch-and-release section, use the railroad tracks that parallel it to move from one area to another. This tactic will allow you to skip unproductive water.

Williams River

The Williams River in Pocahontas County offers superlative mountaintop trout angling. The drive alone, along the Highland Scenic Highway, is reason enough to plan a sojourn to this Pocahontas County stream. And once you arrive, the crystal clear water, boulders, rhododendron, and some rather large brown trout make it hard to leave.

The catch-and-release section begins two miles below Tea Creek and extends for two miles more downstream. Access is by means of National Forest Route 86.

This Pocahontas and Webster county stream receives the nod as the most scenic in the state. Flowing through or near the Highland Scenic Highway, the Monongahela National Forest, and a mountain dell, the Williams seems to have been granted more charms than any body of water has a right to. Large boulders also dot the streambed, and not surprisingly many trout find the pocket water behind these rocks to their liking.

The Williams also boasts a special regulations portion, as a year-round, catch-and-release section begins two miles below where Tea Creek enters and continues downstream for two miles. Individuals who visit the ski resorts in this area or have come to Richwood to cross country ski or snowshoe may want to sneak away to the Williams one afternoon. Given its remoteness and upland setting, the river receives very light fishing pressure from late fall through early spring. Then, a roving angler may find his sojourn there spent in splendid isolation.

Inside Tip: Use the boulders that dot the stream bed to your advantage. They can help mask your approach to the stream, and these rocks also provide sanctuaries for trout. Drift a dry fly or nymph so that it floats naturally into the pocket water behind the boulders. The fingerling brown trout that are stocked annually quickly become very wild. Early morning and late evening is the best time to angle for them.

Potomac

south branch of the potomac river in WV
South Branch Potomac

The South Branch of the Potomac is a major player on the West Virginia fishing stage, annually placing high in the state’s citation trout results. Readers who relish a true, wilderness experience will discover that the South Branch is well able to deliver.

The Smoke Hole section of the river is legendary for its isolation, scenic grandeur, bald eagles, challenging rapids, and trophy trout. During the off season, the Smoke Hole is best experienced with a veteran guide.

For those who want to experience a more civilized version of the South Branch, a calmer, gentler side of the river exists in the Franklin area of Pendleton County. There, much of the river flows near Route 220 and receives a fall stocking.

The South Branch of the Potomac that flows through Pendleton, Grant, Hardy and Hampshire counties in the mountains of West Virginia is a beautiful place. It cuts through some of the most beautiful mountains in the Eastern United States. It is easily accessed throughout its length and the fishing, even though not as good as three years ago, is recovering. I encourage you to experience this magnificent river with a float. I do ask that you practice catch and release so that those that follow you can enjoy all the South Branch bounties.

The South Branch has many access points it’s entire distance. The sections range from two miles to almost nine with the average being around five miles.

The South Branch is not a rough river. There are some faster riffles, but nothing that a novice can’t handle.

Pools, side channels, gravel bars and islands are plentiful throughout the South Branch. It’s fun “reading” the water and trying to discover the smallmouth’s hiding places.

North Fork of South Branch

Like the Elk, the North Fork of the South Branch hosts a year-round catch-and-release area. This segment, which lies in Pendleton County and is a 3/4-mile section at the Mouth of Seneca Creek near the Seneca Rocks Visitor Center, is known for its superlative population of rainbows. October and November are especially marvelous months to visit this part of the river as the majesty of Seneca Rocks, the brilliant fall colors of the Pendleton County countryside, and the shimmering pink hues of the rainbows conspire to create an explosion of color.

Long riffles beside sycamore-shrouded shorelines and deep pools adjacent to rocky banks characterize the catch-and-release section on the North Fork of the South Branch. The best time to encounter good n

New River

New River WV
New River

The New River Gorge National River offers 53 miles of world-class smallmouth bass river fishing. The New River has long been rated as one of the top ten smallmouth bass rivers in the country. Twelve miles of the New River have been designated as catch and release smallmouth bass fishing. Once started down the river you can tell instantly that you’ve come to a very unique place. The New River has an unusual northerly flow and is estimated to be one of the oldest rivers in North America. Large sandstone boulders, deep pools, swift runs and steep canyon walls up to 1,000’ are what you’ll find here. The abundance of New River smallmouth bass is due in part to the inaccessibility of the New River Gorge and the success of catch and release fishing

The New River Gorge National River contains 53 miles of world-class smallmouth bass river fishing. This steep gorge can reach heights of up to 1,000 feet. Being one of the oldest rivers in the world the New River is filled with large sandstone boulders that offer great structure for smallmouth bass habitat. The combination of excellent structure,deep pools, swift currents and abundant stream life are the ingredients for the successful population of healthy smallmouth bass in the New River.

West Virginia’s mountain streams are both picturesque and abundant with wild trout. Pocket water, short deep runs and large undercut boulders are some of the challenging water that you’ll find on these beautiful streams. Most of the trout streams that flow into the New River support wild and native trout. These trout streams are the East’s best kept secret.

Buffalo Creek

Buffalo Creek west virginia
Buffalo Creek

Buffalo Creek, including all its tributaries, is one of a handful of fly-fishing only streams in West Virginia. Situated in Fayette County, the creek begins in the vicinity of Mann Mountain Lookout Tower and is fed primarily by water streaming from Mann Mountain. From its origins, it drops quickly off the mountain into the New River near the village of Thayer. The lower 1.6 miles of Buffalo Creek, which are in the New River Gorge National River, run through land owned by the National Park Service.

As Buffalo Creek makes its decent down Mann Mountain, it runs through several limestone formations. This accounts for an excellent water quality with an alkalinity of about 30 ppm and a pH of about 8.0. The stream supports a variety of insect populations with stoneflies in particular abundance.

As recent as 1993, the brook trout population in Buffalo Creek was almost non-existent. However, gradual introduction of native brookies has resulted in exceptional growth and reproduction of the brook trout population. Several anglers have reported catching the largest native brook trout of their lives from Buffalo Creek.

Fayette County access to Buffalo Creek is by foot from State secondary route 25. From the Rt. 25 bridge, there
is a crude foot-trail that goes up the left hand side of the stream for about .6 mile. Above that point there isn’t any trail along the stream and the travel is fairly rough.

NOTE: Fly-fishing Only regulations are in effect year-round.

Elk River

elk river WV
Elk River

The Elk River just may be the premier trout stream in the Mountain State. One of the major reasons is the year-round catch-and-release section in Randolph County from the Elk Springs Campground to the Rose Run Bridge. This section contains classic trout habitat: deep crystalline pools, rocky bottoms, tree-covered banks, and well-placed riffles.

Another reason why the Elk ranks high with anglers is the fine brown trout fishery found there. The DNR releases brown trout fingerlings under its put-and-grow program, and those fish have formed the nucleus of an exciting carry over fishery.

Even when the hatchery trucks have not been to this Potomac Highland stream in months, big browns fin its waters. These fish are not pushovers, however, and will test the skills of the savviest sportsmen.

Anglers who love solitude will also find the Elk to their liking. The Slaty Fork of the Elk section, specifically the five miles from near the Elk River Touring Center to Dry Branch Road, is basically only accessible by railroad tracks that run along the river. Only serious anglers typically enter this portion, and they typically encounter few humans, but good numbers of trout.

The entire Back Fork of the Elk River is stocked with a variety of trout including brookies, browns, tigers, rainbows and golden rainbows. Running through some of the most scenic territory in the Appalachian Mountain Range, the stream empties into the Elk River in the town of Webster Springs, West Virginia.

The 4.5 mile stretch of catch and release waters begin about 1 mile upstream from Webster Springs and are clearly marked with a large sign on the right-hand side of the road as you enter. The deep pools in the stream are usually home to some very large trout, some recorded to hold as many as six trout over twenty inches per pool. Unfortunately, poaching has become a perennial problem in the catch and release section due to a lack of local judicial control.

The Back Fork can be accessed by turning onto county road 24 from Route 15. The road parallels the stream and makes for easy access.

Blackwater River

The Blackwater River is one of the most scenic and toughest to reach catch and release areas.  The most photographed area of this catch and release area is Blackwater Falls which resides about .5 miles downstream from the start of the catch and release section.

blackwater falls
blackwater falls

This is very rugged terrain and is not recommended fishing this river alone due to the tuff canyon part of the river.  The one great thing about the remoteness and rugged walk into the canyon is that it limits the amount of poachers that enter the stream only the diehards usually enter to fish at times.

The Blackwater covers 3.5 miles starting at the Route 29/1 bridge in Blackwater State Park downstream to its mouth on the North Fork of the Blackwater River.  If your looking for fly fishing solitude this is one of the places you want to try out you won’t see to many people in the canyon due to the tuff trip in there and few access points there are to get to the river.  Access is via Route 29.

The Blackwater River probably holds the title of the most diverse trout stream in West Virginia. I enjoy fishing the stream at its origin in Canaan Valley State Park in Tucker County. There the Blackwater is a classic Northern meadow stream as it flows through bogs and by beaver dams.

The Blackwater River presents two distinct personalities for those who may find themselves at Cannan Valley Resort or Blackwater Falls state parks. The stream as it flows through the park is much like those that thread their way through the highland bogs of the North. Beaver dams, marshy habitat, and slow moving water distinguish the Blackwater at Cannan.

By the time the river as made its way to the nearby Blackwater Falls State Park, however, a startling metamorphosis has occurred. The river now courses along at a much greater pace, has deepened considerably, and the streamside vegetation is more typical of what one expects in West Virginia.

A year-round, catch-and-release section is also a part of the package for this section of the Blackwater. That segment begins at the secondary route 29/1 Bridge in Blackwater Falls State Park and extends downstream 3.5 miles to the mouth of the North Fork.

In the Davis area, the river is very popular with local anglers because of its accessibility and low gradient. This section offers put-and-take trout fishing. But by the time the catch-and-release area begins, the stream has undergone another metamorphosis. A high gradient, large boulders, plunge pools, and an isolated setting characterize this section. The Blackwater River as it flows through the gorge it created offers some of the most rugged trout fishing in the Eastern United States. This is backcountry fly fishing at its best.

The catch-and-release area begins at the County Route 29/1 Bridge in Blackwater Falls State Park and continues downstream through the gorge for 3.5 miles to the mouth of the North Fork.

Inside Tip: Bring along extra tippets and fly patterns when you venture into the catch-and-release section. This area is quite inaccessible, and you will not want to go back to your vehicle to retrieve forgotten items. Because of the daunting nature of this area, I also recommend that you visit this section with a buddy and that you tote along a first aid kit.

Cranberry River

The Cranberry River is located in Webster,Nicholas and Pocahontas counties inside the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia. The free stone river offers a variety of trout. Rainbows, Browns, Goldens, and Brook trout.

I will never forget the first time I visited the Cranberry River. When I arrived in the early afternoon of a late October day, the air temperature was in the low 60s and a sunny sky with white puffy clouds greeted me. By sundown, the air temperature was in the 30s, the sky was overcast, and a brisk wind blew. The next morning, an inch of snow blanketed the ground and the wind howled. All in all, not an atypical few hours in the Cranberry Wilderness Area where weather conditions can vary dramatically in just a short time.

Another unique aspect of fishing the Cranberry River special regulations area is the trip to it. Access is by foot only on National Forest Route 76 from the Cranberry Glades parking area. Motorized vehicles or equipment are prohibited. The C&R area consists of a 4.3-mile section from the junction of the North and South Forks of the Cranberry downstream to the lower water bridge at Dogway Fork.

Whereas this part of the Cranberry River is open to both fly and spin fishermen, the Dogway Fork of the Cranberry sports a section available only to long rodders. Located in Webster, Pocahontas, and Greenbrier counties, the fly-fishing-only water covers all of Dogway Fork as well as its tributaries.

Inside Tip: Closely monitor weather conditions during your stay in the Cranberry Wilderness Area. Bring along a map and a compass and perhaps even a GPS unit. Never venture into this region alone.

About the Area in General

The 35,864-acre Cranberry Wilderness is located in Webster and Pocahontas counties, West Virginia within the Monongahela National Forest. The Cranberry is certainly one of the East’s greatest Wilderness Areas. It includes the entire drainage area of the Middle Fork of the Williams River and the North Fork of the Cranberry River.

The northern and southern parts of the area are drained by the main Williams River and the South Fork of the Cranberry River. Terrain is typical of the Allegheny Plateau. The mountains are broad and massive, and dissected by deep, narrow valleys. Elevations range from 2,400 to over 4,600 feet.

The primary forest cover is mixed Appalachian hardwoods, and pure red spruce stands are common at the highest elevations.

Hatch Chart for West Virginia Rivers

DateLatin NameCommon NameSizeTime of DayPatterns
2/14-3/15Taeniopteryx MauraBlack Tan Stane Morning & AfternoonBlack Hares Ear
3/1-4/15Capnia VernalisLittle Black Stone MiddayBlack Hares Ear
3/20-4/24BaetisLittle Blue Wing Olive Early AfternoonBlue Wing Olive Dry & Emerger
4/1-5/15Taeniopteryx FasciataEarly Brown Stone Afternoon 
4/10-5/20Epeorus PleuralisQuill Gordon AM & Late AfternoonQuill Gordon Wet
4/15-5/10Paraleptophlebia, AdoptivaBlue Quill16-18Early AfternoonBlue Quill (dry & nymph)
4/15-5/15Chimarra AtteimaLittle Black Caddis18Early AfternoonBlack CDC Caddis
4/20-5/15Ephemerella SubvariaHendrickson16-Dec2 till 5 PMRed Quill (male), Hendrickson (female), Gray Muskrat (nymph)
4/20-5/10Brachycentrus, NumerosusGrannom Caddis14-163 till 7 PMLeadwing Coachman, Dark Brown Elk Wing Caddis
4/20-5/15Limnephilus SubmoniliforCrème Caddis14Late MorningCream CDC Caddis, Cream Emergent Pupa
4/21-6/20Pteronarcys DorsataGiant Black Stonefly8-AprMorningMontana Nymph, Black Stonefly Nymph
5/1-6/30Isoperla SignataLight Brown Stonefly14-DecAfternoonBrown Hares Ear
5/8-6/20Ephemerella RotundaSulfur14-162 till 8 PMSulfur Dun & Spinner
5/10-7/20RhyacophilaGreen Caddis144 till 9 PMGreen Caddis Larva & Emerger
5/15-6/10Stenonema VicariumMarch Brown12-OctEarly AfternoonMarch Brown Dun, Ausable Wulff, Gold Ribbed Hares Ear (nymph)
5/20-6/25Ephemerella DorotheaLittle Sulphur18EveningPale Evening Dun, PMD Emerger CDC
5/20-6/25Stenonema FuscumGray Fox14-DecThroughout the DayPAusable Wulff or Gray Fox Dun
5/25-6/15Ephemera GuttulataEastern Green Drake103 PM – darkGreen Drake Dun, Coffin Fly, White Haystack
5/30-8/1Ephemerella CornutaBlue Winged Olive14-Dec7 AM – 5 PMBlue Winged Olive Emerger, Blue Winged Dun (CDC Dun works well)
5/30-6/30Psilotreta FrolntalisDun Caddis14Noon till duskDun CDC Caddis, Dun Caddis Emerger
6/5-9/10Isonychia BicolorMahohany Dun12-Oct1 PM till darkChocolate Haystack, Dun Variant, Leadwing Coachman (wet)
6/5-9/1Hydropsyche SymphitopsycheTan Caddis14-161 PM till DarkTan Caddis Emerger, Tan CDC Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis
6/8-7/25Stenonema CanadenseLight Cahill144 PM till darkLight Cahill Nymph, Emerger, Ausable Wulff
6/10-8/20Alloperia ImbecillaLittle Green Stonefly16Late AM till 7 PMLime Sally
6/15-7/30Anthopotamanthus DisticntusCream Variant12-OctEvening to darkCream Variant or White Haystack
6/20-8/15Isoperia BiliineataLittle Yellow Stonefly14-16Afternoon-darkYellow Sally
6/20-7/20Ephemera VariaYellow Drake12Noon-eveningYellow Mayfly Dun
6/20-7/30Paraleptophelebia MollisDark Blue Quill16-1810 AM – 4 PMDark Blue Quill, Jenny Spinner
6/20-7/20Acroneuria EvolutaGreat Yellow Stonefly8-JunEvening (riffles)Golden Stone
7/5-9/15TricorythodesTrico’s20-24MorningTrico Dun, Usual, Spinners
7/25-9/20HydroptilaMicro-caddis18-22Sporadic all dayHairy Caddis
8/10-8/29Hexagenis AltocaudataSlate Drake12-Oct5 PM-darkBig Slate Drake, Dark Rusty Spinner
9/1-9/20Baetis TricaudatusLittle Blue Dun181 AM-6 PMLittle Blue Dun, Rusty Spinner
9/15-10/1AcentrellaBlue Dun22Noon – 6 PMBlue Wing Olive
wv river map
top rivers in west virginia

Resources

The fly fishing section of https://www.gameandfishmag.com/ always has a decent selection of WV related fishing articles. Below are a few that are specifically relevant.

Escatawba Farms
private trout stream with big trout
www.escatawba.com/

Last Chance Outfitters
wvlastchance.com/

West Virginia Angler
check out the bulletin boards
www.wvangler.com

WVExplorer.com – West Virginia Fishing
West Virginia (WV) fly fishing – Information about fly fishing on West Virginia streams and river
https://wvexplorer.com/category/news/recreation/fishing/

South Branch of the Potomac fishing resources
from Mark Kovach Fishing Guide Services
https://www.mkfs.com/fishing-articles-and-resources

West Virgina Fly Fishing Shops

Anglers Xstream
2109 Camden Ave Parkersburg WV 26101, 1-877-909-6911
www.anglersxstream.com

Elk Springs Fly Shop
#14A Dry Branch Road, Monterville WV, 26282, 304 339 2FLY
Go to Web site:
https://elkspringswv.com/

wvoutfitters.com
Cranberry Wilderness Outfitters, Inc.

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