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Tucked into the mountainous southeast corner of West Virginia, not so very far from the Nation’s Capitol and Richmond, Virginia, are some largely unsung streams that present some interesting fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass and trout. There are three primary rivers here that offer excellent whitewater floatfishing from three men rafts: the Gauley, the New and the Greenbrier.
I’ll cover the trout fishing in a moment. First, though, I’ll focus on the smallmouth action. In recent trips on the New and the Greenbrier encompassing about four hours each, I was able to personally catch over 70 smallmouth bass. Granted, the fish were not huge. The maximum size here is about three pounds. What was attractive was the almost non stop action, the unforgettable mountain scenery and the excitement of the floattrips themselves.
The fishing here is not what you would call easy by any means. The angler who catches 30 to 40 smallmouths a day will have to be an accurate caster, particularly on the New River. Fishing the New may get you wet or very wet depending on which section of the river you fish. The New River Gorge float through the lower section of the river offers the wildest ride, and there are at least four rapids where you cannot avoid getting drenched. Whitewater river runners call this stretch "Class II to V", and the latter means you need to hang on to the raft and have your lifejacket buttoned.
When things are calm enough to allow casting, almost every cast behind one of the stream’s huge boulders will result in a strike from a scrappy smallmouth. This float is the most popular whitewater rafting experience in West Virginia, so certain parts of the river can get crowded with non fishermen. They don’t prevent the bass from striking, however.
The upper New River offers a more leisurely floatfishing experience. There is very little whitewater here, though as you move toward the middle section there are some "Class II and III" rapids. Both of these sections reportedly have good fishing as well. I say reportedly because I haven’t personally fished them.
Moving over to the Greenbrier River, the floating here is also somewhat leisurely, with a few easy "Class II" stretches and lots of beautiful natural scenery. The fishing for bass is excellent, and there are trout in some stretches. Flyfishing guide Neal Roth of Kate’s Mountain Outfitters at Greenbrier Resort (*) showed me the fishing here.
We fished the central section of the Greenbrier from Harper, an old railroad town about 10 miles from the Greenbrier Resort, down to the little town of Caldwell. This stretch of river is one of the most picturesque and productive on the Greenbrier. It has a large population of smallmouths that range from eight to 12 inches. There are, however, larger bass in the 16 to 18 inch range that can be a pleasant surprise. There are also a lot of redeyes and bluegills in those waters, in addition to a few walleyes.
You won’t find heavy fishing or rafting traffic on the middle river section. We saw no other anglers on a June afternoon in midweek. During the weekends, the traffic does get heavier in this stretch, but not so heavy as on the southern portion of the river. On a typical weekend float, you would probably see only five to seven boats on the middle section, plus a few bank fishermen at the four access points.
The Fort Springs to Alderson run, about 15 minutes south of the Greenbrier Resort, is convenient to the hotel. There are several productive holes on the run, in addition to a couple of Class III rapids. The giant Amble Rock overlooks a popular swimming hole, but this is also one of the better holes to fish when the swimmers are absent.
In the northern section of this river where small, cold water streams such as Anthony Creek come in, there are a lot of rainbow trout. The floattrip from the town of Renick, about 25 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, down to Anthony offers very productive fishing, and there are some panfish and smallmouth mixed with the trout. Spring Creek enters the Greenbrier just north of Anthony Creek. Both of these tributaries are stocked with trout. As a result, you can pick up trout or smallmouth on a float through that section of the Greenbrier. Two to three pound smallmouths can be found in some of the big, flat pools in the area.
Also in the general area are three of the best trout streams in the state: Second Creek, Mulligan Creek and the Cranberry River. Shavers Fork in Randolph County is another top trout stream offering catch and release water. Sinking Creek, which flows underground for about 20 miles of its 30 mile total length, offers excellent rainbow trout fishing. In fact, all of the mountain streams in the area have trout in them. A few native brook trout still exist, but most are stocked rainbows and browns.
Perhaps the best trout water, if you don’t mind hatchery fish, is Howard Creek, which runs through the Greenbrier Resort. It has excellent fishing for stocked rainbow trout that average 14 inches. The beautiful little creek is also a naturally reproducing smallmouth stream that offers fish up to 20 inches or more. Even though the resort accommodates about 1,100 guests, on an average day you’ll see no more than five to 10 fishermen on the stream.
This month, small flies such as midges are effective on Howard Creek. The better fishing is during the first couple of hours of daylight and the last hour and a half before nightfall. Next month will see the streams start cooling down and the trout feeding throughout the day.
The ideal fly tackle for fall trout and smallmouths is three or four weight gear and a 15 foot leader tapering to 7X tippet. Spin fishermen will want ultra light gear and 4 pound test mono. Top lures are black Panther Martins with gold blades and yellow Roostertails with white skirts.
Neil Roth at Kate’s Mountain Outfitters, an Orvis shop, acts as a central booking operation for fishing and whitewater rafting here. Roth offers flyfishing lessons and special clinics to resort guests several times each week. The shop rents all types of fishing equipment, from hip boots to fly rods. They also have a fairly extensive selection of flies that work best in the area.
Information on the Green brier’s accommodations are available at the same numbers. Fair warning, the resort itself is fairly high ticket. A room for two people will run you $316 to $450 a night, including breakfast and dinner. If you want cheaper lodging, I suggest you call a local Bed and Breakfast called the Garvey House (*).
I fished the Greenbrier with Roth and Calvin Patterson, who is co owner of the High Mountain Outfitters (*). I also fished the nearby New River with Brian "Squirrel" Hager of Class VI River Runners (*). All three were personable, and knew the water and the fishing. Larry Larsen.