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Many smallmouth waters in the mid Atlantic states of Virginia and West Virginia waters such as the Shenandoah, Potomac and Susquehanna can be fished effectively on a do it yourself basis. However, one top water I know well almost requires the use of an outfitter. That’s the New River, considered by many to be the very best smallmouth bass water in the East.

The name "New" is a bit ironic, because this is actually the oldest river in North America and is the second oldest river in the world the Nile is the oldest. Explorers dubbed this river "New" simply because it was the first one they came upon that flowed north and west, into the Ohio River, rather than east to the Atlantic Ocean. Rising in the hills of North Carolina, the New flows north into western Virginia, then curls into West Virginia before emptying into the Kanawha southeast of the state capitol, Charleston.

The scenery in the section I want to tell you about is spectacular, with huge gorges, steep mountains and lots of wildlife. The rapids here are some of the most tumultuous in the East. The 15 miles from Thurmond to Fayette Station include the 1,300 foot deep New River Gorge. Here, the shale and sandstone riverbed plunges 240 feet in fewer than 15 miles, creating class IV and V rapids.

Obviously, with rapids like this you need a guide, not just to get you down the river safely but also to free you up to catch fish while someone else busies himself with boat handling chores. Another thing that argues in favor of an outfitter is the area’s remoteness. Also, there are few good areas for wade fishing.

I’ve personally fished many stretches of the New and can vouch for the New River Gorge as a good place to fish, but only if you enjoy the thrill of whitewater boating. Other good choices are the 12 mile float from Prince to Thurmond and the 21 mile stretch from Hinton to Prince. These have enough rapids to keep things interesting, but no tumultuous Class IV and V ones that usually leave you soaked.

There are many outfitters on the New, but most specialize in simply providing boat rides. Of the few that take fishermen, Whitewater Information Ltd., run by Bill Simms (*), is tops. Simms and his guides are all avid fishermen, familiar with both light spin and fly tackle. They use rubber rafts if the river is low, but normally they fish from West Coast style dories which are quite comfortable and can be manipulated to allow you ample time to cast your fly to every rock and riffle you choose. The boats have a knee lock in the front for support while standing and swivel seats to accommodate you while sitting.

Streamers, nymphs and poppers are all productive in this water. A six to eight-weight rod is plenty heavy. My biggest smallmouth on a fly came from here with Bill expertly handling the boat. The fish was a 5 and 1/3 pounder that nailed a size 6 Yellow Jacket popper in two feet of water. Normally, you’ll catch 40 to as many as 100 bass in a day’s fishing here. Most will run eight to 14 inches, but with several three to six pounders mixed in. The river has produced fish up to 7 1/2 pounds!

Simms strongly emphasizes catch and release, with virtually no fish kept. Besides smallmouth, you’ll occasionally catch spotted bass, crappies, rock bass, bluegills, redbreasts and the odd striper here. Trip options range anywhere from a one day float to a week long float camping excursion. Alternately, you can float for several days, spending your nights at bed and breakfast spots along the way. If you decide to camp, Simms provides excellent gear. His streamside meals are lavish, with wine served.

(Don Causey Note: In a followup note at press time, correspondent Austin Jennings noted that the New River provides some good bass fishing in Virginia, upstream of the West Virginia areas he described in his report. He said the outfit to contact here is New River Smallmouth, Inc. (*). "This outfit offers high quality trips in the Old Dominion’s little fished stretches, with three to six pounders possible any day on the water," his note says. "Just be sure you make a last minute call to whichever outfitter you book. Ask whether heavy rains have muddied the water and made it unfishable. Best months to float the New are from April through October.")

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