There are plenty of folks who travel U.S. Route 50 from Clarksburg to Parkersburg. The drive is as scenic as you’ll find in West Virginia. However, far fewer probably realize as they are driving through the Ritchie County stretch of the highway, they are only a stone’s throw away from one of the best hidden fishing spots in West Virginia.
"A lot of people say, ‘Why do you keep it covered up,’" laughs Fred Hess of Hess Fish and Tackle in Harrisville. "It’s a beautiful lake, but the geographics of it keep it hidden from the road."
However, for avid anglers, North Bend Lake is worth searching out. The impoundment is just over 300 acres on the North Fork of Hughes River. The lake features fantastic fish habitat. Anglers will be amazed at standing timber, flooded hayfields, submerged roadbeds, and varying contour along the bottom. Some spots will go as deep as 30 feet, while others feature flats as shallow as one to two feet.
"It’s 8.1 miles of river backed up into some old hayfields, pasture fields, it’s just a good fishery and it’s going to be in its prime really quick,” Hess told me during a day on the water.
Hess probably knows the lake better than anyone. He was fishing the Hughes River well before the NRCS gave any thought to creating a flood control dam on the river near Cairo.
Six years after the lake’s creation, North Bend bass are showing rapid growth
Fishery biologists will tell you the first ten-years of a newly flooded lake provide the most fertile time for fish. North Bend is now into its sixth season and the fish are showing rapid growth. During a day in late September, Fred and I hoisted four bass in the three-pound range from the lake depths, lost several more of the same class, and caught several smaller fish. Our fishing success came at a time most long-time anglers would have considered a poor time for fishing. Conventional wisdom would tell you a bluebird sky in the middle of a warm afternoon wouldn’t be the ideal time to find active bass.
The trick is knowing when to fish and how to fish. Hess says like any West Virginia bass water, during the spawn in late April and early May–you’ll find plenty of big fish. He says however, more people overlook September and October, times when the water is cooling and the fish go into a feeding frenzy in anticipation of a long winter dormancy period.
"Most people will come out here and fish the banks," explained Hess. "They’ll catch a few small bass, but to really find them you need to target off-shore structure. Bass will hang on those drop-offs and come up to catch all those baitfish moving across a hump. That’s where your bigger fish will be feeding."
Hess proved his theory on what he affectionately called a "banana bar." The submerged hump could only be located with a depth finder. The manmade structure, shaped like a banana, was built during the lake’s construction as a high and dry spot for contractors to locate heavy equipment to escape high water on the Hughes River. Once the dam was completed, the rise was submerged under about five to ten feet of water. One side of the bar drops to 15 to 20 feet while the other side features the original river channel at 20 to 30 feet.
"It still has a lot of the river characteristics," said Hess, pointing to current as a key concern when trying to locate fish.
Like most small flood control lakes in West Virginia, North Bend features a restriction of no more than 9.9 horsepower motors. However, the lake features two concrete boat ramps, adequate for launching any bass boat. There are two other access points that allow for canoe, kayak, or johnboat launches.
The DNR stocked a number of species into the waterway during the first year, including the largemouth, bluegill, catfish, crappie, and muskie. Biologist say those original largemouth are now in the three-pound range. The muskies are nearing 35-plus inches. The lake also got a head start with qualify fish in the river to begin with and several farm ponds that already had an abundance of quality size fish.
There is a catch and release restriction for black bass on North Bend Lake.
Most of the lake lies within the boundaries of North Bend State Park. Park Superintendent Steve Jones says the water has changed the whole dynamic of the park.
"It’s either Mountain Lakes or it’s stream fishing for trout when I talk to people," said Jones. "This gives some great warm water fishing in the western part of the state. The lake really has added a lot for fishing, flat water kayaking and canoeing."
North Bend State Park is capitalizing on the fishing opportunity with a special fishing package. The offer includes a night’s lodging at the park lodge, breakfast for two at the park restaurant, a handmade lure from Jones’ Baits, and a $20 gift certificate to Hess Fish and Tackle where Fred will give you all the pointers you need. He also offers guided fishing on the lake. The cost of the North Bend Fishing Package is $88.