FRENCH CREEK, W.VA. — The fog rose off the waters of Stonewall Jackson Lake. The first rays of the day’s sunshine broke over the ridge and spilled onto the mirror like water surface. The cool morning drew mist off the water. The scene created a shroud which hugged the narrow hollow neatly tucked into the rolling West Virginia countryside.
The reel whizzed with a puff of water mist from the already soaked line. The lure sailed into the distance, almost undetectable as it disappeared into the low light and thick fog. However, the audible and tell tale signs of the clicking and clacking came alive as the buzz bait slowly plyed the water. Within moments the still surface was violently shattered as another monster bass rocketed to the top to inhale its first meal of the day.
The scenario seems plausible in the early fall or late spring, but generally this isn’t the image you have of fishing for bass in central West Virginia’s lakes in the summer. But, summer 2014 has been anything but typical.
“We’re about to miss Dog Days,” laughed Jim Walker, fisheries biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “We should be right smack dab in the middle of it, but the air temperature has been a lot cooler this summer and that makes the water temperature cooler. As a result, the fish aren’t as deep and are more susceptible to being caught.”
Usually a summertime fishing trip to one of those lakes would involve deep water techniques like a drop shot or Carolina rig. Surface baits are generally ineffective expect at dawn or dusk when the fish would come up to feed and then retreat to the deeper haunts. This year, they’ve been coming up to feed and staying put.
“It keeps them a little closer to the surface and it’s easier to anglers to cast to them instead of worrying about fishing in 25 feet of water,” Walker said. “They’re suspended in about eight feet of water and the surface temperatures just aren’t tat warm this summer.”
The lakes in central West Virginia have offered an alternative to those who are finding pure frustration on many of the state’s big rivers. After a couple of yeas of incredible fishing, the Ohio, Monongahela, and Kanawha Rivers have largely been slow to give up their bounty in 2014. Anglers looking for a bite have noticed heading back to the lake is the better choice for this year. Walker said his research backs up their theory on plans.
“I did an electro-fishing survey at Big Ditch Lake,” he said. “We got plenty of 19, 20, and 21 inch bass. Our electro fishing boat is only effective to about eight feet of water and if they’re below that you’re just not going to get them and we got plenty of fish.”
Walker added they weren’t all bass either. The survey at Big Ditch revealed an array of species from catfish and carp to crappie and bluegill, all easily within anglers’ reach. Data from bass tournaments for 2014 also revealed excellent fishing success on the lakes as opposed to the rivers, although that may not be the best comparison, but the consistency of the data from water to water was most revealing. It showed exactly what Walker believed all along. The bass fishing success has been surprisingly high on the lakes, but in a down cycle on the rivers.
“The lakes have really been doing great this year,” he said. “Lots of tournament success and lots of successful anglers out there along the bass fishing lines.”