CRAIGSVILLE, W.Va. — It doesn’t happen often, but in a year when rainfall has been at a record level, fishing guide Larry Nibert of the West Virginia Experience has been able to reach some waters he rarely gets to see during the fall months.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is Christmas in September,” said Nibert on a recent fishing trip to the Top Gauley.
Stretching 41 miles upstream from the backwater of Summersville Lake the Top Gauley is typically too low during the fall months to float. However, West Virginia is going through the wettest September in history according to the National Weather Service in Charleston and it has kept the high mountain waters running above normal and provided unique fishing opportunities.
“You never know when you’re going to get this,” said Nibert. “I’ve been boating and fish guiding for close to 30 years and the number of times I’ve been able to float the Top Gauley in September I can count on one hand.”
Typically when West Virginians think about the Gauley River, their attention immediately turns to world class whitewater rafting. However, that is on the area below Summersville Dam, referred to roughly as the Upper, Middle, and Lower Gauley for the whitewater. A stretch from Belva to Gauley Bridge, which is flat and slow, is commonly known as the Bottom Gauley.
Upstream of Summersville Lake you’ll find a free flowing river dotted with boulders and rocky shoals offering unparalleled hiding spots for smallmouth bass. This is the long stretch known as the Top Gauley.
“Certainly it’s loaded with smallmouth bass, but you’ll catch sizable walleye and an occasional rainbow trout which has found its way in from one of the stocked tributaries,” Nibert explained. “We’ll catch a lot of rock bass and occasionally even get a largemouth bass.”
The river typically in September is rolling at 100 to 150 cubic feet per second. We caught it on a day when it was running 900 CFS. Nibert was excited, 2018 has been that kind of season.
“It’s been one of those seasons, we’ve had so much rain there have been so many waters open up that you normally can’t float them due to the season,” he said. “I’ve been on the headwaters of the Greenbrier, the Tygart, the Buckhannon, the New in West Virginia and Virginia, most of the Top Gauley, and the Elk. I still haven’t seen it all.”
But there is also too much of a good thing, particularly for those who like to fish the lower New River in the Gorge during the fall months. The rainfall has made the stretch difficult for float fishing trips. Nibert said customers wanting to hit the lower New have been content with a trip on the Top Gauley or another stretch instead. It isn’t hard to understand why, by the end of the day we had boated 99 fish including smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, and a few creek chubs and the fish bit the entire day.