CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Work to remove three dams on the West Fork River in Harrison County drastically changed the dynamics of fishing the waterway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led the effort to remove the West Milford, Two Lick, and Highland Dams back in 2016.
The result is a completely different body of water according to Dave Wellman, District Fisheries Biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
“The river pool is not nearly as high as it was. It used to be like a series of small lakes,” Wellman explained. “What you see now is more of a free-flowing river. It reminds you now of places like the Little Kanawha or Middle Island Creek.”
The change in water depth and flow also shifted the habitat and has made the water much more friendly for anglers pursuing smallmouth or musky.
“We’re doing a lot of studies on the river right now in terms of fish and habitat. It’s about a ten year study we have designed,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of reproduction of smallmouth bass, flat head catfish, channel catfish and we’re thinking musky will be able to successfully spawn on their own.”
The musky were previously stocked into the West Fork, but future stockings have been suspended so state biologists can examine how well natural reproduction will go.
The changes have also impacted boating on the waters of the West Fork.
“Most of it is going to be float trips with small jon boats and trolling motors,” he said. “At Clarksburg where we still have a dam, you’ve got about five miles where you can run a boat and not have to worry about rocks or riffles or anything like that.”
Wellman added the DNR is in the process of locating and created six launch points on the waterway in Harrison County to accommodate boats, spaced far enough apart for float trips in the region. There is also a project to redesign the dam at Clarksburg to allow for fish and boats to move up and down the waterway.
“Some folks like to fish flat water, some like to fish moving water, but the bottom line is, it’s been put back to a more natural state than it was previously,” Wellman said.