The Hunt for Big Walleyes in West Virginia


(Beckley) — The warmer snaps of weather we’ve had in West Virginia in recent days are a tease.   March is a fickle month when you want to wet a line.   We’ll enjoy two to three days of temperatures crowding 80 and like a crushing hammer Mother Nature will drop two inches of rain or six inches of snow the next day—fouling up the best laid plans of a fishing trip.

High water is aggravating, especially at this time of year.  Any fishermen will tell you though the best time to go fishing is when you have time to go fishing.    The highest percentages in these early days of spring can be found on the hunt for walleyes.

"Walleyes are just getting started with spawning in our lakes and major rivers in West Virginia," said Biologist Frank Jernejcic of the West Virginia DNR.  

Most experts suggest the best laid plan of hooking a sizeable female walleye is to walk the shores of West Virginia lakes in the dark.   Most of the fish move into the shallows to spawn from the late evening to early morning hours.

"Walleyes are crepuscular," explained Jernejcic, "That means they are active at night.   Their eyes are made to work in bright light."

Another solid target to find spawning walleyes would be in the tail waters of the state’s major waterways.    Locks and dams provide a manmade break in the waterway that halts the upstream tendency of the fish.    There may also be an added bonus.

"When you’re talking about the major rivers, like the Kanawha and Ohio you’re also talking about sauger," said Jernejcic. "This is an especially good year for sauger on the Ohio."

Saugers are a cousin to the walleye and exhibit some similar characteristics. 

Waters like the Elk and New Rivers are also popular walleye possibilities for anglers.   Places like Kanawha Falls near the confluence of the New and Gauley at the headwaters of the Kanawha River and at Sandstone Falls on the New River below Hinton are excellent places to find big walleyes.   Much like the locks and dams, the falls create natural breaks that cause fish to stack up in larger numbers since they cannot make it any further upstream.

"They swim until they bump their nose on something," said DNR fish biologist Mark Scott of Beckley. "However, I think the spawn on the New may be finished."

The DNR has been involved in a restoration project of walleyes on the New River in recent years.    A strain of the walleye native to the New River was discovered in Virginia and developed in the West Virginia fish hatcheries.   Scott and Jernejcic say the restocking is going extremely well.  The native strain of the fish is proving to be a heartier species, more adapted to the rougher riverene environment and the growth rates in just three years have been amazingly rapid.


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