Unlocking the Secrets of Sutton Lake


(Sutton) — Josh Querrey of Summersville rifled through the storage compartments on the deck of his Ranger bass boat.   The young angler who aspires to work his way up the ladder in tournament fishing fumbled through various packages of plastic lures, looking for just the right bait among the seemingly endless selection. 

"There’ll still be a few fish on the bed," said Querrey as we prepared for a morning of fishing on Sutton Lake. "A couple of weeks ago when we had the real warm stretch of weather a lot of fish came up and spawned.   The spawn will last a month or so, but it sort of depends on the moon cycle."

Josh went on to say once the fish spawn, they become finicky and they can be found just off the shallow banks staging under cover, normally in this lake the top of a fallen tree.

Construction on Sutton Lake began in 1949.  The dam’s progress just above the seat of Braxton County however was held up for several years by the Korean War.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was more engaged in the management of the Chosin Reservoir than the new Sutton Lake.   The dam was finally completed in 1961.  

Sutton was among the first of the West Virginia impoundments authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938.    Congress authorized the dam construction to provide protection against high water to downs downstream.   Sutton was created to keep the Holly and Elk Rivers in check during spring rains and heavy summer thunderstorms.   The dams did provide good downstream protection, but in the early days of the flood control construction little thought was given to fisheries management.   The standard practice was to timber the landscape of the area to be flooded.   It surely maximized the revenue of the land, but left a barren lake bed bereft of cover for fish and other aquatic life. 

Therefore on Sutton Lake the trees that fall into the water from the steep and high banks are key attractions for fish and fishermen alike.

"This tree coming up here is the kind you’ll get a better fish." Josh told me as we flipped and pitched baits up into downed timber. "That one’s kind of small with little limbs, but you get a bigger tree with a "v" in the limbs, it will hold a better fish."

Josh says while targeting laydowns is where you’ll find the highest percentage of bites in the springtime, it’s still effective to make sure you make a mental note of every fish you see.   Keep track of what kinds of limbs the fish were holding to.  Were the limbs smaller?  Were the fish more oriented to the thicker trunks?   Were they in the tops of the trees in deeper water or were they holding tighter to the bank near the trees’ former roots?    Did the fish attack your bait from a limb lying parallel to the bank or one jutting straight out?   These questions will help you decipher a pattern than fish may be following during the course of a fishing day.

"You want to run a pattern," explains Josh who fishes tournaments around the state as a member of the Mid-State Marine Fishing Team. "Sometimes you can really dial in and when you figure out what kind of trees they’re holding on, you fish that from one end of the lake to the other."

The baits for this time of year are also a key factor.   Josh chose to run a floating worm in hopes of coaxing a bass to the surface.  I "deadsticked" a Senko rigged in Texas style allowing it to slowly fall down through the limbs.   Both methods can be effective, but early in the day it becomes a matter of trial and error to determine what the fish are taking under the present conditions.

Sutton Lake is loaded with spotted bass, often called the Kentucky spotted bass.   Although plentiful, the spotted bass at Sutton are generally smaller in size.   The larger bass in the lake are largemouth and you’ll occasionally find smallmouth bass, which are fewer in number at Sutton, lurking around the lake’s ample supply of rocking outcroppings.    Querrey says it’s been his experience that smallmouth and spotted bass tend not to co-exist very well.  

Sutton Lake is a highland reservoir.   This distinction is marked by the terrain that forms the lake.  The banks are steep with extremely deep and clear water in many locations.   There are other lakes in West Virginia classified as lowland reservoirs, with more shallow water and muddier water conditions.  

We wound up boating about nine-fish on our adventure across the lake, the largest about 15-and-a-half inches.   Josh admits that’s not the greatest showcase for a lake that offers a lot of spring time potential, but again points out post spawn fish will not bite as readily after spawning has left them low on energy.  

Sutton is easily accessed at the Flatwoods exit of I-79 with signs directing you to the Bee Run Recreation Area.  The area features a public boat launch facility as well as bank fishing.   You’ll also find a marina, picnic area, and swimming area around Bee Run.   For more information on Sutton Lake visit the Corps of Engineers and for more information on the surrounding area click HERE.


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