10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Often Overlooked, Burnsville Boasts Great Fishing


(Burnsville) — "I’m more comfortable on the deck of a bass boat than in my own living room," laughed Mark Godwin as he made another flip cast toward the banks of Burnsville Lake.

Godwin can make that claim honestly, since he spends far more time atop the deck of his Ranger bass boat than his living room Lazy-Boy.   The part-time professional angler travels across the United States fishing for cash along various bass tournament trails.   However, when he’s not busy preparing for an upcoming event, few places hold the allure of Burnsville Lake.

"I guess I can say it’s probably my favorite place to fish," Godwin told me during a recent fishing trip. "I grew up here on it.  I learned how to fish a lake on this lake right here.  I’d never fished a lake in my life before until they built Burnsville Lake."

Godwin grew up on nearby Salt Lick in the days before Burnsville Lake was created to provide downstream protection from flooding on the Little Kanawha River.  He had mastered catching bass on the Little Kanawha, Salt Lick, and Knawl Creek well before they were arms of this central West Virginia impoundment.  

"I remember where the houses were at and who lived places and what the creeks looked like," said Godwin.  "They had some good smallmouth and largemouth bass in it then."

The lake was finished in 1978, when Godwin turned 18.  The new lake was a gem for Mark and his brother Andy.  The pair procured a small bass boat and began to learn the ways of lake fishing.  They spent countless hours on the impoundment and learned how to catch hefty bass that has served them well as fierce tournament competitors.   The lake yielded the first of many largemouth bass for Mark that weighed more than five-pounds.   

Today, Burnsville is often overlooked by fishermen.   Nearby Sutton and Stonewall Jackson Lakes get far more publicity and attention from anglers.   That’s too bad.   Godwin says Burnsville remains a quality fishery and often holds tremendous bass fishing for those willing to give it a try.   

The lake isn’t difficult to unravel if you consider the normal keys to bass fishing.   Godwin shares it’s a lowland reservoir, meaning the overall water is generally shallow.  The water is normally cloudy to muddy, the oxygen level in the summer months is lower–eliminating any need to fish below ten-feet depths, and the fish are very cover oriented.  Cover is abundant on the lake, and unlike a highland reservoir such as Sutton Lake, Burnsville‘s cover is easy to see and easy to fish.    

"Basically what we target first in the springtime is rock," Godwin explains. "Fish will spawn up in the rocks near the base of a log.  Once they’re done they’ll move out to the end of the tree. That’s where we catch them."

Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County gets the lion’s share of those anglers hoping to catch trophy bass in West Virginia.   A full-time catch and release regulation at Stonewall improves the chances for success, but Stonewall’s attention is helpful to places like Burnsville that get far less fishing pressure.

"There’s probably more numbers of bigger fish in Stonewall than there is here because of the catch and release.  But Burnsville was equally as good as Stonewall when it was built, as far as size and numbers.  There just weren’t as many fishermen when it was built as there are now and Stonewall has taken a lot of pressure off this place," Mark said.

Anglers in search of big bass are likely to find fish in the five-pound plus class.    Godwin says a few years ago, when he and his brother fished the lake regularly, they would keep a running tally of the number of bass over five-pounds they caught.  The numbers routinely topped 50 a year.    

Burnsville features a strong population of largemouth and spotted bass and a few smallmouths.    You’re also likely to hook a few crappie, bluegills, catfish, and the often elusive musky.    The higher degree of popularity for other nearby lakes keeps Burnsville‘s waters calmer from pleasure boaters and ripe for fishing.

To learn more about Burnsville Lake visit the Corps of Engineer’s website and for more on surrounding lodging and other activities of interest contact the Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau.


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