WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — The waterway which once formed the dividing line of the world’s most notorious family feud and also serves as the border between West Virginia and Kentucky has slowly but surely changed. Once considered a near wasteland for fishing because of pollution, the Tug Fork River has seen a resurgence in recent years and anglers are finding the fishing has picked up dramatically.
“I’ve been fishing it for years and a lot of people are still in that mind set,” said Justin Estep of Pike County, Kentucky.
“When I first started fishing people would poke fun at me, but now you see a lot more people fishing on the Tug, especially for smallmouth,” Estep said.
Seeing is believing for the increased fishing pressure and Estep has plenty to show them. On a July day when the temperature crowded the 100 degree mark, Estep had only an short period of time to work in some quick casts on the river. He picked the spot where it was most convenient, just behind his house. Turns out, it was the right place at the right time.
“I started hitting the shoals there, throwing a weightless Senko in and letting it float down,” Estep explained.
He only made four casts before he felt the jolt on the other end of the line.
“Son, he about tore the rod out of my hands. He hit it, then I hit it and I got him into the current and managed to get him to the bank,” he said.
Estep admitted he couldn’t believe his eyes when he finally landed the monster. It was a smallmouth which on his Stanley tape measure was 23 and 3/4’s inches. He didn’t have a certified ruler often used in tournaments for accurate measuring, so he called it 23 inches even. Estep also didn’t have a scale to find out the weight, but by most standards the conversion would be close to six pounds or more.
“It’s the biggest smallmouth I’ve caught,” he said.
He wasn’t the only one landing a smallmouth bass of a lifetime on the Tug Fork River. A day earlier, Kevin Runyon of Hatfield, Kentucky hooked into a beast of his own during a float trip on the Tug Fork. The creature hammered his Ned Rig in deep water in the vicinity of the Williamson hospital.
“We float the river 10 or 12 times a year and normally catch a lot of fish. This day it was slower, but I guess it was the day to catch the big fish. I fished it no different than I ever do, it just happened to be my day,” laughed Runyon.
Runyon’s fish stretched the tape measure to 21 inches–which would be in the area of five pounds. Earlier in the day he had a shot at one nearly as long.
“I had another one that day following in another fish I had hooked and it was probably 19 inches long. I didn’t catch it, but it was following it in,” he said.
Considering the most recent catches, Runyon said it would be a mistake to overlook Tug Fork as a fishing destination.
“That’s the biggest smallmouth I’ve ever caught and I’ve fished Dale Hollow, Cumberland, and all of those smallmouth lakes down in Tennessee and that’s my biggest one,” he said.