The South Branch of the Potomac yields big fish in 2024 after some lean years

MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — West Virginia is the birthplace of the famous Potomac River. While many know well the lower portions of the water way flowing through Maryland and into the nation’s Capital, the upper reaches in West Virginia’s highlands hold some of the watershed’s most spectacular scenery and at least in recent years some of the most amazing fishing.

Kellan Snyder of Moorefield, W.Va. left West Virginia and worked for seven years in Yellowstone National Park. Despite the natural beauty of the western United States, the mountains of West Virginia called him home with a plan to share his boyhood stomping grounds with the world.

“We started up in our first season 2021. When we first started, the goal was just to get people out and show people this area. I grew up here floating theses streams and fishing these rivers. I moved back here from Montana and wanted to bring things back I learned and was doing out there. Our ultimate goal is to get people out,” he said.

He started up Breezewood Adventures based in Moorefield. The business rents kayaks and canoes and provides a shuttle service to those wanting to float the river for fun. A year ago, Snyder added a float fishing guide service to the company’s list of products.

“A lot of what we do is canoe and kayak rentals. Sometimes they’ll float a stream for three days in a row anywhere from Big Bend up in Smoke Hole down through the Trough in Hampshire County, so we operate in three different counties,” he said.

The Trough may be the best known stretch of water on the river. It used to be the most popular for fishing, but the scars of the 1985 flood are still clearly visible. In the upper reaches the frame of an old car rested up against the bank with tree through through the windshield. The aptly named Trough narrows with steep banks and takes all of the water from the North Fork and South Forks and channels it down. During the 1985 flood, record amounts of flow pushed the banks straight up the steep canyon walls. It took out tall trees which had created a canopy over the water for years and provided shade and refuge for fish all along the banks.

“You can still see it for sure, but I do think some of those canopy trees are starting to grow back. But that water got so tight, you can look up the bank and see remnants 50 feet up the bank,” he explained.

Although the Trough may be the best known section of the South Branch, Snyder believed the upper stretch in the Smoke Hole Section may be the more spectacular spot. That’s because you can only float there in the early spring when the flows are right. During the summer and into the fall months there may not be enough water to make it possible.

“I think the Smoke Hole section rivals it, but it’s a more difficult float. You have to commit yourself to an entire full day or two or three days to float it. It’s also one of the few sections in West Virginia where you can catch trout and smallmouth bass. Because the Trough isn’t as far removed it’s a lot easier to access. It fishes well in the spring, but I think the scenery is the greatest attraction, especially in the summertime. You feel like you’re literally floating in a trough,” said Snyder.

As for the fishing, on this day we started with rain shower activity at the Old Field’s bridge. Rain didn’t spoil the day and didn’t stay around, but the overcast skies cast a gray gloom over the area and prompted fish actively feeding.

“It’s still got that greenish hue, but I’d like for it to be a little darker. The levels though I’m happy with. This time of year when it’s up like this, they get a little more aggressive pre-spawn, but they are a little more displaced so they’re harder to find,” said Snyder.

The last couple of years have been a bonanza for anglers on the South Branch. Even on our day multiple fish over 14 to 15 inches were caught along with a slew of smaller ones. DNR District Fisheries Biologist Brandon Keplinger credited that to three straight years of a lost spawn which significantly reduced the competition for food in the river.

“From 2016 to 2018, all three years, we had high flow events in May and June and generated three straight years of poor recruitment and young fish survival. During that time, when the number of smallmouth bass were lower, we saw fish grow much faster, weigh much more, and we saw the number of fish 11-inches and greater stay the same, but we saw fish 14-inches and greater become more numerous. I think this period has been born out of those slim times we saw from 2017 to 2019,” he explained.

Whatever has caused it, Snyder is excited. It’s giving him the opportunity to showcase some of the amazing scenery of West Virginia and to put some big fish in the boat at the same time.

“A lot of times we get people from out of town, not even from West Virginia. We obviously have a website, e-mail, social media. Just get hold of us and give us an idea of what you’re looking to do and just show up. We encourage people to book ahead of time just because we’ve gotten busy in the summer months. If you want the guided float trip, we ask that you get in touch with us at least two weeks ahead of time,” he said.

More Outdoors

DNR releases 2024 spring gobbler figures
2024 harvest down slightly from 2023, but well over the long term average
June 12, 2024 - 9:15 am
Roane County angler catches the inaugural black crappie record
Black crappie is one of the new recognized record fish in West Virginia
June 11, 2024 - 2:27 pm
Angler works to spread the word of trout conservation
Angler and conservationist J.P. Hurn wants everybody to understand the importance of naturally reproducing trout populations in the headwaters of southern West Virginia
June 9, 2024 - 3:00 pm
No license required to fish West Virginia this weekend
DNR hopes waiving the requirement for a fishing license this weekend will lure some to the riverbank to give fishing a try.
June 6, 2024 - 2:34 pm