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West Virginia Bass Fishing

With thousands of acres of lakes, the Mountain State’s bass are fat and plentiful.

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The Mountain State is known for prime fly fishing in its gold medal trout streams and rafting and kayaking on its world-class whitewater rivers, but there’s another water sport that has an equally passionate following—bass fishing.

“Most people don’t associate West Virginia with bass fishing the way they do some southern and western states, probably because we don’t have large bodies of water, but we have some excellent bass fishing,” says Bret Preston, assistant chief of warmwater fisheries for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The sport has an avid following, and lakes like West Virginia’s largest, Summersville Lake at 2,700 acres, as well as Stonewall Jackson Lake with 2,600 acres, are increasingly popular. Fishing has always been a big part of West Virginia culture, according to John Burdette, president of the West Virginia Bass Federation since 1995. Currently, there are more than 800 members in 64 clubs across the state. “Most native West Virginians like the outdoors and grow up hunting and fishing and playing sports. The playing fields in other sports stay the same, but bass fishing changes constantly,” he says. “You’re trying to figure out the fish, and that can vary hour-to-hour based on the clarity of the water, the current, the barometric pressure, sun, clouds, rain and water temperature, and whether or not they’re spawning. Even in fishing tournaments, you’re always competing with the bass, not other anglers.”

The Federation works to keep the passion behind fishing alive—and from a young age—with fishing programs for youngsters that encourage youths to compete in tournaments and be good stewards of the environment. Members watch for pollution and take care of habitats and the fish. All tournaments are catch-and-release, and fish are held in tanks until weighed.

The Nature of the Bass

The black bass is one of the top game fish in North America. In West Virginia the black bass family includes largemouth (grayish-blue), smallmouth (brownish), and spotted bass. These fish live in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, streams, and even flooded ditches. Because they are vociferous feeders and adapt easily, bass are survivors and quite prolific. “We don’t stock a lot of bass other than in new impoundments and lakes that have been drained and refilled,” Bret says. A fruitful species, they don’t need the extra help. “Trout are stocked at catchable size, but when we stock bass, we stock two-inch fingerlings to boost the population in the future. Bass reproduce in high numbers and maintain their populations. Like any fish, they need clean water, but they aren’t usually found in ultra-clear streams like trout. Bass do well in turbid conditions and don’t like really cold water.”

By nature, bass are fighters. When hooked, largemouth bass make short, powerful runs to seek cover in underwater snags and rock outcroppings. The smaller but even feistier smallmouth bass will fight on the surface, jumping and thrashing to throw the hook.

Stalking the black bass is just that. Not only can they spot anglers above the water’s surface, they pick up on nuances of scent such as tobacco, bug spray, or sunscreen that transfers from hands to lines and lures.

Bass are ferocious predators and opportunists who will eat insects, smaller fish, baby ducks, snakes, and anything else that ventures into their realm. John recalls seeing one bass waiting in a live tank to be weighed at a tournament spit up a 15-inch-long snake, while another disgorged a mouse.   

But this doesn’t mean bass will strike at anything with a hook. Back in the 1940s and ’50s, sustenance anglers fished with a pole and live bait—usually worms. Many still do. But in the 1960s, the use of plastic worms caught on—and the sophistication of the “working man’s” sport began in earnest. Fiberglass rods evolved into the graphite composite rods of today. Boats and trolling motors were developed specifically for bass fishing, and fish finder/depth locators weren’t far behind. 


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