Wild and Wonderful Water
Forty-eight of West Virginia’s 55 counties have at least one public lake, and the state boasts 46 named rivers with more than 2,000 miles of fishable water. Plus there are the countless runs, streams, creeks, impoundments, and ponds that dot the hills and hollers of the Mountain State. There’s plenty of fun to be had on the water by boat, board, or bait—all you really need to do is choose your adventure. And if there’s something you’d like to learn, there are plenty of experienced guides and knowledgeable outfitters just waiting to get you into the right gear and point the way.
If you plan on having fun on the water this summer, be sure to have the necessary licenses on board. Anyone born after 1986 is required to complete a Boating Safety Education Course to operate motorized vessels or personal watercraft on state waters. And if you plan to cast your line while on board, be sure to have a fishing license for everyone who has a pole. Base licenses are available at many outdoor retailers for $19 per year. Don’t forget to add the cost of the required conservation stamp—$5—and a trout stamp—$10—if you plan on catching those.
Wet a Line
Fishing phenom Curtis Fleming shares a few of favorite fishing holes in West Virginia.
Shavers Fork is a branch of the Cheat River winding 89 miles along its route east of Elkins. Situated in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, Shavers offers fishermen a chance to commune with nature while fishing the steam all the way from Snowshoe Resort to Elkins, in both catch-and-release and put-and-take areas.
Paddleboarding, in its purest form, is an activity that’s thousands of years old. Stand-up paddleboarding with modern boards that are more buoyant than surfboards has gained popularity in the past 20 years. It’s caught on in several flatwater and slow-current lakes and rivers throughout the Mountain State. If it sounds like an activity you’d love to try, make arrangements with one of several outfitters around the state.
To paddleboard on Cheat Lake near Morgantown, contact Padlz Canoe and Kayak Rentals in Bruceton Mills. If you’d like to explore the New River Gorge from a paddleboard, rent one from Mountain Surf Paddle Sports in Fayetteville, or ACE Adventure Resort or River Expeditions in Oak Hill. Explore Sutton Lake by paddleboard with a board rental from Sutton Lake Marina. Ride the Cheat River on a board from Blackwater Outdoor Adventures. Or paddle the Potomac River on a board from River Riders Family Adventure Resort in Harpers Ferry.
Which ‘Yak is your ‘Yak?
Nick Parsons, raft guide with ACE Adventure Resort, and Patrick McCann with Blackwater Outdoor Adventures offer the skinny on the different types of kayaks you might find in stores.
Single kayaks are made for solo paddlers or two paddlers per boat. Of these basic kayaks, there are two types, Parsons explains: recreation boats for flatwater, and whitewater boats. Whitewater boats are small and round, because paddlers actually use the vessel to help them steer. Recreation boats vary in style, and most feature flat bottoms and the option to sit on top of the kayak. Kayaks come in small, medium, and large. Your weight and height will determine which size you need.
Tandem kayaks are made for two paddlers per boat and are used mostly on flatwater, although some models are available for navigating whitewater. McCann cautions that tandem kayaks are better suited for an adult and a child on board rather than two adults.
Parsons describes fishing kayaks as the “aircraft carrier version of kayak design.” Compared with whitewater boats, he says, they’re huge and flat. They also feature plenty of bells and whistles, like foot pedals that can help with both casting and steering the boat. “They’re really next-level,” Parsons says. McCann says buyers of fishing kayaks should be careful because the more outfitted they are, the heavier they are to carry. Some even have wheels.
Touring kayaks are designed for flatwater use, McCann says, and are generally easy to paddle in a straight line. Sit-on-top and sit-inside models are available, and which you choose depends on what you plan to do on the water. McCann says sit-on-top touring kayaks are easier to jump off of for a quick swim before climbing back on. If you plan to paddle in colder weather, a sit-in version will keep you dry and protect you from the splashing river.
Knowing When to Roll
Nick Parsons has been a river guide for 17 years and a hard-core kayaker for 10. Every day on the New and Gauley rivers, this is what he teaches people about what to do if they find themselves upside down in a kayak:
Plan A The first thing I teach anyone is what it feels like to be upside down. Then, I teach them what it feels like to do a “wet exit”—that’s Plan B. Then, I finally teach them the roll technique. To roll, you’ll set your paddle to brace yourself on the surface of the water. There’s a hip snap involved that uprights you, but you can easily go too far and roll all the way back under the water. It’s a tough thing to master, but once you learn it it takes almost no effort. Some people get it right off the bat; a lot of people don’t. Some of the better kayakers I know took two weeks to master it, because you can only practice so many times before you’re just wiped out. The best thing to do is to take in a roll clinic at a pool or lake near you.
Plan B If you haven’t mastered the roll or the situation doesn’t allow for it, there’s an escape option called a wet exit. A kayaker wears a brightly colored elastic skirt that stretches over and attaches to the cockpit. If you find yourself upside down, you can pull the grab loop or rip cord to detach the skirt from the kayak, which allows you to swim out. It’s like breaking the glass and getting the fire extinguisher out, and it’s definitely Plan B.
Floating the Cheat
Explore the Cheat River at a slower pace brought to you by Blackwater Outdoor Adventures.
Explore the Cheat River by canoe with Blackwater Outdoor Adventures. Canoes are rented by trip, and you can choose a 4-mile, 8-mile, or 11-mile paddle down the river. Trips are unguided and the perfect way to absorb a little wilderness from a new vantage point. Just take a picnic lunch, your fishing pole, and a set of binoculars, and Blackwater will take care of the rest, including the shuttle.
Opt for a sit-on-top kayak from BOA and take in all the glory of this scenic mountain river. Kayaks are rented just like canoes: for 4-, 8-, or 11-mile trips. Kayak expeditions are also unguided and a great way to explore the river at your own pace. You can even rent kayaks or canoes from BOA for overnight trips on the Cheat River Water Trail.
Tubing down the Cheat River is a great way to combat the heat on summer day and have a blast, too. Rent an innertube from BOA for a 1-to-2-hour float down the river. Life jackets are required, and cooler tubes are available for the ultimate lazy river experience with the best scenery around.
BOA offers yet another way to explore the river: stand-up paddleboards. Paddleboard adventures are an out-and-back paddle starting from the Blackwater Outpost in St. George. Reserve yours today from blackwateroutdoors.com or by calling 304.478.3775.
What lurks below these three West Virginia lakes is worth the dive.
Summersville Lake is a 2,700-acre aquatic playground that hosts most of the scuba diving certification tests in the Mountain State. The lake’s water is warm and crystal clear, with plenty to explore under the surface— even a sunken boat and fishing habitats.
Mount Storm Lake is a 1,200-acre lake in Grant County that was created when a reservoir was built on the Stony River. You’ll find several diving platforms at various depths, and diving is allowed from boats only. Spend an afternoon watching schools of bass, catfish, and walleye dart about the warm, clear water.
Tygart is a 1,750-acre lake in Taylor County known for its clear water and deep drop offs. Most divers at Tygart dive from boats to access the best parts of the lake, and the marina offers boat rentals all summer long.