June and July are increasingly hot months, but the high-elevation tributaries of the Cheat River offer dedicated anglers an opportunity to extend their season. The Cheat boasts one of the highest average elevations of river systems its size, east of the Mississippi River. Couple that virtue with daunting, pristine forests and voila; what you have is a recipe for trout fishing bliss.
The high-elevation tributaries of the Cheat watershed are a stronghold for cold-water fish, including native brook trout. Their location (high in the mountains, deep in the forest) keeps them cool and also ensures that only the most corporeal of anglers will dare venture there. These streams boast a vivacious food web complete with the fly-angler’s three favorite invertebrates: mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. These bugs provide the basis of that food web: trees provide shade; leaves fall into the stream; bugs eat the leaves and other bugs; fish eat the bugs (among other things). It is intricate to say the least.
For the fly-fisher, this creates brimful opportunity. Most stream insects important for trout live the majority of their lives under water among the rocks and debris. Proper environmental conditions trigger them to shed their exoskeleton, or “hatch”, and metamorphose into the form that is cherished by dryfly anglers. Though the peak of stream insect “hatches” is April through early June, you may encounter choking swarms of insect life on any given day. During late June and early July, you may still find the same bugs that were “hatching” during peak seasons, though not in as prodigious numbers, and trout will feed on them. One such bug would be the “sulfur” mayfly. These bugs often begin their peak “hatch” during mid-May, and you may continue to encounter them in sparse numbers through early June. Another mayfly that has an extended season is the light cahill.
In early summer you may encounter large black stoneflies or yellow Sallies (a stonefly) and various caddisflies like the green caddis. This can be a great time to encounter the very large Dobson fly or to try your hand with a damsel fly pattern. Continuing on into July and August, the fishing transitions to terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, or ants. Although fishing can be tougher this time of year due to increased temperatures, less insect activity, and crystal-clear waters, terrestrial flies often trigger instinctual strikes from large trout. One such fly, the Fat Albert, is a foam fly that represents spiders or other terrestrial bugs that have landed on the surface of the water. Large brown and brook trout devour this fly with angry fervor.
As stream temperatures increase, fish will move to deeper water in heavily shaded areas with cover. During summer when flows are low and clarity is high, it becomes increasingly important to move with stealth. Fish will be able to see your movements, the casting motion, your shadow, and line much more easily. For this reason, it is often recommended that you implement the smallest fly, leader, and tippet you can safely use with without sacrificing needed line strength. During these times, it is most important to handle the fish with care and to minimize the fight length. The fish should not be removed from the water while retrieving the hook, whenever feasible, and be released as quickly as possible. Although a fisherman is allowed a creel limit of 6 trout per day, this late season mortality can be detrimental to next year’s reproduction, so I recommend a “limit your keep, not keep your limit” mentality.
While it may require disproportionate amounts of walking compared to stock-trout fishing, the solitude, the aesthetic qualities of the fish and the surroundings compound the justification for this undertaking. To behold the elegance of a native brook trout in its natural Appalachian habitat is an experience without comparison. The fish are stewards of unsurpassed ecological integrity that may only be wholly experienced by allowing one’s self to become a part of that ecology.
To gain insight on destinations within the watershed consult local tackle shops, a topographic map, a West Virginia Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and local residents. Another resource for information on destinations and fishing tactics would be your local Trout Unlimited Chapter or the Trout Unlimited website (tu.org). Google search for local insect hatch-charts. Often times, neighboring streams will have similar bug life if water quality is also similar. Be sure to check the USGS Stream Flow site (www.waterdata.usgs.gov) where you can get real-time information on discharge volumes for numerous waterways. Lastly, always read and understand the regulations for the area you are fishing, which can be found at www.wvdnr.gov. Please remember to practice catch-and-release whenever possible to ensure these fish are here for future generations!
Best of luck; screaming reels!