Kayak fishing is a fast growing sport and anglers in West Virginia are leading the pack. West Virginia offers abundant angling opportunities for the kayak fishermen, but none greater than the famous New River. The New River is known across the nation for its turbulent whitewater, beautiful landscapes, and fantastic fishing.
Most people flock to the New River in search of the hard fighting smallmouth bass. People want a chance to see their acrobatic displays and feel their hard fighting head shakes. Although most people hire a rafting guide to help them navigate the sometimes treacherous rapids, kayaks have changed that for some. Kayak manufacturing companies like Jackson Kayak have catered to the needs of kayak fisherman, creating kayaks specifically for running rivers like the New. These kayaks are built to handle any obstacle the river may throw at an angler. They are stable, nimble, and easy to maneuver down an unpredictable waterway.
I am lucky enough to know all about the New River. I grew up in Hinton, WV located directly on the river, below the Bluestone Dam. I started fishing the New as a youngster and have honed my skills as an angler and now as a paddler. I started fishing from a Jackson Kayak Coosa about 3 years ago and couldn’t image going back to wading the banks. Kayaking has given me the chance to access areas of the river that aren’t accessible to others. It has made me a better angler. You are limited to the amount of gear that you can bring on a trip. This makes you more diligent with the way you fish and helps you slow down. It means you are more likely to make those extra casts to that certain spot, or stay in that area just a little bit longer, dissecting each hole.
Kayak fishing the New River is both rewarding and exhilarating. The New River offers so much to the kayak angler at all levels of expertise. Beginner paddlers may stay on a more relaxed section of the river in the many long deep pools. Expert paddlers can test their skills against class II and III rapids. Many smallmouth fishermen, like myself know that below those rapids can be the best place to find the big bronze fish. Kayaking can really put you in those certain areas while still providing all day comfort.
I recently took a trip to Sandstone Falls below my hometown and was handsomely rewarded with an amazing experience. My kayak had the ability to paddle upstream against strong current in order to access an area that would be difficult for even a jet boat. Not many people have stood in front of the large falls, so close that the mist created from the crashing falls would cool your face from the blazing sun. That experience is one I will never forget and something many should see up close. Sometimes it’s about hearing nothing, it’s about watching the fog roll across the water at first light, and it’s about the calmness that seems to take over your soul when you’re out on the river.
Kayak fishing is a great way to connect with the West Virginia wilderness. I frequently see river otters, minks, osprey, and my favorite, the American bald eagle. You can take time to enjoy the outdoors without the sound of a boat engine roaring in the background. The New River has many sections where a kayaker can be completely removed from civilization. Sections like Meadow Creek to Glade Creek or Shanklins Ferry to Mouth of Indian Creek. These remote areas offer fantastic fishing and can be explored by a moderately experienced paddler.
I spend the majority of my time below the Bluestone Dam in Hinton. My favorite sections are from the Dam down to the takeout near Berry’s Campground and Brooks falls to Sandstone falls. These sections boast amazing fishing, but also require some technical paddling. Less experienced paddlers might consider the area below the dam before trying the more difficult whitewater around Brooks Falls. Regardless, the New River offers something for everyone. Do some research, plan a trip, speak with the locals, and I will see you on the water!
In order to battle with big smallmouth, I suggest spinning tackle for precision casting. A 7 foot spinning rod with medium power and moderate action will handle the majority of what you will use on any given day. Pair that up with 8 or 10 pound fluorocarbon line. This setup is perfect for throwing some of my favorite baits like tube jigs, small crank baits, and minnow imitating lures. Seasonal patterns usually dictate the colors and style of baits that I carry. My general rule of thumb is crawfish patterns in the spring and shad patterns in the fall. Spring means crawfish colored crank baits with green pumpkin and orange variations. Tube jigs with the weighted jig head in red, green, brown, and black. Fall means minnow style hard jerk baits in shad colors – soft flukes in white and silver. Spinnerbaits can also be very productive. Top water lures like the buzz bait or popper are a fun and exciting way to catch smallmouth in the summer months.