Looking for an excuse to visit West Virginia? I've got three good ones: Hunting, viewing fall's foliage and trout fishing.
If ever there was a time to head for the Mountain State, it's now. This Saturday, several small game seasons, plus turkey and archery deer hunting, all open. Fall foliage is nearing its sunburst peak. And 70,000 trout are being stocked during the second and third weeks of this month -- a time when the state truly lives up to its "wild, wonderful" slogan.
Saturday morning, grouse, squirrel, raccoon and woodcock seasons open; duck and dove seasons continue; turkeys become legal game; and the bow-and-arrow deer season begins. Prospects for hunting virtually all of these game animals should be excellent.
The state's deer herd is growing, a record spring gobbler harvest was posted this year, and grouse are in the midst of a modest upswing. West Virginia has always been a top woodcock state, and huge flights of these long-beaked birds drop into the Canaan Valley, near Davis, at this time each fall.
Season-long non-resident hunting licenses sell for $40; six-day small-game permits for $8.
And while the brightly painted leaves clinging to deciduous trees are a hindrance in viewing game, they add an esthetic value that few sportsmen would want to forego. The foliage is nearing its peak of color intensity right now in the Eastern Panhandle, where most Washington-based visitors will spend their time. Asher Kelly, State Forester for the Department of Natural Resources, says next weekend, the 20th and 21st, should see the brightest colors around the Cacapon State Park area.
While most cabins and lodge rooms at state parks and forests have been reserved well in advance, a few are still available. Phone 800/642-9058 toll-free in Charlestown for information on what's left.
If the foliage and opening of hunting seasons weren't enough to draw one westward, 30 of the state's best trout streams are receiving some 70,000 new trout. While it's frowned upon by purists, stocking is often necessary in streams where the natural spawning isn't enough to establish a viable trout fishery. Such, sadly, is the case in many West Virginia streams where the waters are cold and clear enough to hold trout, but reproduction is poor.
If there must be stocking of adult trout, West Virginia does a good job of it, often raising fish to a husky 11 to 14 inches before releasing them. The trout are stocked on a weekly basis during spring in some of the more popular creeks. The state also has no closed-season and opening-day fiasco concentrating droves of anglers in a carnivallike atmosphere along the banks.
But with this week and next's stockings, the state's yearly effort concludes with a bang. Not only are 70,000 trout being placed in the streams, 5,000 of them are brood fish ranging from 15 to 22 inches.
All of the waters listed under the "F" code in the current fishing regulations (except the Summersville Lake tailwaters) will receive fish. Some of the more popular streams within a day's driving distance of Washington include Edward's Run and Pond in Hampshire County; Opequon Creek in Berkeley and Jefferson counties; and Rock Cliff Lake, Lost River and Trout Pond in Hardy County. Slightly farther (three to six hours) are Shaver's Fork, Knapps Creek, Buffalo Fork Lake, Beaver Creek and the Cranberry River in Pocahontas County. The Buckhanon and Blackwater rivers in Tucker County and North Fork of the South Branch in Pendleton and Grant counties are also good streams. The locations of these waters are shown in the West Virginia Stream Map, available from the Department of Natural Resources, 1800 Washington Street East, Charleston 25305.
With this immense quantity of naive hatchery trout in the streams, bait is the most potent offering. Salmon eggs, minnows, redworms and nightcrawlers all will fool their share of trout, but they'll fool a lot more when fished in a natural fashion, rather than being plunked down with a heavy weight so they hang unrealistically on the bottom.
A light spinning outfit and four-to six-pound line will handle all trout, even those big breeder fish over 20 inches, if the reel's drag works smoothly. For holding the bait and snatching the fish, use gold hooks in sizes 6 to 10. Depending on the depth of water and rate of current, attach one to three very small split shot on the line a foot above the bait.
Toss this offering out upstream and drift it through deep runs, pools and eddies. Rocks and logjams that offer shelter from the flow for pot-gutted hatchery fish suddenly faced with the rigors of a wild stream are also worth casting to. A sharp tap-tapping should telegraph up the rod if you're fishing good water. Strike quickly to drive the barb home and there may be trout for dinner.
Artificials such as Panther Martins and Flatfish ill also take stocked trout when cast upstream and across and retrieved down through the current. Small marabou jigs crawled along the bottom can fool whoppers at times when the flashy spinners don't produce.
The fly fisherman can take his share of trout at this time as well, since many holdover fish from earlier plantings will be accustomed to feeding on natural insects. Some of the newly stocked fish also learn quickly that a mayfly or beetle tastes every bit as good as the brown pellets they were fed throughout their lives in the concrete troughs of a hatchery.
Most West Virginia streams are on the acidic side and lack heavy aquatic insect hatches. This makes the fish particularly fond of land insects such as beetles, ants, grasshoppers and crickets. Toss imitations of these bugs along the banks with a light splat or softly to any rises you see in midstream. aIf no takers show, tie on a weighted nymph and float it "dead drift" through the fishy-looking runs and deep pools.
And if all else fails, pick up the scattergun and go chase a grouse or woodcock through the bright autumn woods. That's sure to take the sting out of a poor fishing day.