I live on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, home to miles of asphalt and traffic jams. So perhaps I may be forgiven for often bypassing the abundant trout waters within easy striking distance of my home. Pennsylvania’s got plenty of good trout streams, including the Letort, Falling Springs, Yellow Breeches, and Penns Creek. Maryland boasts Big Hunting Creek, Beaver Creek, and the Gunpowder River. And as a native Virginian, I take great pride in the Old Dominion’s glorious trout waters, including the streams of Shenandoah National Park, Mossy Creek, and the Jackson River.
Surprisingly, however, the state I most frequently prefer to fly fish is wild and rugged West Virginia. It might not often make the news, but West Virginia has streams with both healthy fish populations and good public access.
South Branch Potomac
The North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River—say that ten times fast—flows through West Virginia and eventually passes between Virginia and Maryland before it empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Though many anglers float the Potomac in Maryland and Virginia for smallmouth bass, there is excellent access for wading trout anglers off Route 28/55 in West Virginia. Here you’ll find a healthy mix of brown and rainbow trout, with the occasional brood stock brook trout. West Virginia’s own golden rainbow trout (elsewhere called a palomino rainbow) also populate stretches of the river. The state record 9.75-pound smallmouth was also caught here.
Heading south on 28/55, you’ll find excellent wading water along the North Fork. Numerous pullouts line the road; they are easy to spot and parking is abundant.
Though the riffles seem to suggest that you should fish with drys, the water is actually better suited to nymphing.
Unlike other sections of the North Fork, the Route 28 stretch is narrower and therefore doesn’t allow for long casts. Instead, think short, technical casts in the 20- to 30-foot range.
If you prefer to float the river in a canoe or kayak, use the put-in at Weldon Park in Grant County. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources also maintains several area boat launches. (For maps and fishing information, see wvdnr.gov/fishing/fishing.shtm.)
A word of caution: The North Fork is loaded with big rocks, many of which can’t be seen when the river is running high—particularly in the spring or after a heavy downpour. If it’s your first time floating the river, go with a guide or contact a local outfitter. Eagles Nest Outfitters, located near Petersburg, offers shuttle services on the North Fork.
Good river access is available from River Road, just a few hundred yards south of the Cheat/Potomac Ranger Station. The area is popular with campers, but many fly fishers overlook it.
There is a defunct dam approximately 11/2 miles from Route 28/55. For safety’s sake avoid the area directly adjacent to the dam, and instead search the nearby shoreline, which offers long flats both above and below the old dam. You’ll find deeper water opposite where you parked. In this part of the river, a 10- to 14-inch rainbow is a good fish.
There is a private stretch of river at Harman’s North Fork Cottages in the town of Cabins. The river widens considerably through this scenic area as it winds through a ravine of high cliffs and thick forest.
Deep, boulder-strewn pools, riffles, and the occasional pocketwater stretch make for good dry-fly and nymph fishing throughout the season. The owner generously stocks the water with 16- to 20-inch rainbows for guests, a nice advantage if you need both accommodations and a quiet place to fish.
Streamer fishing is also effective in the consistently deep water through this stretch—several pools are up to 40 feet wide, 200 feet long, and water clarity is good depending on the season. By contrast, fishing drys can be tough: A poorly presented fly puts these wary fish down.
Upstream is Seneca Rocks, West Virginia’s rock-climbing capital. There is a mile of public catch-and-release water here on national forest land, which sees some pressure from both fly anglers and tourists hiking along its easily accessible riverbanks. Bring along extra flies for the hungry canopy of trees.
By late June the water often gets low. In the heat of summer, seek out deeper pools, and avoid fishing altogether when water temperatures meet or exceed 70 degrees F.
Seneca Creek joins the North Fork near the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center. This visitor center is operated by the Monongahela National Forest, and has an exhibit of Native American artifacts, maps of hikes in the nearby Dolly Sods wilderness, restrooms, and friendly rangers who can point you in the direction of local campsites, not to mention other fishing opportunities in the small streams of the national forest.
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