There’s something special about catching wild, river-bred fish, especially when they’re ones native to the watershed being fished. In western Pennsylvania we’re fortunate to have quality smallmouth bass fishing within the Allegheny River, as well as many of the larger tributary waters that feed it. A relatively short trip to the south, to West Virginia’s share of the New River, provides smallmouth bass fishing of a more wild manner. Early fall is often a great time to enjoy the action.
In contract to its name, geologists tell us the New River is actually a very old river. While the theologist might argue its origin, there’s no dispute that the New River’s smallmouth bass are often old and big.
Flowing from south to north, as the New River enters West Virginia from Virginia it gradually reflects the high gradient common in many of the state’s flowing waters. This is particularly true with the confines of the New River Gorge National River (part of the National Park Service), where over 50 miles of the river feature extensive whitewater sections. As the rafting industry developed within the park, recreationalists soon learned of the river’s smallmouth bass population, including lunker smallies that exceed 4 pounds in weight.
Due to the obvious hazards involved in floating the New River, particularly within the gorge, the activity should only be attempted by experienced rafters. Otherwise, anglers should employ the services of a professional outfitter that specializes in rafting and smallmouth bass fishing.
According to Larry Nibert, who operates the West Virginia Experience outfitting service (www.wvexperience.com ), much of the reason New River smallmouth bass grow big is the relatively fertile substrate the river flows through. The water reflects this productivity, which translates into a healthy fishery that supports food fish and gamefish. In addition to smallmouth bass, the New River also harbors an excellent catfish fishery (both channel cats and flatheads) and an up-and-coming walleye population.
Public river access points within New River Gorge National River are at the Tug Creek Beach, Brooks Falls, Hellems Beach, and Sandstone Falls via River Road at Hinton; Meadow Creek; McCreery, Grandview Sandbar, Mill Creek, and Glade Creek off Highway 41 near Prince; Dunglen and Stone Cliff near Thurmond; Cunard; and Fayette Station.
Early-fall smallmouth bass tend to be eager biters, willing to chase down a moving bait. One of the most productive and versatile is the Zoom Super Fluke, or one of the many similarly-profiled baits like the Yum Houdini Shad and Case Sinkin’ Salty Shad.
Fluke-style baits, which fall into the soft jerkbait category, can be fished in a variety of ways. For summertime fishing, rigging it weightless is preferred. The use of a 3/0 or 4/0 extra-wide gap hook is the commonly used for weedless rigged, especially if cover is an issue. For river fishing, though, it’s often best to simply nose-hook it with a No. 2 octopus style hook. Use a non-stretch line like Power Pro.
A fluke excels when twitched just under the surface. Aim casts to quiet pocket water just off the main flow. When bass aren’t as willing to chase down the fluke, allow it to drift in a “deadstick” mode. Dead-sticking becomes even more productive as the water cools in the fall.
If smallies are unwilling to rise up to take a moving bait, slow things down with a bottom bait like a tube jig, bucktail jig or twister-tail grub. If the area is particularly snagging, I like to rig a tube body Texas-style, with a 3/0 extra-wide gap hook and a bullet-shaped slip sinker.