By: Chris Shaffer
Having driven 20 minutes on a curvy, not so well traveled road and another 30 minutes on a dirt road through the hills of West Virginia we were surprised to see dozens of cars parked alongside the West Fork of the Greenbrier River. In fact, it was so crowded we struggled to find a parking spot last Friday when we expected to find our own hole to film Pautzke Outdoors.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, every car parked this deep in the woods was here to trout fish. Over roughly a mile of stocked water there wasn’t a hole or long, slow run that wasn’t infested with anglers. Some of the 50-yard long runs we drove past had 20 or more anglers in them. The crowds were thick. Anglers casting mostly bait infiltrated the shoreline. It was so busy we considered leaving without making a cast.
On the other hand, we knew the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources had stocked a large number of brook trout in the stream and after spending three days catching dozens of rainbows in the greater Elkins area we were eager to film another species. This time of year every stocked river, pond, lake and stream is packed.
Unfortunately, we were late to the party. We didn’t start fishing until 9am. By that time these trout had been harassed by hundreds of anglers. We watched people cast dough bait, salmon eggs and tons of Trout Magnets and try to annoy every brook in the stream. Some had success, but all complained the bite expired a few hours ago when the early morning action yielded six-fish limits for anglers who corralled off the best spots.
Several factors were working against us. It was spring break, Easter weekend and word had circulated that large trout plants were in the works for the holiday weekend. The WVDNR knew that this remote, primitive campground was going to get mobbed and did their part by bringing a massive number of brook trout. The plants came Thursday and by the time we fished three-quarters of the trout were already gone; either off in a cooler or on a grill. The fish that were left had lockjaw, the anglers that lined the holes told us.
Many of the 25 anglers that were fishing the 75-yard long hole we walked up to told us to make as many casts as we wanted. They said the fish weren’t biting anymore. There were four of us (I was filming and didn’t make a single cast) and we couldn’t wait to step in with the gang and catch fish.
I pulled the camera out and within 15 minutes we’d caught and released a half dozen trout. By the end of the first hour the number grew to a dozen and by the time we stopped fishing two hours later more than two dozen brook trout (and one odd rainbow) had eaten our Pautzke salmon eggs. Every hookup is cataloged on film and will be seen on a future edition of Pautzke Outdoors.
The West Fork isn’t a place for trophy fish. Unlike many of the larger systems in the greater Elkins area trophy trout aren’t available. Meanwhile 10-12 inch brook trout are standard and six-fish limits are the norm for anglers with good bait. It’s stocked weekly from March through May, which is important. Oftentimes, many trout are caught before the weekend arrives. Fortunately, they are replenished weekly.
For those who haven’t been the West Fork isn’t your typical rock bottom, crystal clear, high volume West Virginia system. Instead you’ll find a slow, meandering river with a softer bottom, lots of overhanging banks and long, shallow, slow moving pools. They are ideal for brookies. The system also boasts excellent roadside access.
Our success came solely on eggs. We started with Natural Deluxe and after the trout become conditioned to them we switched to Pink Shrimp and Chartreuse Garlic, only to finish up with Gold Label. The trick was constantly changing colors. After we caught a few trout one a certain color we had to switch or the bite expired. We used four-pound test line and small hooks, all the way down to size 16s.
Editor’s Note: The West Fork of the Greenbrier River is stocked weekly through May. The day it’s stocked varies. For more information please visit the WVDNR’s daily stocking report http://www.wvdnr.gov/Fishing/stocking/DailyStock.shtm. Anglers may keep six brook trout, per person, per day. Pautzke’s new salmon eggs are available in all West Virginia Walmart stores, Field & Stream in Washington (PA), Cabelas in Wheeling (WV) and Bass Pro in Harrisburg (PA).