Virginia is for lovers, but wild and wonderful West Virginia is for people who love to fish.
The best fishing streams in the state are found in Pocahontas County, the birthplace of eight rivers. The Greenbrier, Elk, Gauley, Cherry, Cranberry, Tygart, Williams and Shavers Fork of the Cheat all find their source here.ﾠ Rainbow, brook and brown trout, smallmouth bass and a few catfish call these waters home. Elusive native brooks inhabit miles of coldwater tributaries and secret fishing holes have yet to be discovered.
Before the snow from an atrocious winter had melted, anglers converged on creeks around the county to ply the icy waters. Every one of them said they got more out of the sport than just fish in the skillet. Indeed, the attraction seems to go much further than just "hunting fish."
Dave Pennington, of Charleston, was fishing from a rock in Knapps Creek - ice still covering rocks in shady parts of the stream.
"I fish to relax," he said. "It takes my mind off of everything else."
Pennington fishes Pocahontas County about 20 times a year. An unfortunate accident helps him remember what year he started fishing here.
I've been coming up here since 1955, when I got shot in Green Bank rabbit hunting," he said. "That's how long I've been up here fishing."
Up the creek about 50 yards from Pennington's perch, Owen Higgins, a semi-retired businessman from Charleston, was reeling a lure through the water.
"It's total relaxation," he said. "All your pains go away. It may be a very primitive enjoyment but it has me hooked and has had since the time I was a toddler."
Higgins was having better luck than his buddy Dave.
"First cast - I pulled in a nice trout," he said. "That keeps me going."
Higgins enjoyed fishing in Pocahontas County so much, he bought a second home in Green Bank.
"I've been traveling up here more than 40 years," he said. "Having purchased a place in Green Bank, it's within about 20 minutes of the best fishing in the State of West Virginia. It's kind of a hangout for our gang - there's probably a dozen of us who have run together over the years and I needed to get a place so we could all hang out."
This is typical gang-related activity for Pocahontas County.
Over the bank near the Minnehaha Springs bridge, B.J. "Doc" Huffman, of May Chapel, was packing up his tackle after a successful morning's outing. The retired dentist flashed a big smile and showed off his catch of six trout - the daily limit.
Huffman practiced in Big Chimney for 40 years but retired to a camp in May Chapel. The retiree said he fishes in Pocahontas County "almost every day."
"It's the exercise and all of it," he said. "It's just a great sport. I generally catch a mess of fish, filet them and give them to my neighbors. I eat about two messes a year but I just love to fish."
How fishing creates so much pleasure is mysterious, but the numbers are real. Fishing.com says more than 34 million people in the U.S. go angling every year, spending an average of 16 days with a line in the water.
Not only is Pocahontas County a great place to fish, it's a great place to learn to fish or take up the sport you loved as a kid.
Appalachian Sport, in Marlinton, offers a very nice selection of fishing gear at good prices. You can get a nice rod and reel with some lures for under $50, making fishing a truly affordable sport.
The staff at Appalachian Sport, including owner Chuck Workman and Johnathan Bennett, are expert fishermen and will give you friendly advice on what you need to get started. They might not tell you their favorite spots for native brookies, but you're sure to have good luck just about anywhere in Pocahontas County.
Fly fishing is an advanced angling technique dating back to the days of the Roman Republic. Standing far away, a good fly fisherman can drop an artificial fly on top of the water in a target area and make fish think it's a real bug.
Fly fishermen use different casting techniques and a variety of flies, which are often homemade to replicate insects in a particular fishing area. Fly tying is an art unto itself.
For those interested in the challenge and mystique of fly fishing, the county has a great place to learn or refresh your skills.
Elk River Touring Center in Slaty Fork offers lessons for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced training in fly fishing. The center offers weekend and week-long packages, which include lodging at a riverside inn and home-cooked meals at the inn's restaurant.
If you don't have a fly rod, you can buy or rent one at the center's outfitter shop.
A weekend package includes equipment training; casting techniques; reading the water; current and fish approach options; sight casting; wading techniques; identification of basic stream and river insects and, of course, fly fishing on some of Pocahontas County's most beautiful and bountiful streams. For more information, see www.ertc.com.
Near the headwaters of the Williams River, at nearly 3,200 feet in elevation, Handley Wildlife Management Area sits in one of the most beautiful areas of Pocahontas County. The area offers bass, bluegill, catfish and trout fishing at the area's five-acre lake.
Operated by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Handley provides a wonderful opportunity for handicapped fishermen. The lake has a wheelchair-accessible pier and during the months March through May, fishing is allowed only for the handicapped and children under 10 years of age.
Don't forget to get your West Virginia fishing license before angling in West Virginia. It's only $34 for the license, conservation stamp and trout stamp, and that money goes toward stream conservation and game law enforcement. Also, be aware of special area restrictions, such as catch-and-release only areas. West Virginia fishing regulations can be found at http://www.wvdnr.gov/fishing/Fishing_regs.shtm.
As I was researching this story, I realized it's been years since I went fishing. I'm not sure what happened to my old fishing pole - it must have been lost or lent out and forgotten. While I was visiting Appalachian Sport, I got a new rod and reel and picked up some lures I thought trout might find appealing.
Please leave a message if I'm not at my desk. I think you know where I'll be.ﾠ