My son, Chris, and I headed out to West Virginia to do a full fishing recon of the South Branch of the Potomac. This river is better known during trout season for the large numbers of fish West Virginia stocks but it is also good for smallies. In particular, the Smokehole section of the South Branch is a hot fishing destination. But, this was the middle of summer and the trout were long gone as we twisted down the winding road to the river.
After driving by Smokehole, we climbed a steep hill where the road wound next to some scary cliffs to pull off in the first parking spot where the river is accessible.
A quick comment on the general character of the river is appropriate here. The South Branch is totally accessible right from your vehicle. The road parallels the river for miles and miles and there are plenty of turnoffs where you can park in jump right into the river. Pressure is mitigated by the length and breadth of the river; so that is a lesser concern for those who prefer to walk a bit to get away from any perception or actual pressure on the fish.
At the first turn off, it looks pretty good. The bottom was a mix of sand and boulders with gravel beds in the steeper area where the water had scoured it clean. At this point in the summer, the river was generally waist deep and was running crystal clear. Chris moved upstream fishing small crankbaits and plastic grubs while I took my fly gear and worked downstream towards a gradient break.
Other than the boulders spread randomly, there’s a minimum amount of structure in this area. There are some trees at river right that form shaded pockets and a few logs toppled into the river, but beyond that, nothing interesting. I picked up plenty of sunfish floating grasshopper patterns in the calm water and downstream were there was fast water.
As I fished downstream to the first gradient break, I was excited to see that the river compressed into a tight channel with a mix of boulders and gravel ideal for trout. I fished down the section in the hope of finding a holdover trout or smallie but was not successful.
Chris had similar bad luck moving upstream and did not pick up anything with his spin rig.
Bottom Line: This looks like good water and I bet it is a marked location for the October trout stocking truck but either the smallmouth were not present or not interested in what we had to offer. As it turns out, there are better places downstream as I will discuss in subsequent posts.
Getting There: Mapquest yourself to Franklin, WV and follow US 220 north or to Petersburg and head south. Turn onto Smoke Hole where 220 breaks away from the river. Smoke Hole road follows the South Branch.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.867563,-79.273331
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in on the WV Stocking website.
Date Fished: 08/01/2009
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View of the river bottom here
Tight channel downstream
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore