Deserted country roads, crystalline creeks and rivers are just a few of the delights to be found in Webster County, W.Va.
With her abundance of open spaces and numerous streams, whether you are seeking bass, native or rainbow trout, the area has a fishing spot just for you.
Birch, Cranberry, Williams, Gauley, Elk, Backfork of Elk, Holly and Little Kanawha are rivers that pass through the county. Then there are Big Ditch and Camp Caesar lakes — and numerous small streams (some named and some known only to the locals).
Aptly called “the Mountain Park,” Webster County is at the heart of West Virginia’s mountains. You do not find four lanes and heavy traffic here. Two-lane hardtop, gravel, and dirt roads are the routes that lead to some of the best fishing in the state.
Mountains Isolate Region
Webster County’s steep mountains have served to isolate the region, prevent development, and in the process preserve some of the most pristine natural beauty to be found in the Eastern United States.
Near the geographic center of West Virginia, the county is a four-season destination for the outdoor enthusiast with plenty of activities. Clean air, clean water, freedom from crowds — a place where the people live close to the land — are all characteristics of this paradise of nature.
Webster County’s steep mountains have served to isolate the region and in the process preserve some of the most pristine natural beauty to be found in the Eastern United States.
Trees are far more numerous here than people. Covering nearly 20 percent of the county, Monongahela National Forest provides thousands of acres of woodland for exploration. In addition to the excellent fishing opportunities, there are many miles of hiking and mountain biking trails in the forest. Also within Monongahela National Forest is the Cranberry Wilderness. This congressionally designated wilderness features many hiking trails for foot traffic only.
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources lists the Elk and Little Kanawha Rivers as being among the state’s best smallmouth bass streams. The Cranberry, Williams, and Elk (upstream from Webster Springs) are listed as being the state’s best trout streams. What aren’t listed are the best native trout streams. That is because statistics aren’t kept of the small, tributary streams that are home to the native trout.
Mountains Produce Steep, Cold Streams
The region’s high mountains produce steep, cold streams rushing down the mountainsides — favored locations for native or brook trout, often referred to as “brookies.”
Serious area anglers have their favorite brookie streams staked out — and they usually aren’t apt to reveal the location.
I am honor bound not to reveal the best brookie stream in the county, but I will tell you how to find your own. Check out the small tributary streams flowing into the area rivers. Don’t give a great deal of consideration to the stream’s size — some of the smaller streams are less likely to be trampled by others, therefore presenting the best opportunity for you.
Follow the stream upstream for a ways, looking for deep pools. If you don’t find any, try another stream. Keep in mind, this is a scouting trip. Once you see the deep pools, the brookies have seen you and they probably will not bite. Once you find a stream with several deep pools, you have your location. Remember where the pools are.
Another day, after you know your stream — it is time to fish. Approach the pools from downstream, and remain out of sight as you cast into the pool. Follow this method as you make your way upstream working each pool as you go. Do the reverse as you fish your way back downstream.
Serious trout fishermen are often fly fishermen. The Dogway Fork of the Cranberry River is a good place to try your luck. The stream is designated “fly fishing only” by the DNR. Only conventional fly fishing tackle may be used and all fish caught must be immediately released back into the stream.
All tributaries of Dogway Fork also fall under these regulations. Starting two miles above Webster Springs and extending four miles upstream from that point, the Backfork of Elk is also a “catch and release” stream.
The Cranberry River, from the junction of its North and South branches downstream just over four miles to the low-water bridge at Dogway Fork, is another “catch and release” stream. Catch and Release streams may be fished only during daylight hours. Only artificial flies and lures made of metal, wood, hair, feathers, or synthetic materials may be used.
The Dogway Fork of the Cranberry River is a good place to try your luck. The stream is designated “fly fishing only” by the DNR. Only conventional fly fishing tackle may be used.
Easy Lake Access
Not into the strenuous mountain climbing skills required to get the native trout? Big Ditch Lake in Cowen may be just what you need. Part of the 365-acre Big Ditch Lake Wildlife Management Area, the 65-acre lake has a level, two-mile-long trail that circles it. Popular with local fitness enthusiasts, the trail provides easy access to any point on the lake. Picnic tables under a grove of stately sugar maples invite visitors to enjoy the shade and a lunch break. No gasoline-powered engines are allowed on the lake.
Holly River State Park, the state’s second largest at 8,292 acres, is an excellent choice for accommodations, with 10 cabins available for rent along with 88 campsites with electrical hook-up. The park has 35 miles of hiking trails, several fishing streams, and some very photogenic waterfalls within its boundaries. There is an outdoor swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, as well as volleyball nets for those seeking diversions other than fishing.
After trying your luck on the Elk and Backfork of Elk around Webster Springs, it’s time to relax for awhile at Bakers Island Recreation Area, right in downtown Webster Springs. Enjoy a dip in the pool or make use of the island’s recreational facilities. The Elk River splits just above and comes together again just below, forming the island.
Making The Trip
From Interstate-79 take the Summersville/Beckley US 19 Exit (Exit 57). Follow US 19 south to Birch River. Turn left at Birch River on Route 82. Follow Route 82 the 16-mile length until it intersects State Route 20 just past Big Ditch Lake outside Cowen. Take Route 20 north. Be sure to bring sturdy hiking shoes and comfortable clothing. Dress in layers because the weather frequently goes from cool mornings to very warm afternoons.
For more information, contact:
Camp Caesar has camping facilities and cabins for rent.
Kirk’s Outdoor Options
Rt. 20, PO Box 88
Cowen, WV 26206
Kirk’s is the place to rent a kayak, canoe, mountain bike, or fishing gear. It is also the place to buy your hunting and fishing licenses.
Holly River State Park