West Virginia's Best Family Fishing Vacations
Our wild and wonderful state has plenty of getaways that are sure to please all members of your family, no matter what their outdoor interests.
By Bruce Ingram
SHENANDOAH RIVER SUNFISH
One of the favorite rivers for my wife, Elaine, and myself to float is the Shenandoah River in the Eastern Panhandle. This District II waterway, except for its lower reaches where it joins with the Potomac, is one of the most placid rivers of the East Coast. Last summer, my spouse and I had a most enjoyable float down the Shenandoah.
Although Elaine is what I would consider an ideal wife, her major flaw, to my way of thinking, is that she is an indifferent smallmouth bass angler - not understanding why these are the most superior fish that fin the Mountain State. My spouse would just as soon angle for redbreast sunfish and would rather catch a dozen of these 6-inch or so creatures than one keeper-sized smallie.
If you have a spouse like Elaine or if you have children who are more interested in catching numbers of panfish than big bronzebacks, then the main stem of the Shenandoah is an ideal family destination. Not to say that the bass fishing isn't super, it is, but the sunfish are abundant and easy to catch.
The main stem of this river offers many shaded outside bends where the redbreasts congregate in great numbers. Look for these panfish to lurk near downed trees, especially sycamores that have tumbled into the stream yet with their roots remaining attached on the shoreline. Another sunfish hangout is any riffle, specifically the midriver current breaks formed by rocks and various kinds of flotsam.
I prefer lures when angling for redbreasts, simply because artificials are less messy than live bait. You can use the same kinds of lures that you do for Shenandoah smallies; merely downsize them. For example, if you have been enjoying topwater action for smallmouths with 3-inch prop baits, try 2-inch models for the sunfish. A 3-inch grub works great for both bass and panfish, but a 2-inch version on a 1/8-ounce jighead is ideal for redbreasts.
Approximately 19 miles of the river flow through West Virginia, and three major float trips exist. These excursions are Castlemans Ferry to Avon Bend (seven miles), Avon Bend to Bloomery (eight miles), and Bloomery to Potomac Wayside (six miles). The first two miles of the Castlemans Ferry float are in Virginia, so West Virginians will either have to wait until they cross into West Virginia (near Parker Island) or buy an Old Dominion license if they want to fish this entire section.
The Bloomery float features very mild water for its first few miles, but major rapids exist for the last two-thirds of the trip. I strongly recommend that families not take the Bloomery trip. Probably the best float for families among the three trips is the Avon Bend to Bloomery one. This is the one Elaine and I navigated last summer.
If you and your family want to enjoy another fun activity besides fishing on your trip down the Shenandoah, consider bird watching. Some 25 years ago, I bought several bird field guides, some audiotapes and a pair of binoculars, and during the ensuing years I have spent very little additional money on bird watching. This is an inexpensive pastime that families can enjoy together in the outdoors.
For instance, on our trip, Elaine and I heard or saw some two-dozen species of birds. Among some of the more common Shenandoah birds are great blue herons, belted kingfishers, broad-wing hawks, ospreys, orchard orioles and wood thrushes. We even saw a bald eagle on our Avon Bend junket, a raptor that is becoming more common on the Shenandoah and other Mountain State rivers.
For more information on planning a trip to the Shenandoah, contact River Riders 800 326 7238.
West Virginia Game and Fish
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