By: Chris Shaffer
The greater Elkins area is surrounded by some of the best trout streams in the eastern US. While there’s an endless amount of options when we return to West Virginia trout fishing the Elk River remains high on our list. Remote, pristine and heavily stocked, the Elk is a must fish for any angler who enjoys trout fishing. The river has large pools, small waterfalls, runs, tailouts and undercut banks and more important, lots of public access.
This was our first time back to the Elk since April of 2012. On that trip we caught dozens of rainbows with Gold Label, Orange Deluxe and Yellow Jacket salmon eggs. Meanwhile, the water was much lower that year. Yesterday we encountered higher water, stronger currents and plenty of anglers walking the banks even on a late Tuesday evening.
We only fished for a few hours late in the evening and managed 10 trout all caught at Whitaker Falls. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources stocked the river March 8 and 18th and is expected to plant again this week (either today, Thursday or Friday). Meanwhile, heavy pressure in recent weeks has the more popular spots fished out. Fortunately, more trout will be here shortly.
The Elk River is stocked with 22,000 pounds of trout from the end of the catch and release section to Webster Springs. That equates to more than 40,000 trout annually over roughly 15 miles of water. Of these fish roughly 90 percent are rainbows and 10 percent golden rainbows. There are brook and brown trout, too, but they are even less numerous. We caught one brook, a golden rainbow and the rest rainbows, all of which were 10-14 inches.
As much pressure as the system has seen lately and watching a dozen other anglers not get bit at Whitaker Falls we were happy with the 10 trout in such a short period of time. While other anglers drifted minnows, soaked Power Bait and casted spinners in the same hole we fished (sometimes two dozen people fish this hole at once) Pautzke salmon eggs exclusively.
The water remains clear, and even though it’s not as clear as it was a few years ago when we fished this hole, four-pound test remains necessary. In fact, one of us used two-pound. High fishing pressure and clear water demands the use of light line. We also downsized the hooks, using mostly size 12 to 18 single salmon egg hooks.
We caught fish on several types of Balls O Fire eggs, but none out-fished the new Natural Deluxe. Gold Label and Pink Shrimp were next in line. The clarity forced us to scale back the number of eggs we were fishing at a time, too. Rather than three eggs on a hook like we normally do we used only one this time. The smaller profile seemed to induce strikes.
Keep in mind the Elk River is planted weekly from now through May. The inventory of trout will increase weekly through May. Expect large crowds on weekends. However, anglers willing to walk downriver of obvious roadside stocking points can find plenty of trout that aren’t seeing as much pressure. Almost every hole on the river is holding trout.
Editor’s Note: The Elk River is roughly an hour drive from Elkins. When passing through Elkins, Team Pautzke recommends eating at Vintage and ordering the High On the Hog pizza. It’s fine dining in Elkins with Applebees type pricing. And, yes, you can wear your fishing attire.