Fly Fishing Culture in West Virginia

When I was 12 years old, my family and I traveled to Montana and Wyoming to visit Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. It was my first time out west, and I remember being overtaken by the wonder of the landscape, but what stood out to me most about that trip was casting my first fly rod. After seeing fly fishing anglers everywhere we went, my dad stopped at a gas station and bought us fly rod kits, thus beginning my obsession with fly fishing culture. It has been difficult to find me without a fly rod in hand since that day.

Skipping ahead to 2014, my wife Kate and I are talking about opening a new outdoor store in Bridgeport, West Virginia. We had already seen the success of our 25,000-square-foot store in Horner, but, as we talked about our future, we knew we wanted to do something different. The idea of opening a dedicated fly shop in Bridgeport—which would be the area’s first—was daunting.

It was a big risk, jumping into the marketplace with products so unfamiliar to the area, but I kept telling myself that the culture was there. We just had to give it a try. Through our search for retail space in the area, we were contacted by Woody Thrasher of Thrasher Engineering to discuss his new White Oaks development in Bridgeport. Anxious to hear about this opportunity, we took the meeting and spoke about the retail space for maybe 20 minutes and spent the following two hours talking fly fishing because, as it turned out, everyone in the room was an avid fly fisherman. We left that meeting with new retail space and confirmation that we should give the fly shop a go.

What we love about the fly fishing culture is that it brings together so many different generations. There aren’t many sports where you can see a 19-year-old kid swapping stories from their latest adventure on their backyard waters with a retired gentleman who just returned from his saltwater fly fishing trip in the Florida Keys. We love the camaraderie of our customers in our shops. But still, some of the most common questions we receive in our stores are about what to fish for or where to fish since our shop isn’t on a trout stream.

West Virginia offers a year-round fishery, 25,000 miles of rivers and streams which can sustain trout, and some 500 miles of wild trout streams. Anglers in West Virginia will find the state offers some of the most rugged environments in the east, but perhaps the most beautiful trout streams in the country.

Some of the biggest misconceptions about the sport of fly fishing is that you can only fish for trout. In the shop we are constantly informing our customers otherwise. Trout, bass, and musky are indeed considered the “big three” of West Virginia fly fishing. They are native to the state and are also supported by West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) stocking. And although trout dominates most all fly fishing crowds, anglers have an extensive list of other fish to pursue. From carp, catfish, and drum to bluegills, crappie, and walleye, there are plenty of willing adversaries for your next—or first—excursion.

First-rate smallmouth bass can also be found anywhere from famous waters like the New, Potomac, Greenbrier, and Shenandoah rivers to your local small stream. And musky fishing on a fly rod is an experience that absolutely cannot be overlooked. With over 40 streams and lakes offering the chance to catch a musky supplemented by the WVDNR hatchery program, catching a musky on a fly should be on every fly fisher’s bucket list. The Gold Rush is another unique experience in West Virginia—that is, fly fishing for a golden trout which was originally created in a West Virginian hatchery as a rainbow trout hybrid.

There are many true destination fisheries near McFly Outdoors locations and throughout the state. Fly fishing anglers from neighboring states flock to West Virginia for the mountain home trout fishing experience. The state offers as much accessible, fishable water as any state in the region including 16 areas managed as catch and release and six fly fishing-only destinations, all of which offer year-round fishing and the ability to easily escape the crowds and bustling workday life for fly fishing anglers of any skill level.

Most days on the water in West Virginia are spent chucking streamers for bass and musky. But when the water gets warm, there are some great opportunities to hone your bonefishing skills throwing small flies to “golden bones” on mud flats—or as most would call them, carp. “Carp on a fly rod?” they ask. Oh, the looks we get from time to time. But once we explain the allure of trying to catch a 5- to 12-pound fish on a 5 or 6 weight line just a short drive away from your home, they usually start to understand the hype.

And while West Virginia offers some terrific freshwater opportunities for fly fishermen, small freshwater streams aren’t the only waters fly fishermen can look to for an adventure. The only real limitation we fly anglers have is depth. Other than depth, we can fish most any water in the world, and even those boundaries are being pushed to new limits when you take a look at what is being done with offshore boats targeting pelagic species in 1,000-plus feet of water. We tell our customers, “if it swims and looks like a fish, we’re throwing a fly at it.”

But back to the point, you really don’t have to travel far to go fly fishing. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve been to some beautiful fly fishing destinations, but we strongly encourage you to take a look in your own backyard. In our hometown of Weston, for example, the West Fork River runs right through town and has a great musky and smallmouth population, while Stonewall Jackson Lake has great grassy mud flats hiding huge carp that makes for an awesome day with a fly rod.

One of our favorite things to do is explore small towns while discovering good fishing holes throughout the state. In many areas, you can jump right off the water for dinner at great restaurants. We encourage you to explore what West Virginia has to offer for fly fishing and, if you need any help along the way, McFly Outdoors offers a full-service fly shop with the area’s largest selection of fly fishing equipment, ready to get you going on your next adventure. So #GetOutThere and let us know how things are going along your journey!