On The Fly Freshwater
West Virginia’s Lower Cranberry River
Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs
The Cranberry River is a storied trout fishing destination in West Virginia and for years was a great option for wild trout. Unfortunately, acid rain interfered with that, but the river now has made a recovery, thanks to the application of limestone to the water to counter act the acid. Indeed, the Cranberry reportedly now holds more trout per acre than any other stream in the Mountain State.
Long casts are needed during low water on the Cranberry. Photo by Polly Dean.
When you talk about the Cranberry, however, you need to get a bit more specific. This 41-mile stretch of freestone water offers several specific fisheries. Each has its own eccentricities. The upper portion consisting of the North Fork, which runs off the slopes of Black Mountain, is a place for chasing wild brook trout in a wilderness setting that offers no road access. Above the junction of the intersection of the two forks, the South Fork is a stocked stream under general trout regulations. For 4.81 miles downstream of that confluence, the main Cranberry is stocked, but open to catch-and-release fishing only.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs
Then, downstream of the mouth of the Dogway Fork (this stream is open to catch-and-release, fly fishing only), the main river is again under general regulations and receives stocking for the next 14.93 miles. At the end of that section and down to the end of trout water is the 1.25-mile Woodbine Cranberry that is open to catch-and-release, artificial lures only angling. This final stretch is the most easily fished. This portion of the stream stretches from the Forest Service’s Woodbine Picnic Ground, downstream to the mouth of Jakeman Run that enters from the southside of the river.
The Cranberry is a tributary of the Gualey River and located on the Cranberry Wildlife Management Area in Nicholas County. Additionally, the river flows through property of the National Forest Service in the Monongahela National Forest. Thus, the watershed is well protected and open to public fishing.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs
The annual stocking schedule for the entire Cranberry River includes one release of trout in January, two in February, then weekly plantings from March through May. Two additional stockings take place in October. In the catch-and-release sections, the stockings are on an as-needed basis and thus the times vary. The most recent stockings in the river took place on May 12.
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.
When the crew from On The Fly South ventured onto the river, we parked at the picnic grounds, walked across the large open field and targeted the waters both around and downstream of the facility. The stream we encountered was mostly of medium size, but with some bigger, deeper pools. For the most part it was 30 to 40 feet wide, with water that was crystal clear. Fortunately, the river bed is quite rocky, providing an open corridor with the flow going down the middle. This left plenty of room for back casts in most places. Expect of encounter rainbow and brown trout through here.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs
As for the insects that make up the forage base on the lower Cranberry, local anglers point to the diverse hatches, while also noting that none appear in large numbers. Early in the year midges, particularly red worm or light green varieties, are frequently seen. Those are followed in February by Blue-Winged Olives that increase in numbers through March and continue to appear to the end of May. Another hatch of these bugs can appear in September.
Also, in April and May little Black Caddis show up, followed by a Cinnamon Caddis in June. This latter variety continue to be important all the way to September. In the summer time the terrestrials are another important food source for trout on the Cranberry. A variety of ants, beetles and grasshoppers make up this forage.
The lower Cranberry River does have some wider, deeper pools. Photo by jimmy Jacobs
This month the Blue-Winged Olives, Little Black Caddis, small Brown Stoneflies and Blue Quills have been flies that are catching fish.
In early May of this year, stream levels were noted to be good: be aware that particularly in the late summer and early fall, the water can be so low and clear that fishing becomes very technical. At that time, long casts using long, light leaders are the ticket to success. You want to only have minimum amounts of the fly line landing on the water, and well away from fish you are targeting.
Nicholas County Public Road 76 provides easy access to the parking area at Woodbine Picnic Grounds. The West Virginia DNR offers a detailed, interactive map that provides more information on all the state’s trout streams.