The transformation was under way in 1980. That was the year I started writing a newspaper column, and I remember doing a piece about the Kanawha's budding comeback. By 1990, the river's fishery had pretty much been restored.
Division of Natural Resources officials helped the process along by stocking species that otherwise wouldn't have established or reestablished themselves.
Hybrid striped bass, for instance, are genetic "mules" created by crossing white bass with striped bass, and they can't reproduce on their own. DNR stockings have kept hybrid populations thriving since the late 1970s.
Same goes for shovelnose sturgeon and paddlefish. If DNR officials hadn't horse-traded with other states, those species might never have been reestablished in the Kanawha.
Anglers can most easily sample the river's largesse at the Winfield and Marmet dams, where special fishing piers allow point-blank casting access to the dams' churning outflows.
Turbulent water carries loads of oxygen. Oxygen attracts fish of all types, from the smallest minnows to the largest flathead catfish. Toss a baited rig into the maelstrom and it's hard to tell what might latch on. It might be a 14-inch sauger. It might be a 14-pound hybrid.
I visit the locks' fishing piers from time to time, taking photos and talking to fishermen. It never ceases to amaze me how many anglers say they're "fishing for whatever will bite."
As someone who almost always targets a chosen species, that's almost a foreign concept.
For Kanawha River anglers, it's the norm.
From Kanawha Falls to the Marmet Locks to the Winfield Locks and on downstream to the river's confluence with the Ohio, variety truly is an angler's spice of life.