"The bass fishery in particular has improved," he said. "The big difference there is the amount of aquatic vegetation. There used to be almost none, and now we have hydrilla, milfoil and water willow growing from one end of the river to the other.
"All that vegetation provides nursery habitat. Once young bass get to a certain size, they don't need cover. But to live long enough to grow to that size, they need places to hide. The river has more vegetation now, and bass are spawning more successfully than ever before."
Starks credits all that aquatic weed growth to a cleaner, healthier watershed.
"Part of it is better [land-use] practices upstream," he explained. "There's less erosion, less silt in the river, and we're not getting chronic floods like we used to. If you get floods at the wrong time of the year, it kills vegetation.
"Also the river isn't as polluted as it once was. Communities are cleaning up their sewer systems, and companies are cleaning up their industrial waste. We're definitely headed in the right direction."
As remarkable as Starks' big catch was, he said it didn't exactly catch him by surprise.
"I've been catching bigger fish," he said. "The average size [of Kanawha River bass] has gone up. It's unusual to catch that many big ones out of one area, but it's not something that can't be duplicated.
"I have to admit, though - that 6-pounder shook me up a little. That's a giant smallmouth, no matter [where] you're fishing."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.