CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The cool, rainy summer of 2013 appears to have been a good one for West Virginia's muskellunge fishermen in general, and Bud Whitlow in particular.
Whitlow, a retired schoolteacher from Charmco, caught nine muskies in July, a time of the year when muskie fishing usually becomes difficult.
"My buddies and I have been doing pretty well," Whitlow said. "We've been fishing mainly in rivers - the New, the Elk, the Meadow, the Greenbrier, and the James over in Virginia."
Whitlow said he couldn't remember ever having a July as productive as the one he just had.
"This was pretty special," he added. "It's not common to have a month like that. I caught nine and lost twice that many. My friend C.J. Broadwater caught four or five, and my friend George Bumgarner caught a couple."
Five of Whitlow's nine muskies measured more than 40 inches, including a 46-incher and a 461/2-incher.
Whitlow credited the summer's frequent rains for keeping river levels up and making access to his favorite fishing spots easier. "On the littler rivers, [the high flows] keep you from having to drag the boat through the shallows. We can get to places we ordinarily would not be able to go during the summer."
Jeff Hansbarger, a Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist and muskie researcher, said boat access wasn't the only reason Whitlow and his friends enjoyed such success.
"Summer is usually a trying time for muskies," Hansbarger explained. "They're what we call 'cool-water' fish. Their optimum temperature range for growing and feeding is from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
"In a low-flow year, July [water] temperatures would be getting up into that high end of the range, and muskies wouldn't be feeding as much. They'd hole up during the day and would feed mainly at dusk and at first light.