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Beautiful and bountiful

John McCoy
Scenic beauty is only one of the features that attract fishermen to the New River's Sandstone Falls. The falls are also home to a vibrant mixed-bag fishery that includes most of the state's warm-water game fish species.

SANDSTONE - No, the Loch Ness Monster does not live in the pool downstream from West Virginia's Sandstone Falls.

Much to fishermen's benefit, though, just about everything else does. And while the fish that dwell there will never be mistaken for monsters, some of them get pretty darned big. Not surprisingly, the falls have become one of the New River's most popular fishing spots.

"I would say the word is out now," said Mark Scott, regional fisheries biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources. "Sandstone used to be pretty popular with local fishermen, but relatively unknown otherwise. Thanks to social media, it's not a secret anymore."

Photos of Sandstone's trophy muskellunge, walleye and smallmouth bass, posted on Facebook, chat rooms, anglers' forums and other Internet outlets, have spread the word. Fishermen from throughout the state are making the falls a must-go destination.

"During the summer, it's tough to find a place to fish sometimes on weekends," Scott said. "As recently as a few years ago, very few people tried to bring boats in there, but a lot of people are bringing them in now."

A state-maintained launch ramp, a couple of miles downstream from the falls at Meadow Creek, allows motorboat access to roughly a mile and a half of the New.

"You can't get all the way up into the falls pool because of shoals, and you can't go downstream [from the ramp] because of some rapids, but the stretch of river that is accessible is really good," Scott explained.

Most of the fishing done at the falls pool itself takes place from the riverbank, or from rocks in the river itself.

"When the water is real low, guys will use belly boats to paddle out, climb onto the rocks, and fish the pool from there," Scott said.

Anglers who make the trek to Sandstone find themselves in one of the state's most scenic spots. The New River, some 1,500 feet wide at that point, drops 10 to 25 feet off a sandstone ledge into a churning, frothing pool. The falls are the state's largest, and the National Park Service maintains an overlook, a boardwalk, a canoe and kayak launch area, a parking lot and restrooms for anglers' and sightseers' use.

The falls are best known for smallmouth, walleye and muskie fishing, but Scott said anglers should come prepared to catch most anything.

"It's a mixed bag," he said. "[The falls have] smallmouth bass, plus the occasional largemouth or spotted bass; rock bass; striped bass, hybrid striped bass and the occasional white bass; flathead and channel catfish; carp, walleye and muskie."

All those species grow fast in the falls' food-rich, oxygen-rich waters.

"It's big-fish water," Scott said. "The falls are a barrier to upstream movement, so fish tend to congregate there. There's lots of oxygen, and the water is rich with plankton and other nutrients from the Greenbrier River [which joins the New a few miles upstream] and from Bluestone Lake."

Knowing that big fish are there is one thing; catching them is another.

"Fish on the New River aren't stupid," Scott cautioned. "They see just about every bait and lure known to mankind. The big ones aren't easily fooled.

"I show fishermen pictures of the big fish we catch during [electrofishing] surveys at Sandstone. I tell them the fish were caught near the falls, and they think I'm lying. They can say what they want, but the fish are there."

Scott said that if he could choose only one bait or lure to use at the falls, it would be a 4- to 6-inch creek chub.

"If you fish with chubs, you can catch fish there," he said. "Bass, walleyes and muskies will all hit chubs. The next-best lure would probably be soft-shelled crawfish, especially for bass."

For anglers who prefer artificial lures, Scott recommends Zoom flukes, Senko worms, Wacky worms and buzzbaits.

Anglers who target Sandstone's walleyes should keep in mind that catch-and-release regulations are in effect for the section of river from the falls all the way downstream to Meadow Creek, and that a 20- to 30-inch slot limit is in effect for the rest of the river.

Under the slot limit, all walleyes between 20 and 30 inches in length must be released. Anglers are allowed to keep up to two fish, only one of which can be longer than 30 inches. An 18-inch minimum size limit is also in effect.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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