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Hughes Holds Big Fish

By Scott Morrison

WVDNR PhotoThe Hughes River and its tributaries course through Doddridge , Ritchie and Wirt counties in west central West Virginia.   The Hughes River enters the Little Kanawha River near Newark and is the largest tributary of the Little Kanawha .   The Hughes River itself is only 14 miles long, making it one of the shortest rivers in the Mountain State.   Its major tributaries are much longer.   The North Fork Hughes River is 55 miles in length and South Fork Hughes River stretches for more than 56 miles.   

The major rivers in the Hughes River system contain a variety of warmwater game fishes, highlighted by musky , channel catfish and flathead catfish.   These rivers supply some of the best musky fishing in the state.   Muskies longer than 40 inches can be found in each river.   According to musky catch reports, the longest musky caught from Hughes River was 43.5 inches, the longest from North Fork Hughes River was 43 inches, and a 45-incher has been recorded from South Fork Hughes River.   Musky can also be found in Middle Fork Hughes River, and within the lower sections of major tributaries of these rivers.   Muskies living in these smaller streams will generally not be as large.    The longest musky reported from Middle Fork Hughes River measured slightly more than 33 inches in length.

Muskies spawn when water temperatures reach about 55 degrees in the spring, which generally occurs early- to mid-April in the Hughes River system.   All species of fish are most active when the water temperature equals that in which they spawn.   Therefore, late March through early April, and again, sometime in the fall when the temperature dips below 60 degrees, are excellent times to fish for muskies .   Musky anglers use large lures, jointed crank baits and jerk baits fished along the stream bank.   During the spring, riffle areas are popular fishing sites.   I have seen large muskies right next to the shoreline in the very shallow waters of a riffle during April.    Mouths of major tributaries are also hot spots during the spring.    Anglers without boats can do well during the spring by driving along these rivers and fishing riffle areas and the mouths of tributaries.   Muskies encountered in these areas will be aggressive fish, and therefore easier to catch!  

During other times of the year, anglers will have greater chances for success if they have access to a small boat with an electric motor.   Boat anglers should also key in on riffle areas and tributary mouths.   Areas with good cover along the shoreline, however, should not be overlooked.   Anglers with boats should check the DNR's online access guide at   for launching sites and float trip opportunities. Click on Public Fishing Areas under the Fishing heading.

Fishing for catfish is also popular along the Hughes River and its tributaries.   The larger portions of each river will hold bigger catfish, and large deep pools fished during evening and night hours generally produce the best results.   Catfish spawn in late spring to early summer.   Accordingly, mid-June to early-July is “prime time” for catching catfish.   Best baits for channel catfish include a variety of prepared concoctions, nightcrawlers and chicken liver.   Flathead catfish will take these also.   Larger flatheads eat injured fish, however, so live fish dangled along the river bottom work best.

Charles Mickel Lott caught the current state record freshwater drum by weight from South Fork Hughes River.   This drum, caught in 1989, weighed 27 pounds, and measured almost three feet in length!   Freshwater drum, also known as white perch, spawn from June through July, and can be found throughout the Hughes boat access at North Bend LakeRiver system.   Anglers commonly catch freshwater drum on small lures and the baits used for channel catfish.

Spotted bass and smallmouth bass also inhabit the Hughes River system.   Most of these rivers contain primarily spotted bass habitat. Smallmouth bass, however, can be found in the faster waters.   These bass spawn between mid-May and mid-June, and medium-sized lures work best.   Fly-fishing with floating poppers or large wet flies is also a popular fishing method for black bass on this river system.

Pan fish found within the Hughes River system include rock bass, bluegill, green sunfish, longear sunfish and hybrid sunfish.   Longear sunfish, locally known as “tobacco boxes” because of their beautiful coloration, and green sunfish do not generally attain a size large enough to attract many anglers but they can be fun to catch.   Pan fish can be caught on small crankbaits , spinners, flies or small live baits such as red worms.

During the spring, white bass run up Ohio River tributaries, and can provide exceptional fishing.   White bass run up the Little Kanawha River and can continue up the Hughes River for about two miles to an impassable old logging dam.   Fishing below this dam can be quite exciting in late March and early April.   White spinners are the lure of choice.  

During 2003, a 300-acre lake was completed on North Fork Hughes River near Harrisville .   The dam is located within North Bend State Park.   The DNR stocked largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and muskies into the lake during its first year.   A boat ramp and camping facilities are available within the state park.   A catch-and-release regulation for largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass has been established.   This regulation has extended the period of excellent bass fishing on several other new lakes in West Virginia, and the regulation is expected to do the same on this impoundment.   

The Hughes River and its tributaries, considered by many to be underfished , offer warmwater anglers a variety of alternatives.   From rock bass to muskies , huge fishing opportunities await anglers willing to challenge the waters of the Hughes.   

Scott Morrison is the District Fisheries Biologist stationed in Parkersburg.