The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


September 22, 2013

The joy of fishing the New River

There’s no doubt that the mighty New River is one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the country and it only takes one time fishing it to see why. However, it’s fished a little different this year due to all of the rain and high water we experienced this summer. With a break from the wet weather and the river dropping, I contacted my good buddy Sammy Pugh, owner of New River Trophy Outfitters, to plan a float trip for the weekend.

According to Sammy they’ve been catching some big fish when they’ve been able to float. “I’ve had to cancel and reschedule a lot of trips this year due to high, muddy water, but when we’ve been able to hit it we’ve been catching some really nice fish,” he said. He went on to say that they’ve caught several 21-inchers this year. Joining us was my buddy Dave Sales, who’s been trying hard this year to catch a musky.

I told Sammy that Dave had been trying to catch a musky, and he told me to have him bring his musky rod as he knew a few good spots on the river. Besides big smallmouth and the occasional musky, Sammy and his clients have also been catching some nice walleye in the upper 20- to lower 30-inch range. That’s what’s so great about the New River is that it’s not only a world class smallmouth fishery, but there’s some big walleye and musky lurking in the depths of that river as well.

I decided to bring my fly rod and throw poppers from the front of the boat while Dave played cleanup in the back. It took a little while to get used to the huge “ker-ploosh” the giant musky baits would make as they hit the water as I’m not used to that. In between the good musky holes, Dave threw a variety of baits and caught enough smallmouths to keep him busy.

I struggled at first getting the hook set to connect as I missed several before finally hooking up. I had to downsize my popper and then I started bringing fish to the boat. One of the bigger fish I caught actually stole the popper from a smaller one.

As my popper was drifting along I saw a dark shadow come up and start following it. About the same time a smaller fish darted in and inhaled my popper. It took it under but I didn’t set the hook. The smaller fish spit the popper out and then the bigger one took it. I set the hook that time and the fight was on.

Later on, I had a real nice smallie in the 18-20 inch range come after a little 6-inch fish as I was reeling it. I’ll admit I was hoping he would eat it, but he didn’t. Dave finally had a musky follow only to disappear under the boat in a silvery flash.

The sun was high in the sky by then and it was time for lunch. We watched an immature bald eagle cruise the river looking for a meal while we enjoyed ours. We saw an osprey later on doing the same. After lunch, some clouds rolled in, which helped.

The damselflies were becoming more numerous and the smallmouths were jumping out of the water after them. The action picked up on the popper for me as a result. While drifting along, Sammy told Dave to throw to a down log in the river as it was a good musky spot.

Sure enough, here came a musky after Dave’s bait, but like the other one, it didn’t take. As we neared the take out Dave continued to throw huge musky baits when all of a sudden he got a nice surprise.  As he was ripping in the 12-inch-long lure a dark shadow appeared and nailed it.     

We all got excited as we thought Dave had accomplished his mission when all of a sudden Sammy says, “That’s not a musky, that’s a big smallmouth.” Sammy got the net as Dave brought the big fish in. With the heavy tackle and 80-pound test line on his musky setup, it didn’t take long for Sammy to slide the net under it.

Dave was happy and a little disappointed at the same time as he thought for sure it was his first musky. Oh well. The big bronzeback taped right at 20 inches and weighed around 3 to 4 pounds. It was the biggest smallmouth bass I had ever seen. After several pictures, Dave released the bruin to be caught again. Big fish eat big bait.

Around the bend was the takeout, and we ended the trip with the big fish of the day. If you want to see what a 20-inch smallmouth bass looks like, or the chance to catch a big walleye or musky, give my buddy Sammy a shout. I always enjoy floating with him and can’t wait to do it again. I bet Dave says the same.

Sammy can be contacted at

Text Only
  • Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: Step 4 — the setup

    This just in — in a recent study on turkey hunting and turkey hunters it was found that 98.7 percent of the time when hunters were unsuccessful when calling in a gobbler, the hunter made some mistake during the last 50 yards of the bird’s approach.

    April 17, 2014

  • 041314 Ellis.jpg Spring break is an attitude

    Finally, warmer weather has arrived to the Mountain State. I’m told, it’s socially acceptable to be late nowadays and there is even a term for it — being fashionably late. Of course, I have also been told that camo is the new black in fashion. I don’t care much for tardiness, or for fashion for that matter, but I am perfectly content with the weather forecaster’s report as of late. And if wearing camouflage is trendy, I will fit in just nicely at any social gathering.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Coming soon to a garden near you: Hummingbirds!

    One of the things I look forward to each spring is the northbound migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Until 1997, that meant waiting until one showed up at my feeders. But that year a website (, began mapping hummers as they moved north.

    April 13, 2014

  • Morel mushrooms are a W.Va. delicacy, but be careful

    The morel mushroom is one of West Virginia’s best-known delicacies that grows wild in the woods statewide. Mushroom hunting is a wonderful way to get exercise and be in the outdoors at the same time. There is no expense involved, and a bag is all that is needed.

    April 13, 2014

  • 041014 Turkey Call Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: the mystical world of calling

    Do you think that calling wild turkeys into shotgun range is some sort of art form that can never be yours?

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fishing is a good way to introduce kids to the outdoors

    Few experiences are more rewarding than introducing a child to the outdoors. I remember teaching my daughters at the age of 3 to recognize the voice of a barred owl — “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all!” They were amazed they could identify a bird without seeing it.

    April 6, 2014

  • ‘A river runs through it’

    He was a natural at reading water. Whether in a kayak, a whitewater raft or a fishing boat, he simply saw water differently than most. He was good, no doubt about it. When I was learning to row a raft down whitewater, I asked him for his guidance. He would sit in the back of the raft coaching me on waters and their currents. With his help, I too began to see the waters differently and read the river.

    April 6, 2014

  • 040314 turkey feather Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: Step two — scouting

    So you want more hero pictures this year crouched behind a big gobbler fanning his tail out? Either that or the ever popular gripping him around the neck and straining to hold up his 20 plus pounds?

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • 033014 Ellis.jpg Sportsmen’s tax dollars prove very beneficial

    If you enjoy wildlife recreation and conservation, you may want to find the nearest sportsman in your neighborhood and shake their hand. Ultimately, it’s their spending of dollars on the equipment to fuel the passion of the lifestyle they cherish that brings in millions of dollars to our state for wildlife.

    March 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • You may know more bird songs than you think

    Early migrants began returning several weeks ago. Turkey vultures, killdeer, and phoebes were probably as befuddled by the late winter weather as we were. But by early April, we should be safe from any more extended cold snaps. And that means the parade of returning migratory birds will accelerate every week.

    March 30, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
AP Video
Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Raw: Pope Francis Performs Pre-easter Ritual Raw: Bulgarian Monastery Dyes 5000 Easter Eggs Diplomats Reach Deal to Ease Tensions in Ukraine U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military Holder: Americans Stand With KC Mourners Obama Greets Wounded Warriors Malaysia Plane: Ocean Floor Images 'Very Clear' Sparks Fly With Derulo and Jordin on New Album Franco Leads Star-studded Broadway Cast Raw: Two Lucky Kids Get Ride in Popemobile Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing