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

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