The story about fishing on the Coal Rivers started back when the Indians came to the river because of the abundant amount of fish, wildlife and edible plants that the Southern West Virginia Virgin forests and valleys provided.  

The early settlers and explorers found that the Coal Rivers which flowed in an amazingly crooked path between mountains. The meandering often snake like path of the rivers offered many opportunities to camp on the plentiful beaches and catch a wide variety of fish, mussels and other aquatic life.

Today after years of industry abuse, clear cutting of major forests and citizens who contributed sewage and trSmallmouth on the Coal Riverash the rivers are BACK!

The past decade of hard work, better and stricter government regulations and millions of dollars spent on community sewer systems have “cleaned er up”. The rivers are swimmable, playable, fishing is excellent and the use of the rivers by recreational kayakers, fishermen and tubing groups has grown into a huge new economic engine for the region.


The Big Coal offers fishermen an opportunity to catch citation sized  smallmouth bass along with a wide variety of spotted, walleye, catfish, carp, trout and on an on. The river is not heavily fished at this time so it offers serene trips through beautiful mountain passes and flows by several small former coal camps and mountain communities.

The USGS river gauge at Ashford, WV offers excellent information regarding river flows and depth. Be prepared to enjoy fast flowing water, numerous areas of ripples and yes one rapid near the Sproul take out will raise the hair on the back of your neck. No rapids over a level 1 but are prepared for steady ripples and enjoy the many beautiful beaches found at every turn.

Fishing is good on the Big Coal but the trips are long. The organizers are working hard to get more access sites installed but for now the launches located at Whitesville, near the water plant, Orgas at the John Protan center, Racine and Dartmont Park in Ashford are each about 10 miles apart. A new WVDNR launch is under construction at Sproul and parking is limited. The section from Sproul to the Lock 4 access point on the Coal is an excellent short (6 miles) and flows through the Forks of Coal where the WVDNR nature center has recently been dedicated.

Enjoy the Big Coal and while you are there visit the UBB Memorial and the new Heritage Park on Rt. 3 in Whitesville. A nice and worthwhile side trip is to continue driving from Whitesville a short 4 miles and visit the Marsh Fork High School memorial park. Marsh Fork is also an excellent Trout stream in season.


Starting at the junction of Pond Fork and Spruce Laurel creek the Little Coal is a unique example of how man can restore what man has destroyed. History was not kind to the Little Coal River and as a result of mining abuses, citizen sewage/trash and the construction of the Corridor G four lane highway the river was heavily impacted by silt deposits. Over the industrial and construction years silt was dumped into the river in enormous amounts. The naturally flowing stream in the beginning was populated with a large population of fish and many deep holes provided great structure which supported a robust fishery.

A six year effort led by the WVDEP to restore the rivers was completed in 2014coal-river-smallmouth. The $9 million dollar restoration effort was professionally designed by experts using the Rosgen Stream restoration technology. The program involved the installation of over 200 natural rock based structures designed to correct and re-channel the river in order to recreate natural flows and riparian bank protections. To make a long story short the Little Coal is a beautiful and productive river again.

Fishermen have discovered the river as have the recreational Kayakers. The structures have helped recreate the deep holes “some now over 11 feet deep” and the bug and macroinvertebrate population has been reestablished. Catches by fishermen of 40 to 50 fish per trip are not unusual.

The fish population is wildly diverse. Walleye, Muskie, Smallmouth, spotted, white and other bass species along with Garr, an occasional Trout, Drum and Carp can all be found in the river.

The access points starting in Madison are plentiful and trips between access points range from 2 miles to 14 miles in length. Plan ahead. A new river gauge located at Danville provides constant information on river flows and depth.

While you’re in the area visit the many attractions found nearby. The Boone County water Park is fun for the kids, the downtown Madison Coal History Museum is a must visit as is the beautiful Boone County Courthouse.


The Coal River is a mixture of all the other rivers in the region. It offers plentiful areas of flatwater for beginners, fast rapids at Lower Falls, and motor boaters will enjoy the final 5 miles of the river before it empties into the mighty Kanawha River at St. Albans, WV

As fishing center the Coal River ranks among the finest in West Virginia. The river his easily accessible with access points at Lock 4 near Alum Creek, C-1 at the Lions Club Park provides a short two mile section for fishermen.  Seven miles downstream from the Lock 4 access site is the center of the river fishing at Meadowood Park. The park also hosts the Coal River Group River center, a must visit when you’re in the area.

Fishing below the Upper Falls offers a selection of storied potential state record catches for Smallmouth Bass, White Bass, Muskie and Walleye along with hybrid stripers, drum, Garr and on and on. The river is full of fish will please the most discriminating experts who want to catch a big one.

The Coal River is approximately 21 miles long and flows through he most heavily populated region of the Coal River Watershed.

While you’re in the neighborhood take the time to visit the beautiful Meadowood Park (which has a 8 acre public fishing lake) play Goff at the 18 hole Big Bend Golf course and enjoy the food offered in the many excellent restaurants located in St. Albans and Nitro communities. Local watering holes like the CAFÉ, the Moose Club, the Eldorado Club, Grumpys all offer excellent food along with refreshments and they are all visitor friendly places for the tourists.

Fishing Equipment and Boats.kayak Fishing Coal River

The Coal Rivers provide an excellent place to try out your new $1500 Angler Kayak. The Access (most but not all) ramps are suitable for launching the heavier boats and the upstream ripples and rapids are all easily navigable by any form of Kayak or Fishing kayaks. Metal boats and motor boats are not recommended on any section other than the last 5 miles of the Coal River. Any Kayak will float the Coal but remember long stretches of flat water make heavier boats and long trips more challenging. Tips include taking plenty of water Beer runs out too quick. Bring a whistle and a light just in case and always always wear your PFD. The upper rivers Big and Little are very isolated and cell phones often will not work. Remember Cell phones don’t float and many are not waterproof so get the appropriate safe and floatable storage pack. (Insert various boat pics)

Fishing gear to take should include your normal favorites however remember when trips are long and rapids are rapids….accidents happen and an overturned boat will spill most gear. Not all the rivers are shallow so a spill could drop your gear in deep and fast water.

Plugs and jigs that are appropriate for shallow, fast water are good. There are few large areas of grassy growth and shallow sandy mud flats are common. Fish the structures and you will be pleased with the outcome. Of  course natural bait is always productive and on the Coal you can find Hellgrammites under rocks (the best) lizards, even Hellbenders are commonly seen in the upper stretches of the rivers.(not bait but interesting creatures) Minnows and worms are great. Shad is killer bait but you will need to work to catch them.

Watch the picture gallery for examples of fish that are being caught in season. Some people have all the luck but then as we say, “The reason they call it fishing and not catching is all about knowing how.”