Floating the South Branch
Even though I'm basicly a wade fisherman, I must admit that floating allows one to visit some
magnificently beautiful as well as "fishy" places. My pal David has twisted my arm a couple
times to take a float. The experiences and fish caught have been rewarding.
The South Branch has many access points it's entire distance. The sections range from two
miles to almost nine with the average being around five miles. I have found that a pleasent float
of five miles, taking time to eat and do some wade fishing along the way, takes about six hours
under normal flow conditions.
The South Branch is not a rough river. There are some faster riffles, but nothing that a novice
can't handle. I have floated the South Branch several times in a canoe, but David's choice is a
pontoon or kick boat. These vessels navigate any water with ease and skim over six inch deep
riffles with no problem. They have oars for "motoring" through those long, slow runs that you
will encounter. I must say, I'm about ready to purchase one.
I love to catch fish like any other fisherman,however; the surroundings that I pass through
while floating is the real reason that I enjoy floating. Pools, side channels, gravel bars and
islands are plentiful throughout the South Branch. It's fun "reading" the water and trying to
discover the smallmouth's hiding places. Mid- summer floats direct me to moving or faster
water for best results. Areas like the one below which shows a swifter side channel entering the
main river almost always produces fish.
The pontoon can be easily held in these areas while the angler thoroughly explores for
waiting smallmouth. My pal David sat in this one swifter run and "jerked" about six nice
smallmouth. There was another area, just below a strong riffle where David caught twenty
three without moving. Of course we release all smallmouth. The river is recovering from a
hugh fish kill in 2002. We want to protect the remaining population and encourage everyone
to do the same. Most fish range between eight to twelve inches. It seems that most of the
large smallmouth were lost during the kill.
David and I fish together a lot. He fishes a bait caster most of the time while I stick to the
fly rod. This seems to work well in that he is exploring deep  while I fish the surface.
Sometimes he has the "hot hand" and sometimes I do. No matter who is catching fish, we
enjoy the experience.
The South Branch of the Potomac that flows through Pendleton, Grant, Hardy and
Hampshire counties in the mountains of West Virginia is a beautiful place. It cuts
through some of the most beautiful mountains in the Eastern United States. It is
easily accessed throughout its length and the fishing, even though not as good as three
years ago, is recovering. I encourage you to experience this magnificent river with a
float. I do ask that you practice catch and release so that those that follow you can
enjoy all the South Branch bounties.
Photos by: Carl D. DeFazio