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Rain hasn't put damper on muskie fishing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The cool, rainy summer of 2013 appears to have been a good one for West Virginia's muskellunge fishermen in general, and Bud Whitlow in particular.

Whitlow, a retired schoolteacher from Charmco, caught nine muskies in July, a time of the year when muskie fishing usually becomes difficult.  

"My buddies and I have been doing pretty well," Whitlow said. "We've been fishing mainly in rivers - the New, the Elk, the Meadow, the Greenbrier, and the James over in Virginia."

Whitlow said he couldn't remember ever having a July as productive as the one he just had.

"This was pretty special," he added. "It's not common to have a month like that. I caught nine and lost twice that many. My friend C.J. Broadwater caught four or five, and my friend George Bumgarner caught a couple."

Five of Whitlow's nine muskies measured more than 40 inches, including a 46-incher and a 461/2-incher.

Whitlow credited the summer's frequent rains for keeping river levels up and making access to his favorite fishing spots easier. "On the littler rivers, [the high flows] keep you from having to drag the boat through the shallows. We can get to places we ordinarily would not be able to go during the summer."

Jeff Hansbarger, a Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist and muskie researcher, said boat access wasn't the only reason Whitlow and his friends enjoyed such success.

"Summer is usually a trying time for muskies," Hansbarger explained. "They're what we call 'cool-water' fish. Their optimum temperature range for growing and feeding is from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

"In a low-flow year, July [water] temperatures would be getting up into that high end of the range, and muskies wouldn't be feeding as much. They'd hole up during the day and would feed mainly at dusk and at first light.

"With the rain and higher flows we've had, rivers have stayed closer to muskies' preferred temperature range. That's one of the reasons we've been seeing a lot of catches."

Whitlow said he hadn't noticed much difference in water temperatures on the rivers he fishes, but he did acknowledge that the rivers were running higher and murkier, which made for easier fishing.

"If we were having to deal with low, clear water, the fishing would probably be tougher," he said.

Another factor in this summer's unusual muskie success is that the fish are moving more than they ordinarily might.

"And when they move, anglers tend to encounter them more," Hansbarger said. "Muskie movements usually peak in spring and fall. With the good conditions we're enjoying this summer, muskies are continuing to move, and that's another reason for the high number of catches."

Ever protective of the fish he's studied for years, Hansbarger said that anglers who release muskies should handle and revive them carefully before letting them go.

"Even though they're a little cooler than usual, midsummer water temperatures are still relatively high, and warm water contains less dissolved oxygen," he explained.

"Muskies expend a lot of energy during a fight, and higher temperatures can cause them a lot of stress. So I'd encourage anglers to revive their fish very carefully, and make sure the fish can swim strongly before letting them go."

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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