The lake at Watoga State Park freezes over in the winter, giving anglers the opportunity to prolong fishing season. With an axe or auger, visitors may cut a hole in the ice and fish for trout and catfish.
The lake at Watoga State Park freezes over in the winter, giving anglers the opportunity to prolong fishing season. With an axe or auger, visitors may cut a hole in the ice and fish for trout and catfish.

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer
 
When the seasons change and the air gets cooler, anglers put away their tackle boxes and fishing poles and wait for the winter thaw so they can, once again, go fishing.

At Watoga State Park, the fishing season never ends – as long as anglers can stand the cold. When the frigid temperatures freeze the lake, it’s time for ice fishing.

Superintendent Jody Spencer said he receives phone calls from avid fishermen shortly after the snow begins to fall.
“Just as soon as it starts getting cold, people will call and say, ‘is the lake frozen yet? Can we drill a hole and fish, yet?’” Spencer said.

Spencer said he never considered promoting ice fishing until he realized that the lake does indeed get a thick enough sheet of ice to make it safe for fishermen – or ever ice skating.

“We were sled riding off the dam, and if you come off the lake side, you can just hit the lake ice and go right on the lake,” he said. “[My wife], Becky said, ‘I’m not doing that, and I’m not letting the kids do that.’ I walked over to a fish hole that they drilled and the ice was twenty-four inches thick. I was like, ‘holy cow, we could drive out here.’”

While it doesn’t look like a scene from the 1993 film Grumpy Old Men where the characters have old shacks they leave on the ice all winter long, the lake does draw several anglers who aren’t afraid to stand in the cold. 

“I think I would put a little tent out there to keep the wind down,” Spencer said. “You could do a little hunting blind, but I’ve never seen anyone do that. They just literally stand around the holes like little penguins staring down at their feet.”
The lake is stocked with trout January through May so any fish that are caught are left over from the regular fishing season. Spencer said there are also stocked catfish in the lake.

“They’re technically catching, during the winter, hold over trout, so to speak, that have been in there all summer long,” he said. “They actually have started stocking catchable size catfish in there – twenty-four inch catfish – once a summer. We’ve done that for about four years now, and I hear of at least one or two people every year catching large catfish out of the ice holes.”

Any angler interested in ice fishing needs to bring their own supplies, including a way to cut holes in the ice.

“We don’t have anything for that at all,” Spencer said. “Obviously, they need to get a hole in the ice, so some people bring axes and chop holes. Some people actually have little augers now that just drill a little hole in the ice big enough to fish through.”

Ten of Watoga’s cabins are available to rent during the winter season.

Along with ice fishing, visitors can enjoy snowshoeing on the 40 miles of trail at the park.

Spencer, who is also superintendent of the Greenbrier River Trail said the trail is a nice place for visitors to snowshoe or cross country ski due to its easy accessibility and flat surface area.

“That’s a very good place to do that,” he said. “It’s flat, and the surface is what you would call hard packed compared to something out here in the woods, so it doesn’t take as much snow to be able to actually cross country ski on the River Trail. For the last couple of years, we have intentionally not plowed the trail, not cleared snow from the trail from Marlinton going north to allow people a section of trail there in town to ski on during  the winter.”

For more information on winter activities at Watoga State Park, call 304-799-4087.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com