“Get ready!” screamed guide Chris Ellis above the din of the roaring white water. “I’ll try to keep the raft from entering the rapid or kissing the boulder in it. Make sure your lure lands right behind the boulder. A client caught a 20-incher there last week.”
My topwater plug did indeed land right behind the boulder, and the strike was instantaneous. Several seconds later, the force of the rapid pulled the raft, Ellis, the smallmouth and me into its maelstrom. I was bent low over the side of the raft as I battled the smallie, so my face took the brunt of a three-foot wave that crashed into the bow. Another minute passed before the 19-inch smallmouth was netted. “Not bad,” yelled Ellis. And then he added, “How did you get so wet?”
We were coursing down West Virginia’s New River, specifically that section known as the New River Gorge National River, which runs from a mile below Bluestone Lake Dam in Hinton and continues for 53 miles until Fayette Station. What’s more, some 62,000 acres of heavily forested mountain land encompasses the river for most of those miles. This is the best opportunity I know to combine white-water rafting for trophy bronzebacks with spring gobbler hunting.
Although these longbeards receive little hunting pressure, be assured that they are no pushovers. My morning hunts in the gorge have often begun with a near-vertical climb to arrive close to a gobbling bird, only to see him pitch off the side of the mountain toward hens yelping several hundred yards below. Of course, knowing that I will spend the afternoon angling for behemoth bronzebacks and the night camping out near a roaring rapid makes the experience memorable.
Contact: The Mountain Connection at Glade Springs Resort (800-634-5233); Southern West Virginia CVB (800-VISIT-WV); New River Gorge National River (304-465-0508). Bruce Ingram is the author of The New River Guide (Ecopress, 800-326-9272).