Deep in the heart of southern West Virginia, a rustic river valley cups a remnant of pioneer America.
Rimmed by hills and high ridges, wholly within the borders of the Mountain State, the Guyandotte gets its start near Rhodell and snakes its way through six counties.
Early reports of scouting and surveying parties induced many settlers to seek land in this region.
Settlements of the Guyandotte basin began with the push of pioneers to areas west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Lumbering became the principal activity, and as the river offered the only means of transportation, the forest products were floated downstream to the markets.
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Eugene Cook, 83, of Oceana recalls hearing his grandfather, the late William Squire Toler, talk of the logging days of the late 1800s.
“He logged the area around Sun Hill on the Clear Fork, where he built splash dams to float the logs down to the Guyandotte in early spring,” Cook recalls. “He’d talk about it for hours.”
Cook, a retired teacher, says that if he were able, he’d still like to fish the waters where he fished as a boy in the late 1930s and early ’40s.
The mouth of the Clear Fork, where it empties into the Guyandotte River at Simon, once was a favorite fishing spot for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, Cook says.
Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, new state and federal guidelines regarding the discharge of waste into streams encouraged significant reductions in the waste loads dumped into the Guyandotte.
As the wastes declined, fishing improved. R.D. Bailey Dam, completed in 1981, greatly reduced the silt, sand and sediment load of the Guyandotte and also helped reduce the trash that littered its banks.
And though industrial waste from coal mines took its toll on fishing in the Guyandotte in the 1950s, some of the gamefish are returning to its waters.
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Black bass returned to the Guyandotte in good numbers by the 1980s, and public demand for access to the river for fishing increased.
The state’s Wildlife Resources Section began a development program for fishing access spaced every 5 to 10 miles along the entire 116-mile stretch of river downstream of R.D. Bailey Dam.
The mining industry now is a great supporter of increased recreational development along the Guyandotte, helping to fund improvements in access, stream habitat, fish stocking, lake development in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Protection and Division of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Section.
Through the development of wildlife management programs, game farms, state parks and federal parks (such as the R.D. Bailey Lake project) have maintained certain areas for growth of timber and wildlife.
Fish attractors, food plots, hay leases and stocking have helped increase game and fish in the area.
The R.D. Bailey Lake project has 19,000 acres of land and water along the Guyandotte River which are designated for hunting, fishing and recreation.
The lake record for a hybrid bass is 13.5 pounds, caught near the dam on a shiner. It broke the previous record catch of a 13.1-pounder taken some years ago.
Catfish increased in number and size, and the DNR’s stocking programs of hybrid striped bass and trout have proved successful.
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The Guyandotte River has its source near Rhodell, in southern Raleigh County, at the confluence of Winding Gulf and Stonecoal creeks, at an elevation of 3,400 feet.
It flows in a westerly direction about 50 miles to the town of Gilbert, where it turns north and winds for another 115 miles before it reaches the Ohio.
It flows in a northwest direction through Wyoming, Mingo, Logan, Lincoln and Cabell counties.
It reaches the Ohio River, two and a half miles above Huntington, at the small town of Guyandotte.
The river drains the entire 507.3 square miles of Wyoming County, its narrow and sinuous course featuring a fall of more than 12 feet per mile.
The Guyandotte basin, an area of some 1,670 square miles, is an important coal mining area, similar to the Big Sandy River basin, which lies to the west.
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The principal economic pursuits today within the basin are coal mining and natural gas production.
The basin contains a large portion of one of the greatest bituminous coalfields in the country, the exploitation of which has barely begun.
Most of the coals are of the highest quality metallurgical, domestic, steam and by-product types, and it has been estimated that the highest annual rate of production yet reached could be maintained for 300 years.
Gas is widely distributed throughout the entire basin.
There are no water resource developments in the Guyandotte basin except for the 16-acre lake built by the West Virginia Conservation Commission in 1958 on Horse Creek near Baileysville.
About 12 towns take water from surface streams to serve a combined population of about 40,000.
R.D. Bailey Dam and Lake were completed in 1977. Entirely within Wyoming County, the dam is 112 miles above the confluence of the Guyandotte with the Ohio River at Huntington. The project cost $185 million.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the dam has prevented more than $75 million in flood damage since 1980, damages that would have occurred had the dam not been built there.
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The West Virginia DNR stocks catchable-sized trout in Guyandotte River below R.D. Bailey Dam once in February and every two weeks from March through May.
Two stockings are made in October to coincide with the opening of small game hunting season.
The Guyandotte River is gaining popularity for its float fishing opportunities, according to Mark Scott, fisheries biologist with the DNR in Beckley.
Scott says the river provides some excellent angling opportunities for rock bass, smallmouth, spotted bass and channel catfish.
“We have seen a tremendous growth in fishing in Wyoming County,” Scott explains. “At one time, there was only one small impoundment in the Guyandotte River drainage basin, and that was located at Horse Creek.
“Now, with the 630-acre R.D. Bailey Lake, the county has a major impoundment that is one of the most heavily fished reservoirs in the state.”
He concludes: “With the tailwaters at the lake, the potential exists for year-round trout fishing. And with the public hunting area at the reservoir and with fall stocking, sportsmen can spend their days both hunting and fishing.”