West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and friends share stories of their first catches.
This story was originally published in the July 2023 issue of Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit wonderfulwv.com.
Fishing is a long-loved tradition in West Virginia, and that very first fish is something few forget. It’s almost a rite of passage among our hills and hollers, with stories that are always eager to be shared—some with a few lessons wrapped up in them.
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources staff—and a few friends and family—share their beloved “first fish” stories here. Do you remember yours?
The Fish That Started It All
When I was just 4 years old, my parents took me on a camping trip to Plum Orchard Lake, a beautiful and serene lake nestled in the woods of Fayette County. We were all excited to spend a few days near the shore.
One morning, my parents took me fishing for the very first time. They set up a small fishing pole, helped me bait the hook, and showed me how to cast. I was a bit hesitant at first, but my parents sat with me and waited patiently. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my line, and they quickly helped me reel in the line. To my amazement, I had caught a small bluegill! I was so excited that I started jumping up and down and shouting, “I caught a fish! I caught a fish!”
My parents were equally excited and proud of me. They took a picture of me holding the fish, and then gently released it back into the water. I felt such a sense of joy and accomplishment.
From that day on, I continued to love fishing and spending time in the great outdoors. I always remember that special moment at Plum Orchard Lake. I think that first fish was the start of what is now my career at the WVDNR.
— Floyd Keeney Jr., hunting and fishing licensing manager
Patience is a Virtue
My mom works for the WVDNR Police and teaches me all about hunting, fishing, and the outdoors.
One pretty day, she decided I was old enough to go fishing. When we pulled up to the lake, it was sunny and hot, but I was excited. Papaw, Mommy, and I found our spot and began to fish. Mom and I decided to make it a competition to see who could catch the most fish before we were done. I would cast my pole out, and. at the slightest of movement, I would reel it in—nothing was there.
Then, Mom told me to be patient and let the fish bite it really good. I watched and watched until it finally happened: My bobber disappeared! I got so excited, I forgot what to do, so Mom said, “Reel it in, Braylea!”
When I got it to the bank, I just kept jumping around—I was so happy—and Mom said I was acting like the fish! Papaw told me what a great job I did, and we took pictures with it. We put the fish back in the water, and I kept fishing because I wanted to catch more and more.
When we left for the evening, I had caught four and Mom caught none. I can’t wait to catch more and bigger fish!
— Braylea Moles, courtesy of Haylea Moles, WVDNR Police
Well, when you like to fish and have a daughter, you teach her to fish. Some of my favorite moments with my daughter, Payton, have been fishing. She always says “yes” when I ask, and she has a tremendous amount of patience.
Our very first fishing trip together was at Ridenour Lake in Nitro. We packed some snacks and cold drinks and headed out mid-morning with our fishing poles and nightcrawlers. After a couple of hours, we were out of snacks and drinks and the fish just weren’t biting. We decided to call it a day, and I turned to start packing up our cooler as Payton continued to watch her bobber, sitting motionless in the water.
When I turned back around, there she was, standing there—holding this fish—smiling. This has long been one of my favorite memories. We continue to fish a couple of times each year. She’s 23, graduating from Marshall Nursing School in April and getting married in September, but she still agrees to a fishing trip with Dad. I’m a lucky one!
— Greg Beheler, WVDNR federal aid coordinator
A Golden Surprise
We heard that the Gold Rush was coming to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, and I was going to go fishing with my dad, Johnny, and mom, Dwana. There were bunches of the trout in the Greenbrier River, and my dad helped me cast out. We made a few casts, and then all of a sudden, the fish struck. We pulled and reeled on my Iron Man rod until, finally, we had the fish. He was a huge golden trout—how lucky! It was also the very first fish caught that day. I was the best fisherman in all of Cass that morning.
I proudly posed and displayed my catch for the ranger who took my picture and gave me a certificate. I took the fish back to the river, and my dad and I returned him to swim with all of the other fish—he plopped down the bank and into the water. At first, he was belly up, and we all looked at each other wondering if he was going to recover. After an awfully long time, he turned back over and swam away. That was close! I finished our fishing trip by jumping in some mud puddles. That was the best day.
— Nicholas Fitzgerald, courtesy of Marshall Markley, superintendent of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Almost, but Not Quite
Back in junior high, a neighbor around the block would offer trout to my parents, and I asked if I could go fishing with him. We planned to fish waters he knew well from growing up in West Virginia and fishing all his life. After a restless night of anticipation at a friend’s cabin near Lewisburg, we hit Anthony Creek for the day. I remember being in awe of the beautiful water, watching it wind through the streambed, and the sound of the running water.
My mentor, Jim Lockhart, caught a few trout using spinners and salmon eggs. I slowly moved upstream and let my “offering” drift. As I started to retrieve it, I felt something trying to eat my bait. Soon, I was hooked up to a dodging, swirling trout—I can still see it flashing as it tried to escape my hook. Then, after a fight of only a few seconds, it was gone!
I remember being so disappointed I had lost my first trout. I did little at school that week, infatuated with thoughts of the one that had gotten away and how I could catch another. A few weekends later, I caught two rainbows from the Elk River in Webster County—sweet success! However, the trout I never caught persists in my mind even today as I see it twist away off my line and disappear back into the beautiful waters of Anthony Creek.
— Jeff L. Hansbarger, fish biologist
A Passion Begins
I was about 7 years old, and my grandmother purchased a bamboo cane pole for me at the local hardware store along with some hooks, a spool of line, and a bobber. That afternoon, I caught some bugs in the field out behind her house and placed them in a jar. She later walked with me up on the hill to a small pond along an old strip mine. I put a cricket on the hook and dropped the line into the water just off the shore.
A few minutes later, a bluegill—maybe a sunfish—grabbed it. Somehow, I hooked it, lifted it out of the water, and my first fish was in my hands! I was elated—I was hooked. My lifelong passion for fishing had begun.
Fifty years later, I still feel that same elation every time I hook a fish. My grandmother and all those people who took the time to take me fishing are gone now, but those memories will always be with me. Nowadays, I try to introduce as many people as I can to fishing and hope they learn to love and appreciate it as much as I have.
— Steve McDaniel, former WVDNR director
One Calm Kid
I jumped out of bed early one Saturday morning, anticipating the big day that Papa had planned for us. The weather was beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to take a tractor ride to the river. We loaded up our fishing pole and some bait, and off we went.
Since I was just learning to fish, Papa would throw the line out into the Elk River, and I would reel it in. Out it would go, and in I would reel. Over and over and over again—I was getting lots of practice. But then something strange happened: The line was not so easy to reel in. Papa started jumping up and down with excitement. I must have looked startled because Papa said, “You have a fish on the line!” I didn’t know what to do. Papa said to keep reeling, so I took a drink of my juice as the sweat rolled off my face, and I followed his directions. Lo and behold, on the end of my line was the biggest fish that I had ever seen.
Papa showed me how to take the fish off the hook, give it a little kiss, and release it back into the river to grow even bigger. I am not sure how it could get much bigger, but that’s what Papa said we needed to do. Catching my first fish with Papa by my side was a memory-making day.
— Kason Sharp, courtesy of Trudy Totten, Budgeting and Fiscal Services