The river is 105 miles long. The lower 25 miles below Summersville Dam is in the Gauley River National Recreation Area.
Destination Distance From Downtown
4 of 5 diamonds
There are a variety of fish, especially trout, in this beautifully remote canyon. But, it’s rugged, and you need to be prepared to hike, scramble, and wade.
Time To Complete
The Gauley River is very remote, so allow enough time for the trip.
Spring and fall are the best times of the year to fish, because many species are more active in cool water and feed aggressively. Fishing in the early morning and late evening will reap the most rewards.
The Gauley River can be summed up in one word: rugged. It originates in Randolph County, flowing southwest through Webster, Nicholas, and Fayette counties for approximately 105 miles. The northern section of the river passes by small towns surrounded by rural woodlands before Summersville Dam more or less creates a lake from Canvas to Mt. Nebo. Beyond the dam is the Gauley River National Recreation Area, 25 miles of nearly unspoiled wilderness. This ancient canyon offers some of the most challenging terrain in West Virginia. The river flows by steep cliffs before meeting the New River, where it forms the Kanawha and continues on toward Ohio.
What Makes It Great
The Gauley River ecosystem is unique. Unlike its counterpart, the New River, the Gauley has more species of fish, with some even cohabitating in the same pools. Below Summersville Dam, you can pull large muskellunge and trout. Near the confluence with the New River, you can find large walleyes, muskies, and smallmouth bass.
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WVDNR) stocks the Gauley with trout just below the dam. In 2015, walleye was also stocked by helicopter, allowing fish to live in pools that are out of reach of stock trucks. Tributaries, especially upstream of Summersville Lake, are stocked with trout. The Williams, Cranberry, and Cherry Rivers are also excellent trout streams.
You must be in good shape to attempt fishing the Gauley River. There will be hiking, scrambling, and wading, especially if you want a spot further downstream. This is a remote area, particularly below Summersville Dam, and not ideal for beginners.
If you crave seclusion, the Gauley is perfect, because it is so rural you will likely not run into another soul. The only consistently crowded area is immediately below Summersville Dam and public access parking.
The Gauley River is also perfect if you are an angler with whitewater rafting skills. With proper training and a little confidence, you can float downriver by boat, reaching fishing holes where a variety of species thrive. The Gauley River is famous for its Class IV and Class V rapids, so do not take it lightly.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To reach the Gauley River at Summersville Dam, get on I-64 to Beckley, WV. Take Exit 48 for North Beckley/Summersville. Follow for 36 miles to WV-129 W. Drive another 2.3 miles until you see signs for Summersville Dam and the Gauley River. Follow this road to the river for public access parking. There is no entrance fee.
Parking is on either end of Summersville Lake, where the Gauley River enters and departs. After that, things get tricky. There are a few trails that will get you downstream. But it is very difficult to gain access, because the incline is steep and roads are sparse. Wading at low water can also be strenuous. The easiest location to set up is directly below the dam, where there is also public access parking. You can also find public river access at Gauley Tailwaters, Mason's Branch, and Wood's Ferry. To access the Gauley River across private property, get permission from the landowner first.
During summer months, the outflow from Summersville Dam is based on the inflow. This means the dam maintains a typically consistent inflow of 100 to 200 CFS (cubic feet per second) unless the weather is unusually rainy. At this time, it is fairly easy to walk-and-wade. But things change after Labor Day, because the next 6 weekends are known as Gauley Season, which attracts avid adventurers near and far. Summersville Dam releases much more water, creating some of the most challenging rapids in the world. Before planning a fishing trip, check the water levels with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).