FISHING NOTEBOOK: Cheat Lake

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There’s something to be said about the urge to conquer a body of water you move next to. When you wake up every morning and see the sun shimmering off the crisp, blue surface it’s as if the celestial body is casting its own spinner bait trying to hook anglers.

And I’m not immune to that lure. The body beckoning me to its edge is Cheat Lake, nestled on the northeast side of Morgantown, W.Va., just off I-68. The history of the lake may be a reason so many are drawn to it, as if the water emits a signal to the mind’s electric fields, tethering us in a sort of sportsman hive. In 1784, George Washington crossed the Cheat River at what is now Ice’s Ferry Bridge. After Washington was long gone, the river was key in the iron industry, connecting to Monongahela River to be sold in places as far away was New Orleans. Finally, in 1925, a hydroelectric dam was constructed and the lake that now stands was created. 

Lake Monongahela during it most expansive period. Based on the map in Lake Monongahela: Anatomy of an Immense Ice Age Pond; John A. Harper; Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey; 1997 (Creative Commons photo)

Before all of this, though, the Cheat River was part of Lake Monongahela – a prehistoric, proglacial lake that covered parts of what is now Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Upon the retreat of the ice sheet forming the lake in the Pre-Illinoian Stage (roughly 2.5 million to 200,000 years ago), the lake filled until it breached a divide in present day New Martinsville, W.Va. 

After finally biting the bait, I decided the best place to start my quest was where George Washington saw the potential of the region – Ice’s Ferry. 

Cheat Lake is known for a wide variety of species, but I was focusing mostly on nabbing bass. Plus, I had fished Ice’s Ferry before, so I knew that it was a good spot for them – especially underneath the bridge. 


Day 1

To say I had an unsuccessful time fishing the shore would be partially right – I didn’t catch anything, but I had some bites. I tried multiple baits, but the fish were not into what I was throwing at them. I used two different kinds of spinners and jigs, as well as a medium diving crank and a buzzer. I used all of these with either a cone sinker or split shot – or none at all – to get some depth on impact and range on my cast, but alas it wasn’t right. 

It’s starting to cool down in West Virginia, but even with the temperature I figured that distance wasn’t my issue. I sat on the edge of the water for a quarter of an hour to see if the fish had moved in to begin their breeding cycle early, but saw nothing. 

After spending roughly an hour and half on the bank, I figured it was time to pack up. Other people were starting to come to the shore, and like most fishermen I don’t like being around people. Especially when I’m having a bad-go of things. 

While sitting on my porch thinking about what I was doing wrong, I came to an impasse with myself. Was I doing something wrong? If so, it wasn’t the distance or entirely the type of bait I was using – spinners and jigs are typically a good call when bank fishing. Then it dawned on me, I never even thought to hook up my soft bait. I didn’t even bring it with me to I.F. 

I wanted to smack myself for breaking one of the basic rules of fishing – always take more than you’ll use. Stick worms, jerks and the likes were sitting in my basement screaming at me while I was wondering ‘Gee, what could I have done wrong.’ 

Day 2 will hopefully yield better results. I’m going to break out the deep diver crank, too, as well as an old, lucky buzz bait that I’ve had since college. At this point, even a small bass will do to make up for the air-headed mistake I made. 


Day 2

After a disappointing first day back on the banks of Cheat Lake, I had my new game plan ready to put in motion. I grabbed my rehashed bait box, tucked it into my backpack, loaded it along with my pole in my car and set out for Ice’s Ferry. Today was the day I was going to nab a fish in my favorite spot once again. 

Except, it wasn’t. After four hours on the bank, nearly 10 bait changes and a full tumbler of coffee , I gave in to the notion that my luck in the spot is null and void. 

That was corroborated around the hour 3. Someone drove into the gravel lot and asked how the fish were hitting. When I told him of my poor luck amid my past success, he said that he’s hit a brick wall at Ice’s Ferry as well. Over the last few weeks, he was using a much longer pole and was casting further than what I was aiming for and hadn’t caught a single fish. 

Determined to change the narrative, I tried everything once more – soft plastic bait, cranks, poppers, a large and small spinner and a jig. After a few nibbles on my worms, I had to give in. So what needs to change? At this point, the easy answer is location. 

Grab the ‘Yak

Cheat Lake has a lot of spots for bank fishing, but I think it’s time to go all in on fishing the deep water from a kayak. 

Day 3 game plan.

My best luck comes from yak fishing back home on Cunningham Run, the Hughes River and North Bend Lake, and Cheat Lake has a lot of inlets that are only (easily) accessible by boat. The new game plan is to go from Sunset Beach, troll the calmer waters around the bend under the I-68 and Ice’s Ferry bridges and end up in the inlet that Whites Run spills into. Should my luck prove faulty once again, I’ll travel south just outside the shallow water to the headwaters of the Cheat River and fish where Quarry Run spills. 

With the new plan set and in mind, it’s time to see if my third day on the water will tell me it’s not my time, or if I can finally shake the rust off and snag a bass. 

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