Jet Boat Takes Anglers to Rocky Stretches of New, Gauley and Kanawha Rivers

Charleston Gazette-Mail
7 August 2016
By John McCoy, Staff Writer

GAULEY BRIDGE — Peering intently at the water ahead, Bobby Bower conned his boat carefully through a labyrinth of truck-sized submerged boulders.

“Not many people get to see this part of the river,” Bower said as he switched off the boat’s engine, dropped a trolling motor over the bow and picked up a fishing rod. “Not many boats can get up here.”

Bower’s jet boat can, and that’s one of the reasons the Fayetteville-based fishing guide has started offering late-afternoon, three-hour fishing trips to the Gauley Bridge area.

“We call these trips our ‘3-Hour Tours,’ like in the theme song to ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” he said, laughing. “It’s pretty special to be able to fish the New River, the Gauley River and the Kanawha River all in one trip.”

Bower said most guides avoid the Gauley Bridge area because the river is wide, shallow, and filled with huge rocks submerged just below the water’s surface. It’s a place where the propellers of ordinary outboard motors go to die.

“With the jet boat, I don’t have to worry about shearing off a prop,” he added. “When the boat is up on plane, I can run in water as shallow as five inches.”

The boat’s shallow draft allows Bower to take clients into the lower reaches of “The Dries,” a largely inaccessible section of the New River that carries only a tiny portion of the river’s natural flow. The rest gets diverted through a 3-mile-long tunnel that stretches from Hawks Nest Dam to a hydropower station at the mouth of The Dries.

“To me, this is one of the most beautiful spots on the river,” Bower said as he flipped a small crankbait into narrow coves and backwaters created by The Dries’ house-sized boulders. A 9-inch smallmouth bass nailed the lure, and Bower landed it swiftly and tossed it back into the New.
“I’ve seen some nice muskies up in here lately, so I’m going to throw something larger for a little while,” he said, grabbing a spinning rod rigged with a huge copper-bladed spinner.

As the boat approached the hydropower station, Bower switched back to light tackle. In short order, he was fast to another bass.

“A double!” he shouted seconds later when he saw his client set the hook into a scrappy smallmouth.

Bower said when water and weather conditions are right, clients willing to fish hard can to catch enough bass “to wear their arms out.” During the warm months of the year, most of those fish are smallmouths.
“In early spring, you’ll catch smallmouths as well, but you’re also likely to hook into a nice walleye or even a muskie,” he explained. “This stretch of water has produced state-record walleyes as well as muskies in the 50-inch class.”

Bower is marketing the trips to anglers in the Charleston-Huntington area.

“It’s an easy drive up here for folks coming from either city. It’s close enough that most people can get in a three-hour trip without missing a full day of work,” he said.

The outings cost $195 for two anglers. The price includes the guide’s fee plus refreshments. Bower said more expensive custom packages, with longer hours and more elaborate amenities, also are available.

“We cater to people’s wishes,” he added. “Heck, we’ll grill steaks on the riverbank if that’s what people want.”

The 18 1/2-foot metal jet boat can accommodate up to three anglers at a time. The 65-horsepower jet drive can get anglers to any of the three rivers in only a few minutes.
“With this rig, we can cover a lot of water in a single trip,” Bower said.

For scenery buffs, summer and fall are the times of year when the Gauley Bridge area is at its most beautiful. The heavily forested mountains rise almost vertically from the river’s banks. Sheer sandstone cliffs jut through the dense green canopy, emphasizing the ruggedness of the terrain.

Winter and early-spring trips might not be as scenic, but Bower said that’s when anglers have their best chance of landing a trophy fish.

Bower’s jet-boat trips launch from the New River Campground, located less than a mile upstream from the junction of the New and Gauley rivers. Half-day, full-day and overnight float-fishing trips in rafts are also available for the upper New River and the New River Gorge.

More information on the trips and on Bowers’ company, Pro River Outfitters, can be found online at

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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