Up in the Alleghany Highlands, nestled into a canyon once called Kincaid Gorge, lies Gathright Dam. This massive earthen structure backs up the Jackson River for over 12 miles, forming Lake Moomaw. A U. S. Army Corps of Engineers project, Lake Moomaw was constructed for downstream flow augmentation (water quality), flood control, and recreation. The idea for a lake above the City of Covington was hatched just after World War II, but the project was not completed until the early 1980's. The backwater of the Jackson River flooded acres of bottomland once owned by Thomas Gathright. The project was pushed forward by Covington businessman Benjamin Moomaw, after which the lake was named.
Lake Moomaw is the second largest impoundment in western Virginia. It covers 2,530 surface acres and has a maximum depth of 152 feet. The impoundment is "drawn down" between 10-15 feet annually, beginning slowly in June and reaching its lowest level usually by September. There are 43 miles of undeveloped, wooded shoreline.
Before it was completed, fisheries biologists determined that Lake Moomaw had the potential for a "two-story" sport fishery. This simply means that the reservoir would be deep enough for both warm water fish (bass, catfish, sunfish, crappie) and coldwater fish (trout). With this in mind, the lake was stocked with thousands of largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, and channel catfish in 1980. The Jackson River was already home to wild populations of smallmouth bass, rock bass, and chain pickerel, so it was understood that these species would acclimate to their new surroundings. Black crappie and yellow perch were later additions to the fishery.
Lake Moomaw is also known for its trout fishery. A layer of cold, oxygenated water lies 15 feet below the surface. It is in this zone that stocked rainbow, brown, and brook trout thrive. Alewives, members of the herring family, were stocked in the early 1980's in order to establish a plentiful food base for both trout and other predators. These small, silvery fish are truly the "backbone" of the lake's sport fishery. They are abundant, ubiquitous, and, seemingly the prey of choice for trophy fish that are caught from Lake Moomaw.