Trout Fishing in the Mountain State
By Mike Shingleton
West Virginia offers year-round trout fishing opportunities for nearly 200,000 anglers each year. How can the Division of Natural Resources (DNR) satisfy all of these anglers, and their particular style or pleasure in catching trout, whether it be providing dinner for family and friends, or simply the satisfaction of catching and releasing a wild trout?
With the acquisition of Bowden Fish Hatchery from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1997, the DNR now operates seven hatcheries to meet the growing demands of providing a quality fishing experience for the many thousands of anglers. Hatchery personnel annually stock an average of 1.2 million trout, weighing a total of 720,000 pounds. Stocked trout average 11 to 12 inches in length, the largest average size stocked anywhere in the eastern United States. Additionally, several hatcheries produce about 300,000 surplus fingerlings, primarily brown trout, for our wild trout program. These are stocked in streams capable of supporting trout year-round.
Where do all of these trout go? When West Virginia's stocking program began in the early 1930s, the majority of stocked trout were placed in waters located in the eastern mountains of the state to replace and supplement trout populations impacted by turn-of-the-century activities. Today, hatchery personnel make nearly 1,400 stocking runs to almost every county in the state. Trout are stocked into 136 streams and 70 small impoundments on a variety of schedules. Over 150,000 miles are driven each year to distribute the trout to various waters in the state.
DNR personnel stock trout on a range of schedule frequencies, from weekly waters that receive 16 stockings per season to yearly ones that receive one stocking. However, many anglers feel they are not getting their “fair share” of trout. The DNR has for over 40 years used an allocation system to calculate the poundage of trout each water receives. This system is based on the total acreage of water to be stocked, fishing pressure and suitability. These three factors determine how many pounds of trout each water receives annually.
The acreage of a particular water is pretty straight forward -- the larger the water, the more trout it receives. Fishing pressure is more difficult to calculate. Almost all of West Virginia's trout waters, however, receive a relatively high amount of angling pressure. Therefore, most waters receive the highest pressure rating. Suitability may be the hardest factor for many anglers to understand. The suitability of each water is evaluated on water quality, summertime temperatures, quality of habitat, aesthetics, siltation loads, and the number of stocking and angler access points. Use of the suitability index ensures that waters best suited for trout and trout stocking receive more pounds per acre than less suitable waters.
Anglers frequently ask why a particular water is not stocked more often. The allotment system determines the total pounds of trout a particular water receives annually. Therefore, changing the stocking frequency from a monthly water to bi -weekly one does not mean that the stream or lake would receive twice as many trout. The stocked water would simply receive one-half the poundage, but twice as often. Changing the frequency would double the cost of stocking a particular water, and the same number of anglers would be competing for one-half the number of trout after each stocking. Angler catch rates and angler satisfaction would decrease.
With more than 200 streams and lakes being stocked each spring from January through May, anglers have a variety of fishing opportunities from which to choose. From drifting lazily along in a boat on Teter Creek Lake in Barbour County, or sitting on the shore of Conaway Run Lake in Tyler County, or wading along a remote section of Shavers Fork in Randolph County, anglers can pick and choose the type of trout fishing experience they most desire.
About ten years ago, the DNR established special regulations on three small impoundments for children, ten years old and younger, and holders of Class Q licenses. Currently, there are ten such waters that are restricted from March 1 through May 31, after which general fishing regulations are in effect. Many of these areas are located near the larger population centers and, because they have been selected for their ease of accessibility, they provide a safe environment for children, where parents can share the thrill of seeing their child catch their first fish.
The majority of West Virginia's trout anglers take great enjoyment and satisfaction in going to their favorite water and returning home to prepare a dinner made from their day's catch. However, for an increasing number of anglers, their greatest enjoyment comes, not from eating their catch, but rather from the satisfaction of catching and then releasing the trout.
The DNR established the state's first catch-and-release areas during the mid-1960s. The number of specially regulated areas remained relatively low for many years. In the early 1990s, as interest in catch-and-release fishing grew, more streams and sections of streams were placed under special regulations.
Today, 16 areas are managed under catch-and-release regulations. Additionally, two sections of the North Branch of the Potomac River, managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, are under special regulations. Catch-and-release anglers can choose waters with relatively easy access, such as the South Branch of the Potomac River or Williams River. More daring anglers may venture into the rugged Blackwater Canyon, or visit the Cranberry backcountry for a less crowded experience.
Fly-fishing-only regulations on six streams are the most restrictive regulations in terms of allowable fishing gear. Only conventional fly fishing tackle is allowed to be used on these streams, whereas, spinning or spincast fishing gear is allowed on the other group of catch-and-release trout streams. In some cases, fly-fishing-only regulations were placed on a stream segment at the request of the landowner who otherwise would close it to anglers. Two streams, Red Run of Dry Fork in Tucker County and Dogway Fork of Cranberry River, were too acidic to support fish populations because of the effects of acid rain. Successful treatment with limestone sand, placed in their headwaters, has allowed the re-establishment of native brook trout populations.
While the fly-fishing-only streams are relatively small in size, compared to the larger catch-and-release streams, both offer anglers an excellent opportunity to get away from the crowds and enjoy the experience and satisfaction of catching and releasing a trout. As one angler commented, “...you have not mastered the art of trout fishing until you can release any trout you catch with full confidence that you can always catch another.”
Although some anglers may complain that the number of catch-and-release areas is inadequate, many more anglers know they can enjoy excellent year-round fishing on other streams not under special regulations. Many streams stocked by the DNR in the spring, particularly those streams stocked weekly, provide excellent angling opportunities well into the summer months or longer. Most streams that offer year-round fishing opportunities are located in the east-central mountains of West Virginia. Many are situated within the Monongahela National Forest.
After hatchery-produced trout are in the water for only a short time, they quickly learn to feed on natural prey items found in the streams or which fall to the surface from overhanging vegetation. Even these trout soon become “wild” and will provide anglers countless hours of fishing enjoyment. Some streams anglers should visit for summertime trout fishing are the Elk, Shavers Fork, Williams and Cranberry rivers, and other nearby streams.
Mike Shingleton is Assistant Chief for Coldwater Fisheries in Elkins .