If snow and ice don’t get in the way, West Virginia’s 2016 trout-stocking season will begin on Jan. 4.
Trucks from the state’s seven trout hatcheries will deliver thousands of pounds of rainbow, brown, golden rainbow and brook trout to 51 lakes and streams throughout the Mountain State. Jim Hedrick, the Division of Natural Resources’ hatchery program manager, believes anglers will be happy with the quantity and size of the trout.
“Our hatcheries have had a good year,” he said. “The mild fall really helped. The water in the hatcheries stayed relatively warm, and the fish continued to eat and grow. We’re kind of bursting at the seams with trout right now. In terms of pounds stocked, we might be looking at a record.”
Hedrick said the hatchery system might also set a record for average size, but that will hinge on having a mild winter.
“If it gets cold and the fish stop eating, we might not reach that goal,” he added.
The first stockings will take place on all of the waters marked as Weekly, Bi-Annual and Monthly-January on the DNR’s stocking list. Streams earmarked for weekly stockings will get one in January and two in February. Bi-Annual waters will receive one stocking in January and another in March. Waters designated as Monthly-January, or MJ, will get one in January and another in February.
All told, 29 streams and 22 lakes will be stocked. Hedrick said the waters, combined, should receive more than 40,000 pounds of trout by the end of February.
“We’ll stock heavily in the winter, loading the streams up on the front end,” he said.
Lakes and streams are assigned what DNR officials call a “stocking factor,” which determines how many pounds of fish each water receives at a given time of the year.
“This year, we decided to start with a higher stocking factor,” Hedrick explained.
Each lake or stream on the stocking list will receive more trout than it would have in previous years because DNR officials have six fewer waters to stock. Seven streams have been dropped from the list and one has been added.
Buffalo Creek in Clay County is the lone addition. Hedrick said the creation of a rail-trail along the stream has improved access to the remote watershed.
“We plan to stock Buffalo Creek upstream from Swanson Road,” he said. “It should receive its first stocking in February.”
A variety of factors led to the seven streams being removed from the list. Hedrick said, for example, that the North and South Forks of Fishing Creek in Wetzel County were taken off the list because of deteriorating habitat and heavy land-posting.
“There weren’t many locations left where we could stock,” he explained. “The streams have heavy sediment loads, and drilling for Marcellus Shale gas is making the problem even worse.”
Land-posting also pushed from the list Jefferson County’s Long Marsh Run, Hardy County’s Lower Cove Run, Monroe County’s South Fork of Potts Creek, and Nicholas County’s Deer Creek.
“All of them were down to only a handful of spots where they could be stocked or fished,” Hedrick said.
Another stream, Mill Run of Back Creek in Berkeley County, was taken off due to poor habitat. Hedrick said DNR biologists “looked at it and determined that it was too wide, too shallow and really not suitable for trout.”
All of the creeks removed from the list were to have received one stocking each month from February to May. Hedrick said all of the trout that would have been earmarked for those streams would be distributed to other waters.
The timing of all of the stockings, as always, will depend on the always-unpredictable West Virginia weather, particularly in the state’s higher elevations. Hedrick said the hatcheries’ trucks would run as often as possible, but not when conditions would put the drivers at risk.
“We’re hoping we don’t get too far behind,” he said. “When there are heavy snows, some of our waters become inaccessible. Last year, it took a long time for us to get trout in to the West Fork of the Greenbrier and a few other waters.
“We’ll do our best to get the winter stockings done. If we get a lot of bad weather and can’t get them out of the hatcheries, we’ll make them up once the roads get clear. Stocking schedules might change pretty dramatically, but we try to make sure every stream gets the trout it was supposed to get.”