The coronavirus threat has claimed yet another scheduled event.
West Virginia’s Gold Rush trout-stocking promotion, originally scheduled for March 28-April 4, has been postponed until early May.
Division of Natural Resources officials announced the postponement early Tuesday afternoon. DNR director Steve McDaniel said the event was done in by its own popularity.
“If we had gone ahead with it as scheduled, we would have had thousands of people congregating at lakes and ponds,” he explained. “We knew crowds of that size would violate the social-distancing guidelines we’ve received from health officials, so we decided to postpone.”
McDaniel said the 50,000 specially grown golden rainbow trout earmarked for the Gold Rush stockings would be held in the agency’s hatcheries until May, but couldn’t be held beyond that date because the hatcheries need to be cleared out for the next year’s trout production.
“If we’re past the directives for social distancing, we’ll go ahead with the Gold Rush,” McDaniel said. “We’ll draw up a new schedule and announce the stockings ahead of time so people can get out and enjoy the resource.”
The original Gold Rush was to have taken place in 41 lakes and 21 streams throughout the state. McDaniel said some of the lakes scheduled to be stocked on the original Gold Rush dates would not be stocked in May.
“By that time of the year, it’s not unusual for a lot of lakes and ponds to have water temperatures greater than 70 degrees,” he said.
“That would be too warm for the trout. Golden rainbows aren’t easy to catch. If the fish were stocked in early May, those that hadn’t been caught within two or three weeks would probably die.”
For that reason, he said most of the waters that receive Gold Rush stockings in May would be streams, not ponds.
“We’d put them in waters where they’d have a chance to survive,” he added. “And we’d try to put as many of them as possible into streams that were near state parks and other public lands.”
If social-distancing guidelines are still in effect in early May, McDaniel said the Gold Rush promotion would be canceled and the golden rainbows would be integrated into regular trout stockings scheduled for that month.
Jim Hedrick, the DNR’s supervisor of hatcheries, said the goldens would need to be moved out to prevent hatchery overcrowding.
“Overcrowding is really bad for the fish,” he explained. “It stunts their growth, and it greatly increases the chance of disease. Holding onto the fish to stock at a later time is not an option. We have to get them out of the hatcheries.”
Between now and the end of May, the DNR’s regular schedule of trout stockings will continue as originally planned. Out of concern for anglers’ safety, agency administrators have made two changes in the stocking procedures.
First, to keep freshly stocked streams from becoming too crowded, DNR officials will discontinue their practice of posting to the agency website the names of all the streams stocked each day. They’re also closing the call-in “Trout Stocking Hotline” until further notice.
Second, for the duration of the social-distancing period, a Natural Resources Police officer will follow each stocking truck to ensure that anglers maintain the recommended 6-foot spacing between themselves.
McDaniel said that if the officer finds more than 10 people congregated at an anticipated stocking spot, the truck driver will be directed not to stock that pool, and to proceed to the next one.