At the Reeds Creek Trout Hatchery in Pendleton County, a little yellow fish made from felt dangles from a bulletin board alongside a hand-lettered poem.
It’s a token of esteem from trout anglers who clearly appreciated the work hatchery workers did during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s what it says:
“To the guys at the hatchery:
We would like to say a big ‘thank you’/For putting your lives ‘on the line’/The governor declared you essential/Of course, we knew it all the time.
We know you have a letter/Affirming this is true/But we wanted to make something/A little more personal for you.
So here’s a little golden trout/That will help you to remember/That you’ll forever be essential/To the fishermen, your friends and family members!”
The author signed it with a smiley face, and dated it May 2020.
Jim Hedrick, supervisor of hatcheries for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the poem warmed the hearts of the Reeds Creek staff and others within the DNR.
“It was a nice gesture, and they thought it was pretty neat,” Hedrick said. “But it wasn’t the only positive comment we received for the job our hatchery workers did this spring.”
When many other businesses and government facilities were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia’s hatcheries stayed open. Crews crisscrossed the state, stocking trout in the state’s rivers and streams.
Hedrick said Gov. Jim Justice had good reasons for declaring hatchery workers essential.
“They were essential for a couple of reasons,” Hedrick explained. “One, they were essential because they were involved in animal care. You can’t walk away from a hatchery any more than you could walk away from a farm.
And two, they were essential because they provided important outdoor activity that was considered safer than other activities.”
Hedrick said the workers had a simple goal:
“Biologically, we had to get the fish out [of the hatcheries],” he explained. “We had to clear space for next year’s production. We certainly didn’t want to have to kill this year’s fish, so we went ahead with stockings as usual.”
The DNR’s annual “Gold Rush” promotion, which features pre-publicized stockings at waters in and around state parks, had to be canceled because of the crowds they were likely to draw. The 50,000 golden rainbow trout earmarked for those special stockings were distributed in ordinary stockings throughout the state.
“We got a lot of great feedback for that, too,” Hedrick said. “Lots of people posted on our Facebook page that they had caught their first golden trout.”
He said it’s not unusual for DNR workers to receive praise from anglers.
“This year, however, there seemed to be more of them,” he added.
If there was a silver (or possibly golden) lining to the COVID-19 restrictions, Hedrick believes it came in the form of opportunity for families to enjoy the outdoors.
“When everybody was on lockdown,” he said, “It became a big family event to go trout fishing.”