In one of the busiest Natural Resources Commission meetings in recent history, state wildlife officials proposed 16 changes to the state’s hunting and fishing regulations.
They asked the commission to lengthen the spring turkey-hunting season, to change smallmouth-bass fishing regulations along the entire New River, to expand nighttime hunting for coyotes and, for the first time, to impose a creel limit on panfish. They also said they might consider shortening the hunting season for ruffed grouse.
Those were the highlights. Other actions ran the gamut from youth-season hunting-regulation changes to fishing-regulation changes for specific bodies of water.
During the course of the three-hour meeting Sunday afternoon, Division of Natural Resources biologists and administrators laid out the rationale for their proposals, which will be voted on at the commission’s May and August meetings.
Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief, said the proposal to lengthen the spring turkey season from its current 27 days to 35 days was designed mainly to provide additional days of hunting recreation. Gary Foster, the agency’s assistant wildlife chief, said hunters had complained that starting the spring season a week earlier eliminated a week of prime gobbling activity in late May. The longer season would recoup that week.
Mark Scott, the DNR’s assistant chief in charge of fisheries, outlined the agency’s proposal for New River smallmouth-bass regulations: to impose a 14- to 22-inch slot limit on the New from the mouth of the Gauley River upstream to the Virginia state line. Under the regulation, all smallmouth between 14 and 22 inches would have to be released. Anglers would be allowed to keep one fish over 22 inches if they so desired. The only exception will be for the waters of Bluestone Lake, where bass regulations will remain as they have been.
Scott said the regulations were modeled after those currently in effect in Virginia.
“Virginia has done several studies over the years that showed that more trophy-sized fish are caught, and that the fish overall are fatter and healthier,” he explained.
To make room for the new slot limit, the DNR also proposed removing the current catch-and-release regulations on the 12-mile section of the New between the Interstate 64 bridge at Sandstone and the Grandview sandbar.
To answer requests from predator hunters, DNR officials proposed to allow nighttime hunting with lights for coyotes year-round. Currently, the season runs from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31. Under the proposed year-round regulation, it would run from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, but between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, however, it would be restricted to private lands — with the landowner’s permission, and after notifying law enforcement of hunters’ intent to hunt.
According to Foster, law enforcement would need to be notified so coyote hunters wouldn’t be mistaken for poachers spotlighting deer.
For the first time ever, DNR officials proposed to impose a 30-fish aggregate creel limit for all panfish species, which would include white and black crappie, all sunfish species, yellow perch and any fish not currently under a creel limit.
Scott said biologists recommended the regulation because some anglers had been taking huge numbers of fish from some waters.
“We’ve seen people keeping cooler loads of crappie and bluegill,” he explained. “Does anyone really need 100 crappie? After thinking it over, we felt like a 30-fish-per-day limit would be about right.”
DNR officials also said they were preparing to survey the hunting public about a tentative proposal to shorten the grouse season.
Foster said concerns over the state’s shrinking grouse population are behind the question. Hunters will be asked whether they want to take a month off the end of the 4-1/2-month season, the beginning of the season, or to have a split season with a gap in the middle.
In other actions, DNR officials propsed to to:
- Create a two-day youth bear season, to be held on the third Saturday and following Sunday in October.
- Allow hunters age 14 and under to use crossbows during the crossbow deer season in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties.
- Extend the buck firearm season by one day. Under the change, the season would end on the second Sunday following Thanksgiving.
- Allow the use of crossbows during the youth spring turkey season.
- Extend the first segment of the fall turkey season by one day so it ends on a Sunday.
- Remove the 12-inch minimum size limit for bass from Wallback Lake, in Clay County.
- Allow dip-netting for baitfish year-round.
- Impose a four-fish daily creel limit with a minimum 15-inch size limit for white, hybrid and striped bass in the Kanawha River from the Gauley River downstream to the Buffalo Bridge.
- Remove catch-and-release trout-fishing regulations on a 0.9-mile section of Shavers Fork in Randolph County’s Stuart Recreation Area.
- Remove fly fishing-only regulations from Buffalo Creek of the New River in Fayette County.
- Set a two-fish daily creel limit for trout in Raleigh County’s Stephens Lake.
All of the proposals will be set before the public at 12 DNR Sectional Meetings, scheduled for March 16 and 17. Information from the surveys will be given to members of the commission before they begin to vote on those proposals.