A regulation change proposed for West Virginia’s New River should result in bigger and healthier smallmouth bass.
That’s what Mark Scott told members of the state Natural Resources Committee at its Feb. 23 meeting when he asked commissioners to consider a 14- to 22-inch slot limit for almost the entire river.
Scott, the Division of Natural Resources’ assistant chief in charge of fisheries, said the state of Virginia manages its portion of the New under the same regulation, which has proven successful there.
“They’ve done studies since imposing that regulation, and the studies are pretty convincing,” Scott said. “Not only are they getting larger bass, but they’re also getting heavier bass for a given length, which is a sign that the fish are healthy.”
Under the proposed regulation, all smallmouths between 14 and 22 inches would have to be released. Anglers would be allowed to keep one “trophy” fish greater than 22 inches in length if the so desired.
The regulation would encompass the New River from its confluence with the Gauley River upstream all the way to the Virginia state line. The only exception would be in Bluestone Lake between the Bluestone Dam and Bull Falls boat ramp, which would continue to be managed under standard bass-fishing regulations.
If the commission approves the proposal, most likely at its August meeting, the regulation would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
The new regulation would require the commission to eliminate catch-and-release regulations currently in effect on the 12-mile section of river between the Interstate 64 bridge at Sandstone and the sandbar at Grandview.
“Our surveys found that smallmouth moved in and out of that section quite a bit, so it was questionable whether the catch-and-release regulations were really protecting anything,” Scott said.
In addition to New River smallmouth, DNR officials also made a proposal to protect panfish.
Scott told commissioners that anglers on some public waters had been seen taking home “coolers full of bluegill and crappie.”
“Who really needs 100 crappie?” he asked.
He said fisheries biologists consulted with one another and proposed a 60-fish daily aggregate limit for white and black crappie, bluegill, and all other sunfish species.
The 60-fish limit, if approved, would also include yellow perch and any other game fish not currently under a creel limit. That regulation would also go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Scott also outlined the DNR’s proposed regulation designed to protect young hybrid striped bass along most of the Kanawha River.
Scott told commissioners that reports have surfaced of anglers catching and keeping “bucketloads” of young hybrid stripers because they’re so easily confused with white bass, for which there is a daily creel limit of 30 fish.
“We don’t raise our own hybrids,” Scott explained. “We buy them from other states. We don’t want to be losing them by the bucketload.”
The proposed new regulation would impose a four-fish aggregate, 15-inch minimum size limit for white bass, hybrid stripers and true striped bass.
Scott said the regulation shouldn’t create a hardship for anglers who fish the Kanawha for white bass, which don’t get much bigger than 15 inches.
“I don’t know of anyone who targets white bass anymore,” he added. “The hybrids may have out-competed them. We do have white-bass populations in other areas, and those areas will still be [managed] under the 30-fish limit.”
The regulation, if approved, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and would include the segment of the Kanawha between the mouth of the Gauley River and the Buffalo Bridge.
Anglers who catch minnows, shad and skipjack for bait will probably approve of the DNR’s proposal to remove the current closed season on dip-netting for bait. Scott said the current regulation, which prohibits dip-netting in early spring, is an antiquated regulation probably intended to protect suckers during their spawning season.
If approved, the dip-netting season would be open year-round after Jan. 1, 2021.
DNR fisheries officials also proposed to remove special regulations on two trout streams.
Scott said the first, an 0.9-mile section of Shavers Fork in the Stuart Recreation Area currently managed under catch-and-release regulations, has almost no good habitat and gets too warm for trout during the summer.
He said the second, the fly fishing-only portion of Buffalo Creek of the New River in Fayette County, was scoured by a flash flood several years ago and is no longer a viable trout fishery.
At the request of the Raleigh County Commission, DNR officials also proposed a 2-fish limit on rainbow trout at Stephens Lake near Beckley.
Scott said the lake is unique because it can hold both bass and trout. DNR officials can’t spare trout from their hatcheries to adequately stock the lake, so the county commission has agreed to purchase rainbows from private hatcheries in an attempt to build a viable fishery.
“They just wanted a regulation that would help to protect their investment while the fishery is developing,” Scott said.
The DNR’s final fisheries proposal was to remove a 12-inch minimum size limit for black bass on Clay County’s Wallback Lake. Scott said the special limit was never listed in the fishing regulations and was never enforced, so it should be removed.