West Virginians are in for a golden spring.
State fisheries officials have added 25 percent more trout and an additional day to the state’s popular “Gold Rush” series of trout stockings.
Jim Hedrick, hatchery supervisor for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the changes were made so families could have more opportunities to fish for specially stocked golden rainbow trout.
“This year, we’ll have two Saturday’s worth of stockings,” he said. “It will allow us to make more Saturday stockings than we’ve made in the past, and it will allow more people to take advantage of those stockings on days when work and school won’t interfere.”
Hedrick expects 50,000 “goldens” to be stocked between March 28 and April 4. That’s roughly 10,000 more than were stocked last year. Sixty-two lakes and streams, including many of the state’s most popular waters, will receive the brightly colored fish.
Golden rainbow trout have been part of West Virginia’s trout-hatchery system since 1955, when a single female rainbow trout at the Petersburg Hatchery developed a bright yellow band around her midsection. Through selective breeding, hatchery officials were able to produce trout that were yellow from head to tail.
From the first stockings in 1963, the state’s Centennial year, the colorful fish have been popular with anglers. They’re usually stocked along with rainbow, brown and brook trout, but in 2018 Hedrick decided to conduct specially scheduled stockings of goldens all by themselves.
By holding some of the stockings on weekends, and by putting the fish in lakes and streams located in or near state parks, Hedrick sought to create an event that young anglers would look forward to from year to year.
He seems to have succeeded.
“It has become way more popular than I had anticipated,” Hedrick said. “It has become a family event, and families seem appreciative to have something tailored specially toward them.”
Many of the waters designated for stockings are lakes. Hedrick said that was intentional.
“A lot of those lakes and ponds are in state parks and forests,” he explained. “Lakes are easier to fish, easier to get around on, and there’s usually plenty of parking nearby. Some of the lakes even have rest rooms and playgrounds. With all that, these stockings become big-picture family activities.”
Sixteen of the waters will be stocked on March 28. Twenty-five more will be stocked between March 31 and April 3, and the final 21 will be stocked on April 4.
A common misconception among stocked-trout anglers is that they have to get there on the day of the stocking or all the fish will be “caught out.” Hedrick said that isn’t true under any circumstances, but it’s even less true when it comes to Gold Rush stockings.
“If you aren’t there when the trout are stocked, don’t worry,” he added. “Goldens are finicky eaters, and are harder to get to bite. A high percentage of them will be left over well after the stocking date. Two months down the road, people will still be catching goldens from those waters.”
Though some media reports have labeled the Gold Rush stockings as “extra” or “supplemental,” they are not. Hedrick said the state’s hatchery system doesn’t currently have the capacity for that.
“We already raise as many trout as we possibly can,” he explained. “What we’re doing is to raise fewer regular rainbows and replace them with the golden rainbows we use for the Gold Rush stockings.”
Trout designated for the Gold Rush are fed a special dietary supplement that makes more vivid the red stripes on their sides and turns their bodies from butter-yellow to a bright orange-yellow. Hedrick said the supplement is derived from beta carotene, a natural pigment found in carrots.
“As a result, these fish have colors similar to what you’d expect to see in a wild fish, not a fish from the hatchery,” he said.
One hundred fifty of the trout will carry special tags. Anglers who catch the tagged fish will earn prizes donated by the state Division of Tourism.
The prizes include a luxury West Virginia fishing getaway for two; a lifetime fishing license plus a two-night stay at any West Virginia park; a two-night stay in any state park or forest; a West Virginia State Park gift card; and items of special Gold Rush merchandise.