Clearly, West Virginia’s wildlife officials have been busy.
At last weekend’s meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, biologists for the Division of Natural Resources suggested change after change to the state’s hunting and fishing regulations.
In 30 years of covering those meetings, I’d never seen so many changes proposed at once.
By now, most of you probably know that the biggest proposal was to extend deer-, bear- and wild boar-hunting seasons into January and February.
A three-day January “Mountaineer Heritage Season” would be open to primitive-weapons enthusiasts. Longbows, recurve bows, sidelock muzzleloaders and flintlock muzzleloaders could be used; compound bows, crossbows and in-line muzzleloaders could not.
DNR officials also want to extend the state’s urban deer season into January. Municipalities and homeowners’ associations, if they chose, could schedule an additional seven days’ worth of hunting, mostly for antlerless deer.
Wild boar enthusiasts would get a three-day February season, open to both archery and firearm hunting.
Those weren’t the only proposed changes. Biologists also suggested moving the deer muzzleloader season back to its original mid-December slot, and they asked to lengthen the firearm season for antlerless deer by two days.
With all those proposed changes to big-game hunting regulations, the DNR’s ideas for fishing-related changes got overshadowed just a bit.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the proposals were any less significant.
Take, for example, the agency’s suggestion to require catch-and-release fishing for brook trout on more than 130 miles’ worth of streams. To put it in perspective, that would roughly quadruple the trout-stream mileage currently under catch-and-release regulations.
If approved, the regulations will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, on the Middle Fork of the Williams River, Tea Creek, Otter Creek, Red Creek and all of those streams’ tributaries. All the affected streams lie within the boundaries of the Monongahela National Forest.
The proposal marks a bit of a sea change in the DNR’s approach toward wild-trout fishing. In the past, agency officials instituted catch-and-release in dribs and drabs, a few miles at a time. This proposal encompasses entire watersheds.
Bass anglers — especially those who compete in tournaments — will probably appreciate the DNR’s willingness to remove the “one big fish” restriction on black bass at Stonewall Jackson Lake.
Currently, anglers may keep only one bass larger than 18 inches from Stonewall. That’s a pain in the neck for tournament anglers because they can only have one fish that size or larger in their boats’ livewells. In other words, if they catch two bass that big during a tournament, they could only take one to the weigh-in.
That would change under the new regulation, which would allow anglers in registered bass tournaments to keep more than one 18-incher — provided, of course, that the fish are released after the weigh-in.
It’s a clever solution. Stonewall has a reputation as a big-bass fishery, and that reputation can only improve when tournament anglers start weighing in more trophy-sized fish.
Historically, hunters and anglers have cursed DNR officials’ seeming unwillingness to make changes. Perhaps this year they won’t curse quite as much.