This year’s edition of West Virginia’s fall trout stockings won’t be the train wreck it was shaping up to be.
Enough rain fell on the Mountain State in early October to bring stream flows up a bit from the critically low levels they were experiencing. Jim Hedrick, the Division of Natural Resources hatchery supervisor, said the improved water conditions should allow all the stockings to take place as planned.
“Currently the plan is to complete the entire fall stocking schedule,” Hedrick said. “That would amount to roughly 25,000 pounds of trout in 11 lakes and 26 streams.”
All those stockings, he added, will take place between Oct. 21 and Nov. 1.
Before the rains came, a close-to-normal stocking outcome was anything but certain. Stream levels were so low, and water so warm, that hatchery crews might have had to skip some of their usual stocking spots and concentrate the fish in the few deep pools that remained in many waters.
Though some of the trout being stocked will be quite large, the average fish will run a little smaller than usual. Hedrick said the late-summer drought reduced water flows in all of the state’s seven trout hatcheries so severely, hatchery workers had to reduce the amount of food they gave the fish.
“Once flow levels get that low, we have to cut back on feeding,” Hedrick said.
Trout need cold, oxygen-rich water to survive. Low hatchery flows allow the water to get warmer than usual, and warm water holds less oxygen.
Hedrick said that when fish eat, they metabolize the food, and that uses even more oxygen.
“At the same time, the fish are producing waste,” he added. “Without good flows, the wastes don’t make it out of the hatchery raceways.”
It’s a double whammy, one that had DNR hatchery personnel scrambling just to try to keep up.
At the Spring Run Hatchery in Grant County, which boasts one of the largest and most consistent springs in the hatchery system, dissolved-oxygen levels got so low recently that workers had to bring in liquid oxygen to supplement some of the raceways.
“We were basically just keeping fish alive at that point,” Hedrick said.
In years with normal flows, agency officials sometimes shuttle fish from one hatchery to another to meet specific needs. Hedrick said not many fish were transferred this summer.
“Sometimes when we move them, we get disease problems,” he explained. “So we’ve been kind of holding them where they are, trying not to move them.”
The good news for anglers, apart from the higher stream flows, is that a substantial percentage of the trout earmarked for stocking will be large fish used for brood stock, primarily males.
“We have to get them out of the hatchery or they’ll start fighting each other,” Hedrick explained.
The presence of the brood-stock fish will significantly increase the total weight of the trout to be stocked. Historically, the statewide fall stockings average about 20,000 pounds of fish over a two-week span.
Hedrick said this fall’s surplus of large brood fish will push that total to about 25,000 pounds.
“I have some advice for anglers who plan to fish during the fall stockings,” he added. “Put some fresh line on your reel. Some of those fish are going to be big.”