Anglers who try to fish two of West Virginia's most popular trout streams this year might literally run into roadblocks.
Road and bridge problems on the Williams and Cranberry rivers have forced closures to vehicle and foot traffic on large segments of both streams. The closures also have forced Division of Natural Resources officials to significantly curtail the two rivers' trout stockings.
Jim Hedrick, the DNR's hatchery supervisor, said Williams River Road will be closed along an 11-mile stretch between Tea Creek and Three Forks. Cranberry River Road will be closed along a 4.5-mile section from Big Rough Run upstream to the junction of Cranberry’s North and South forks.
“This definitely decreases the linear area we'll stock in both those watersheds,” Hedrick said. “It's unfortunate, because both streams are great fishing destinations. They're on public land, they're both beautiful, and they both provide a great, backwoods fishing experience.”
Or at least they did.
Access to the Williams has been hit-and-miss since a 2016 flood damaged bridges and culverts along the river. Access has been shut off on the Cranberry since a pair of U.S. Forest Service bridges failed recent safety inspections.
“On the Williams, the Forest Service is still conducting repairs on several bridges and culverts,” Hedrick said. “Those will have to be replaced before vehicle traffic can be restored. On the Cranberry, those bridges will need to be repaired or replaced.”
According to a Forest Service notice, repairs along the Williams could take up to four years to complete. Hedrick said the bridge repairs along the Cranberry shouldn't take nearly as much time.
“It will depend on the weather,” he added. “The milder the winter is, the sooner the repairs can be made.”
Both sections will be closed to foot traffic as well as vehicle traffic. “The Forest Service is concerned about people on foot going into what is essentially a construction area,” Hedrick said.
Even if anglers were able to walk into the closed sections, they wouldn't find as many trout to catch because DNR crews can't get hatchery trucks in there to distribute the fish.
Hedrick said the closures have forced the agency to cut back significantly on the number of trout the streams will receive.
“On the Williams, the number of fish stocked will drop by about half,” he explained. “On the Cranberry, the number will drop by about one-third.”
Stockings will still take place on 11 miles of the Williams, from Laurel Run upstream to Three Forks and from Tea Creek upstream to Day Run. Stockings will continue on 12½ miles of the Cranberry, from Woodbine to Big Rough Run.
The closed section of the Cranberry will be entirely in the backcountry area between the gates at the Cranberry Campground and a barrier at the confluence of the North and South Forks near the North Fork liming station.
Access on the Cranberry will still be available via the Glades parking area on the South Fork, downstream to the barricades at the North Fork bridge; and from the Cranberry Campground upstream 3¾ miles to Big Rough Run.
Agency officials are unsure if the South Fork will be stocked between the Cranberry Glades downstream to the North Fork.
“Those sections of the Williams and the Cranberry that we do stock will receive the same number of fish per mile they usually get,” Hedrick said. “We usually stock them heavily, and we'll continue to do that.”
He said DNR officials decided not to stock trout that would have been earmarked for the closed segments into the segments that remain open.
“We felt that if we did that, the concentration of fish would be way too heavy,” he continued. “That many fish would create too much potential for illegal activity.”
Hedrick said anglers should stay clear of the closed areas.
“We aren't stocking those sections,” he added. “We want to make sure not to cause conflict with the construction activity so it can get done sooner.”
To try to keep anglers updated about closures and stockings, DNR officials have modified the “Trout Stocking” page on the agency's website, www.wvdnr.gov.
“Every time put fish in those streams, we'll let the public know which sections were stocked,” Hedrick said. “We're posting links to the Forest Service's closure notices on there, too.”
He said anglers “have enjoyed unlimited access to the Williams and Cranberry for quite a number of years. Now there has to be some maintenance done. Until it's finished, we're going to have to accept that we'll have fewer miles of stream open to fishing.”