Despite its many challenges, the year 2020 was a good one for West Virginia’s trout hatcheries.
Production was good — so good, in fact, that state officials made special December stockings simply to avoid stunting fish earmarked for stocking in 2021. The 2021 stockings, scheduled to begin on Jan. 4, should be pretty special as well.
“Because we have so many fish, we’re going to be looking at a high stocking rate, starting with the waters we stock in January,” said Jim Hedrick, the Division of Natural Resources’ supervisor of hatcheries.
The DNR will stock 71 waters during the month — 32 lakes and 39 creeks and rivers.
“We’ll be stocking more than 36,000 pounds of trout,” Hedrick said.
“As is always the case with January stockings, those fish will run a little smaller than the fish we’ll stock later in the spring. At a little less than two fish to the pound, we’ll probably stock about 60,000 trout during the month.”
Roughly 5% of the fish stocked, by weight, will be large “brood” trout that tip the scales at 3 to 8 pounds apiece.
Hedrick said he expects news of the augmented stockings to generate plenty of interest among anglers.
“January can provide great fishing opportunities,” he said. “Our streams have great flows at this time of the year, and fish tend to move around more and set up in parts of the stream where you would expect them to hang out.”
He urged West Virginia residents to get their fishing licenses now, so as not to be caught short when stockings begin. Anglers who purchase combined hunting-fishing “sportsman” licenses between now and the end of December will be entered into drawings for two lifetime licenses. Earlier this month, Gov. Jim Justice announced three new options for sportsman licenses — a 1-year license that includes a trout stamp, a 3-year license that includes a trout stamp, and a 3-year license that doesn’t include a trout stamp.
Hedrick said the 3-year license with stamp, in particular, will benefit anglers who like to fish in January.
“If you buy the 3-year license, you save a few bucks on transaction fees,” he explained. “And you’ll be ready to fish when January starts.
“In the past, people who put off purchasing their 1-year licenses weren’t able to take advantage of the early stockings. Now, with the 3-year licenses, they’ll be ready to go as soon as the calendar turns.”
West Virginia’s weather is always unpredictable in January. Snow-covered or icy roads sometimes cause stockings to be delayed. Hedrick said hatchery-truck crews will try to stock high-altitude waters early in the month, before they get snowed in.
“For places like the Cranberry River, Upper Shavers Fork and Spruce Knob Lake, we try to get them done early,” he added.
Experienced stocked-trout anglers realize that, and they often crowd around known stocking locations and wait for the trucks to arrive. Hedrick said that with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, that’s a risky proposition.
“We want to encourage people to maintain more than the recommended social distance, particularly when the trucks arrive,” he continued.
“Let our crews get the fish into the water before you move in. And even after the fish are in the water, anglers should stay in family groups and stay distanced from other anglers.”
The danger, he added, is not only to the anglers themselves, but also to the hatchery crews.
“We can’t afford to get COVID at one of our facilities,” he said. “If we do, that will stop the trucks. We simply don’t have enough staff to overcome that.”
Hedrick also cautioned anglers to be mindful of the cold.
“Some of these waters will have ice around the edges,” he explained. “People always should be careful around ice, and they should dress appropriately for cold weather. Carry a change of clothing, too. That, alone, can make the difference between a bad fishing day and a good fishing day.”