West Virginians who fish for several popular species might see changes in creel limits for those fish when 2020 rolls around.
Division of Natural Resources officials have proposed changes for the number of muskie, pike, pickerel, walleye, sauger, saugeye, striped bass, white bass and hybrid striped bass anglers are allowed to keep.
Some of the changes would be statewide. Others would be restricted to specific watersheds or bodies of water.
The main statewide change would be in the creel limits for muskie, tiger muskie, northern pike and chain pickerel. The current limit for muskie, tiger muskie and northern pike is two fish a day; there currently is no limit for pickerel. The regulation change would reduce the limit for each species to just one a day.
Mark Scott, the DNR’s assistant chief in charge of fisheries, said the limit change for all the species would help preserve the number of large, older-age fish available to anglers. He doesn’t expect the new limit to generate much controversy because most anglers who fish for those species rarely keep one anyway.
Another proposal is to “officially” increase the minimum size limit for tiger muskie to 30 inches. Scott said the limit has been 30 for years, but the state’s regulations booklet has had it at 28 inches for all that time.
West Virginia’s walleye-fishing regulations have become increasingly complex in recent years, mainly to help DNR officials restore populations of the large, native-strain walleyes that used to be found in the New, Elk and Gauley river watersheds.
The proposed changes would expand the slot limit for walleye currently in effect on the New, Coal, lower Elk, Greenbrier, lower Gauley and upper Kanawha Rivers.
Under the new regulation, the 20- to 30-inch slot, with a daily creel limit of two fish, would also be put into effect on the upper Elk River, which would include Sutton Lake and all its tributaries; and on the Gauley River upstream from Summersville Lake, beginning at the mouth of Persinger Creek. All fish between 20 and 30 inches would have to be released, and anglers would be able to keep only fish larger than 30 inches.
Also, the 20- to 30-inch slot would be extended into all the tributaries of the New, Bluestone, Coal, Elk, Greenbrier, Gauley and upper Kanawha rivers. Scott said the regulation would help to protect large walleye that spawn in those rivers’ tributaries.
Because walleyes can be confused with sauger and saugeye, DNR officials have proposed to create a six-fish aggregate creel limit for all three species in the Ohio River. Only two of the fish could be walleye, and those would have to measure at least 18 inches in length.
Scott said all the proposed walleye regulations are designed to accomplish two goals: to allow populations of native-strain walleyes to expand, and to create uniform, easier-to-understand regulations throughout entire watersheds.
And finally, a four-fish limit on white bass, striped bass and hybrid striped bass would go into effect on Bluestone, Beech Fork and R.D. Bailey lakes. A similar regulation, currently in effect at East Lynn Lake, would be rescinded.
The limits are being imposed primarily to protect hybrid striped bass, which the DNR now purchases from neighboring states. Anglers often confuse immature hybrid stripers — for which the creel limit is four a day and the minimum size limit is 15 inches — for white bass, which have a 30-fish daily creel limit and no minimum size limit.
“Since we’re buying hybrids now, we don’t want 30 of them at a time being taken out of the fishery before they get a chance to grow to 15 inches,” Scott said.
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.