Earlier this week, Gov. Jim Justice said Division of Natural Resources hatchery personnel would stock trout differently from now on.
Instead of putting lots of fish in a few large, easy-to-access pools, stocking crews will distribute fish more thoroughly along the state’s creeks and rivers.
“We’re going to start stocking our streams how they should be stocked,” said Justice, speaking at a ceremonial Gold Rush stocking Wednesday at Babcock State Park. “We’re going to be dad-gum proud of it and we’re going to market ourselves as doing so.”
Justice decried the practice of dumping dozens of fish at a time into a single pool, and he accurately described the sometimes-ugly spectacle such stockings create.
“If you dump all of those fish into a hole and 40 people stand around casting into that same hole, it’s not a terrific angling experience,” Justice said. “Not only that, 70 percent of the fish leave within an hour of hitting the water. We’ve got to stop that.”
By “leave,” Justice meant they get caught out — sometimes legally, sometimes not.
I recently got an email from a fellow who recently witnessed an ugly stocking scene. He and a friend had been fishing for several hours at Dunbar’s Anderson Lake when dozens of people started showing up. The stocking truck soon followed.
“The only room the DNR guys had to unload was between the dock and a small shelter,” the angler wrote. “I watched as six so-called fishermen lined up, three on each side of the pipe they used to release the trout, and snag fish with treble hooks until they all had five. At that point they began giving away what they caught.”
Anyone who has done much stocked-trout fishing has witnessed similar scenes: people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle around a pool, casting toward the center and hoping other people’s lines don’t snag theirs; people using seine nets; and even people tossing M-80s into the water and scooping up trout stunned by the explosions.
By having crews distribute trout more evenly along a stream, Justice hopes to minimize such scenes and, in so doing, give everyone a better angling experience.
“What if you had four people who came with that truck all the time and they all carried buckets of trout up and down the stream, dropping two here and three there until the entire stream was stocked?” the governor asked rhetorically.
The simple answer is that stocked-trout fishing would become a lot more enjoyable for everyone. It would spread the fishing pressure out, and it would make it much more difficult to snag, net, or dynamite the trout.
Justice told the crowd at the ceremony that he would mandate that future stockings be done that way. And yes, he used the word “mandate.”
On the surface, it sounds great. The devil, as always, will be in the details.
DNR director Steve McDaniel said the agency doesn’t plan to hire full-time employees to help with the stockings, but instead expects to contract with the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, Trout Unlimited and similar organizations.
“In return, DNR would make donations to the organizations,” McDaniel explained. “I’ll be working with the governor to find a revenue source to pay for it.”
He said he expects to have more details next week, after a conference call with the aforementioned organizations.