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John McCoy: 'Master Angler' program in WV could be lots of fun

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Like most states, West Virginia is trying to get more people to go fishing.

It’s one of the main goals of the Division of Natural Resources’ R3 program, which seeks to “recruit, retain and reactivate” anglers, hunters, shooting-sports enthusiasts and wildlife watchers.

As they develop the final version of the R3 plan, DNR officials say they hope to gather ideas from other states’ programs to try here in the Mountain State. I ran across one recently I think might work here.

The Wyoming Game & Fish Department has a “Master Angler” program that offers awards for people who catch trophy-sized fish.

Yes, I know. West Virginia has had a “Trophy Fish Citation” program for decades. Through the years, thousands of anglers have earned certificates. Some people have won so many they could probably wallpaper their houses with them.

It used to be a big thing; nowadays, not so much. I get the impression Wyoming’s program is more important to the anglers there than West Virginia’s is to anglers here, and it’s not hard to figure out why.

Think about it: Would you rather be recognized as a “Master Angler” or be the recipient of a “Trophy Fish Citation?”

Right. It’s a no-brainer.

Here’s how Wyoming’s program works:

Anglers who catch a trophy-sized fish must take a side-view picture of it lying alongside a bump board, a ruler or some other implement that indicates the fish’s size. To submit their entry for recognition, anglers simply upload their photos to the department’s Master Angler website page.

Only one entry is allowed per year for any given species, which would end West Virginia’s problem of providing fish-picture wallpaper for people’s houses.

If an angler in Wyoming catches one trophy fish, they get a Master Angler sticker. Anglers who catch trophies of five different species (not necessarily in a single year) receive a Trophy Angler commemorative coin as a token of the achievement.

The crowning accomplishment in the program is Ultimate Angler status. That gets bestowed on anglers who catch trophies of 10 different species. So far, only one fisherman in all of Wyoming has attained that status.

His name is Danny Kurttila. He became the state’s first Ultimate Angler by catching trophy largemouth bass, northern pike, cutthroat trout, sunfish, brook trout, tiger muskie, sauger, brown trout, rainbow trout, walleye and splake (hybrid brook/lake trout).

Kurttila, who lives in Riverton, Wyoming, clearly is an overachiever. He caught 12 species instead of 10, and has his sights set on more.

How much fun would a similar program be if we had it in West Virginia? We have a wide variety of fish species, and some high-quality fisheries that produce trophy-sized fish.

The names of anglers who attain Master, Trophy or Ultimate Angler status could be displayed on the DNR’s website. Their angling achievements would be out there for everyone to see, which to me is a lot cooler than having a certificate to tuck in a drawer somewhere.

I know of at least one angler in the state who would have no trouble reaching the Ultimate Angler level. Heck, over the years I’ve caught trophy-sized fish of five species, and I don’t get to fish nearly as much as a lot of folks.

The program would probably cost the DNR less than Trophy Fish Citations do now, and might just help to recruit, retain and reactivate a bunch of anglers. Why not do it, then?

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.