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Mountain State 2007 Trout Forecast

Mountain State 2007 Trout Forecast

It's that time of the year when some of our state's finest trout fishing takes place. Read on for top places to fish this spring season and beyond! (April 2007)

Photo by Lynn Burkhead

Nothing dominates the Mountain State's April outdoor agenda like trout do. These finned beauties are just the right medicine for cabin fever. Though they fill that ever-important recreational gap between the late small-game season and spring gobbler hunting, let's not forget that you can also pursue them year 'round in West Virginia. So, what's in store for 2007?

Well over 200 statewide lakes and streams are slated for stocking, so more of the same great fishing may be an understatement. Undoubtedly, there is a stocked lake, river or stream within reasonable driving distance of just about everyone. Most of our state's stocked waters are put-and-take venues. What's more, with the fairly recent standardized six-trout-per-day limit, going fishing is as simple as having a basic fishing license and trout stamp to participate.

Though the Class O (trout) stamps increased modestly last year, they are a downright bargain at $10 for residents and $15 for non-residents. Yet another basic must for the in-state trout angler is the regulations summary pamphlet, which is readily available at any license agent or Division of Natural Resources (DNR) office. The pamphlet lists all the stocked waters and provides updated regulations for the new year.

But before delving into all of that important stuff, you should know that these pamphlets also contain one of the best-kept secrets. And that is the daily stocking reports available on the hotline at (304) 558-3399, as well as on the DNR's Web site at in season.

Yes, the DNR wants folks to know that they're putting fish out between Jan. 1 and May 31! If you don't believe it, call the number or check out the Web site. Though the stocking starts out slow in January through February, it peaks during the March through May period. That puts April smack dab in the middle of trout fishing nirvana.

The pamphlet and Web site also show the stocking code for each stream. For example, some of the state's trout heavyweights are, in fact, stocked on a weekly basis during those peak months.


If the simple license, limit and stocking schedules don't get your trout juices flowing, then nothing else will. For those who are not familiar with this convenient setup, there is actually a lot of calm and streamside elbowroom that goes with it.

A trout-tagging project undertaken just last year reveals some startling facts about our trout fishery. According to the DNR's Chris O'Bara and Tom Oldham, 10 days after stocking, "only 50 percent of the tagged fish had been caught. Tagged trout were reported caught up to 100 days after stocking." This is consistent with similar studies conducted in the past to simply judge if the truck followers quickly creel the lion's share of fish. The survey indicates that they don't.

However, the DNR researchers confirmed that put-and-take trouting is the main interest, as these anglers tend to keep more than 90 percent of the stocked trout for the frying pan! You could have fooled me on that one, since just about everything is released from my stretch of stream even if more so out of laziness than nicety.

Nevertheless, there are also some great opportunities for catch-and-release area anglers, too. You can surely practice catch-and-release at any waterway, but it's required at 16 varying streams or segments thereof within the larger statewide listing. They are well marked in the field. Fair warning: You are as likely to be checked by a conservation officer at a special regulations trout zone as anywhere in West Virginia. So, be sure to follow the rules.

In addition to the 16 catch-and-release areas that allow either artificial lures or flies, there are six others that are limited to fly-fishing only. Lest we forget, there are another 10 waters, mostly small ponds that are reserved for children and handicapped anglers from March through May. Children 10 years old or younger and those possessing a Class Q fishing permit may participate.

On June 1 of each year, these waters are open to the general public, since they usually harbor warmwater species like bass and bluegills as well. And as with many of the non-year-round trout or put-and-take waters, the trout may not be able to survive the summer's high water temperatures. Therefore, for a vast majority of these streams, you don't have to feel guilty about keeping a few fish.

This is particularly true of the more southern or lower elevation streams within West Virginia. Of course, there are exceptions. Underground mining sometimes creates cooler waters on select streams.

McDowell County's Elkhorn Creek in the far southern segment is perhaps the best example of such a water. Not only are brown and rainbow trout living there, they are reproducing.

Some of the astounding citation- class trout caught from this creek will knock your socks off. A few people may be upset at me for having revealed that, but just as for that daily stocking report, there is a laid-back nature to the trout fishing. In fact, at a recent Saturday trip to Elkhorn, we never encountered another angler!

As if all that wasn't enough, the DNR stocks the creeks and also provides surplus fingerlings to Trout Unlimited (TU) local chapters and sportsmen's groups for potential trout waters statewide. Call your local DNR office for more information.

In relief of acid rain, TU was also instrumental in the similar restoration of Red Run in Tucker County a few years back, which was a quick and tremendous success. Red Run is presently one of those fly-fishing-only trout streams. It features a native brook trout fishery. As the TU slogan goes, "bring back the brook" is exemplified by just such stream restorations. There is still great hope for a coal impact-related mitigation-restoration of the 14 miles of Red Creek heading up in the Dolly Sods of Tucker County. This stretch of stream is presently impaired by acid rain.

Power plant modifications are gradually progressing with the hopes of greatly relieving the acid deposition situation once and for all to the great benefit of many a trout fishery. And don't forget the tremendous restorations made through liming sand or rotating drum limestone pulverization treatments at big-name trout fisheries the likes of the Blackwater and Cranberry rivers and Shavers Fork.

Power plant modifications are gradually progressing with the hopes of greatly relieving the acid deposition situation once and for all to the great

benefit of many a trout fishery. And don't forget the tremendous restorations made through liming sand or rotating drum limestone pulverization treatments at big-name trout fisheries the likes of the Blackwater and Cranberry rivers and Shavers Fork.

Fisheries Chief Mike Shingleton doesn't believe that any new catch- and-release areas will be proposed for this year. He may be as perplexed as the next manager at the fairly recent and strong opposition that thwarted an additional catch-and-release area for the upper Shavers Fork of the Cheat River in Randolph County.

Somewhat astounding is the near universal practice of catch-and-release for bass fishing, while the recent tagging study confirms that it is in fact the exception for trout! Go figure, and there seems to be a definite "class" struggle between the perceived elitists fly-fishing and bait-fishing trout anglers. Liking to use whatever works to catch the most fish at the time is what it's all about. Furthermore, there are too few of us anglers to be dividing and conquering ourselves.

At times, there may also be a bit of a rift between resident and out-of-state anglers. If it's any consolation, the trout-tagging study reveals that Mountaineers caught 90 percent of the stocked trout. The true sportsman will welcome visiting anglers and maybe even lend a hand or a piece of advice. Many of us don't get to visit the other states as much as we would like and would hope that a similar welcome wagon awaits us.

Astoundingly, anglers from nine different states caught the remaining 10 percent of our state's tagged trout! We can take pride in that kind of tourist attraction that our trout fishery creates.

Before moving on to the hatchery situation and some trout-fishing tips, the native brook trout fishery should be further addressed. This delicate resource is a product of many of the state's feeder streams. It needs to be handled with care -- catch-and-release fishing is a necessity.

Brook trout are the only truly native trout species in West Virginia. This species reside mostly in the higher elevation and national forest counties of the state's eastern front. For example, this would include counties such as Greenbrier, Monroe, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker and Webster.

There is an unwritten rule about finding and seeking your own brook trout streams as opposed to asking where they are. It's kind of like you should always be helpful, but you don't have to reveal your favorite hole or brookie stream.

For at least a lead, however, some of the tributaries of Shavers Fork, Dry Fork, Gandy Creek and the North Fork of South Branch in those referenced counties should get you started in the right direction. Seneca Creek, which mouths at the famous "Rocks" of the same name in Pendleton County, harbors not only brookies but also a self-sustaining rainbow trout population.

For another fair warning, Seneca's small-stream wild trout can be as spooky as they get. For some trouting tips in general, we need to look no farther than that recent trout-tagging study again. Let's ice that cake with a little tale.

Whilst bass fishing the South Branch Potomac toward Moorefield in Hardy County, a glance down through the clear water revealed a golden trout in this otherwise warmish water. Startled, it was muttered, "How'd that thing get here?" The youngster being paddled quickly responded, "It swam."

Truer words were never spoken. It's for that reason that we never know what we're going to run into out there. Point being, stocked and other trout must quickly move from here to there to find a niche with all the ingredients for survival. So just fishing the stocking days or stocking points alone is going to seriously hamper your success.

There is an unwritten rule about finding and seeking your own brook trout streams as opposed to asking where they are. It's kind of like you should always be helpful, but you don't have to reveal your favorite hole or brookie stream.

For another point, trout can be as ferocious as they can be finicky. Fish for the finicky times and the ferocious feeding times will take care of themselves. Lighter lines and smaller, slow-fished baits are a plus, especially during colder temperatures and high water times.

Keep experimenting with different baits and presentations. If the fish aren't biting, there's an old saying: "You're going to have to eat it for them." You do that by getting it to pass all but right into their mouth. Likewise, if you're not hanging up and snagging, you're probably not doing it right.

Along those lines, a senior streamside fly-fishing lady once rendered some sage advice. Upon telling her of all the unsuccessful trials, tribulations, leader and fly changes, she quickly offered the following: "It sounds like you're doing it right." That was taken as a compliment.

Conversely, the bass guys come armed for bear with several rods locked and loaded with different baits. Though one rod is plenty for trout, a smorgasbord of baits should always be carried along. This doesn't mean you can't have your favorites. A selection of trout spinners or other artificials like small jigs, salmon eggs, mealworms and garden worms can all easily fit in a small fishing bag.

Minnow fishing is becoming a lost art. Don't rule it out. For certain low-flow times of the year, you may be challenged to catch anything but on a fly. If that's what it takes, do it. If you can bait-fish, you can fly-fish. Again, it's not about being elite, it's about what catches fish.

Biologist Shingleton also beams with pride at the average trout stocking size in relation to some other states. In fishing, size does matter with 12-inch fish now the average stock size early in the stocking season, which gradually increases toward 13 to 14 inches all the way through May.

Shingleton also provided the prior year's hatchery and trout production rundown that anglers can expect a sequel to. How does 1.2 million trout each averaging two-thirds of a pound sound?

That's what you can expect from the combined output of eight hatchery or rearing sources. The popular rainbow variety makes up nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the fish numbers. Brook trout are the next closest at 24 percent of the total, with brownies and the West Virginia annual favorite "golden" varieties rounding it out at 6 percent apiece.

In closing, we note the effort to resolve some age-old conflicts here. It may be time to start one in good fun, too. There is a TU Chapter Web page photo spread ironically showing a youngster holding a decent largemouth bass for which the caption reads "green trout." Folks, I like bass a lot, too, but they're nowhere near as pretty as a trout is.

It's for such spellbinding trout reasons that we excitedly await the annual trout saga. Prime time for trout is right now, so you don't have to wait any longer. For casting t

heir spell on us, we just keep on casting right back at 'em, West Virginia style.

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