It’s been nearly 20 years since then DNR Trout Chief Don Phares gave a presentation at the winter Hunt Show in Charleston.
He discussed Trout Unlimited’s long standing army of volunteers that planted surplus DNR brown trout fingerlings here; there and everywhere they thought the fish might have a chance to survive to well, big brown trout. But that’s only half the story on what has become a phenomenal aspect of the West Virginia trout fishing program.
So much so in fact that just a short while back, the millionth fingerling brown trout stocking was made! Per Phares, there was a niche for brown trout in many of the State’s warmer, slower running waters that due to the hands of man may have impacted our original trout waters that once harbored the Mountain State’s only native species, the brook trout.
So these “German” brown trout were planted by backpack, rail and horseback, on foot, vehicle or any conceivable way to get the fish to the streams. Most of it was conducted in the higher elevation, “northern” national forest climes where the brookies may have vanished, but where it was thought that some trout would be better than none.
Phares also espoused that famous streams like Gandy Creek and Dry Fork may actually harbor niches for all three major trout species; brook, brown and rainbow; and the more, the merrier. That is, each species had a slightly different niche, different spawning regime, didn’t generally cross breed and so on. That isn’t to say that like most predatory fish they wouldn’t compete somewhat, eating each other’s eggs and fry on occasion. And if it’s any consolation, they can also be cannibalistic!
Though he was skeptical about the southern coal fields for their higher human population and magnitude of mining impacts, a group of coal mining anglers from Boone County made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They coaxed him to put some small brown trout in Hopkins Fork, a local feeder stream of the Big Coal River near the town of Prenter.
If the fingerlings survived to decent size, he would agree to add the stream to the state stock list. Low and behold the fish made it and the Boone County coal miners’ hunch had panned out. This is the other half of the story with the rest now being history. Not only did certain cool waters flowing spring-like from underground mines provide for some new “southern” trout fishing holes the likes of Hopkins and Pond Forks, Spruce Fork, Paint Creek and a host of others, some commercial and recreational aquaculture operations began turning up too.
Other streams in the readership area that have received fingerlings in the fairly recent past include: West Fork of Pond Fork, Elk Creek (at Emmett), Spruce Laurel Fork, Dingess Run, Buffalo and Huff Creeks. If anything with this sweltering heat of late, the brown trout may someday be the only trout in town. The browns are universally agreed to be the most difficult of the three major species to hook and land which might also give them an edge under heavy fishing pressure.
For your distant or camp county streams, a call to the DNR District Fisheries folks should provide insight on the likely presence of brown trout. As to why we’re telling you this now.
Yet another Buffalo Creek youngster, Seth Osborne, has landed a monster brown trout from his own backyard stream. And no coincidence, that big brown trout looks an awful lot like those little brown trout, proud graduates of the fingerling program!