Growing trophy walleyes isn’t easy, even in a stream as rich and productive as West Virginia’s New River.
State fisheries officials believe they’ve found a way to do it, but it will require drastic changes to the river’s already restrictive walleye-fishing regulations.
Division of Natural Resources biologists recently proposed a 20- to 30-inch slot limit for the New. Currently anglers are allowed to keep two fish a day, both of which must be longer than 18 inches. Under the new regulations, the creel limit would remain two, but only one could be longer than 30 inches. All fish between 20 and 30 inches in length would have to be released. The slot limit would be in effect from the West Virginia-Virginia line downstream to Hawks Nest Dam.
Mark Scott, the New River’s district fisheries biologist, said the slot limit would better protect the river’s spawning females.
“Our age-and-growth data show that walleye males rarely get more than 20 inches long in the New,” Scott explained. “On the other hand, females are over 20 inches by the time they reach age 3. They don’t get reproductively successful until they’re about 25 inches long, which comes at about age 5.
“The slot limit, which would require all walleyes between 20 and 30 inches to be released, would protect those spawning-age females. We’d be assured of getting at least three years’ worth of spawning out of our females during the peak of their reproductive capability.”
In addition to the slot limit, DNR officials hope to establish a year-round catch-and-release area for walleye from the base of Sandstone Falls downstream to the mouth of Meadow Creek.
“During our electrofishing surveys, we’ve found that most of the spawning that occurs on the New appears to take place in that stretch, especially in the area just downstream of Sandstone Falls,” Scott said. “By placing catch-and-release regulations on walleyes in that 5-mile stretch from Sandstone to Meadow Creek, we would further decrease pressure on the critical segment of the walleye population.”
The state Natural Resources Commission could approve the new regulations as early as their April 18 meeting. If approved, the changes would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.