Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

West Virginians who turn 65 after Jan. 1, 2012 will be required to purchase $25 “senior lifetime licenses” before they can legally hunt or fish.

Lawmakers passed the so-called “senior lifetime license bill” during the closing hours of the recent legislative session. The “lifetime” part of the title means that people who turn 65 will need to purchase the licenses only once. People who turned 65 before Jan. 1, 2012 are “grandfathered” (an unfortunate term, but fitting) and will not have to purchase the licenses.

Division of Natural Resources officials sought the legislation so West Virginia could get a larger share of federal money. The money, paid by sportsmen in the form of special excise taxes on hunting equipment and fishing tackle, gets distributed to the states according to each state’s number of license holders, surface area and water acreage.

Most states require seniors to continue to purchase hunting and fishing licenses. West Virginia historically has not. Over the years, the Mountain State has lost millions of dollars it otherwise would have received to states that require seniors to buy licenses.

Now West Virginia will get that money. The feds have agreed to recognize each one-time license purchase for a period of 10 years.

By law, the additional money West Virginia receives must be used on programs to enhance fish or wildlife.

Update: Landowners and their immediate families, hunting on their own lands, will not have to purchase the senior licenses. 

Waxing nostalgic over sporting-goods stores

This week’s column takes a trip down memory lane:

The other day, while cruising the fishing-tackle aisles of a big-box store, I found myself yearning for simpler times.

We old guys do that. Once we pass the big five-oh, the world that once seemed to pass in slow motion now whizzes by at express-train speed. Modern sporting-goods departments (there aren’t many true sporting-goods stores anymore) offer dazzling arrays of fishing tackle hermetically sealed in blister packs and festooned with computer bar codes. There’s convenience in having such variety, but there’s confusion too. When I started going into sporting-goods stores, at age 9 or 10 or so, the choices weren’t nearly as varied.

Hooks were made by Pflueger or Eagle Claw. The Pflueger hooks came in little round tins. The ones I bought contained a modest assortment of hook shapes and sizes, all meant to hold live bait. The Eagle Claw hooks I remember came pre-snelled on heavy monofilament leaders, strung on long, slender cards and wrapped in plastic.

I mostly remember the lures.

Dardevle spoons were as eye-catching then as they are today, especially the red ones with broad white stripes and green ones with yellow frog spots. I always wanted to fish with one of those magic-looking lures, but frankly couldn’t afford one until after I got out of college. By then, other lures were more in vogue. I eventually bought a couple of Dardevles, probably for nostalgia’s sake, but to this day I’ve never taken a fish on one.

Across the aisle from the Dardevles were the spinners. No tackle box of that era was complete without a couple of Abu-Garcia Reflex spinners, with their distinctive corrugated blades; Rooster Tails, with a brightly colored hackle feathers wrapped around their treble hooks; some Mepps, with their distinctive brass blades and squirrel-tail adornments; and a few plain silver or gold Hildebrandt Colorado blades with looped clasps that trout flies could be attached to.

Sporting goods stores of that era also carried a modest assortment of Helin Flatfish lures. Flatfish were inexpensive enough even for me to afford, and I spent hours agonizing over which ones to buy. I invariably chose small silver ones, mainly because they so closely imitated the minnows that inhabited the creek behind my house. I caught a lot of bass with them.

Close to the Flatfish display, stacked neatly in boxes on a shelf tantalizingly out of reach, sat the Holy Grail of artificial lures – plugs. No one called them crankbaits back then, and only a handful of purists called them lures. If they weren’t spinners or spoons, then by golly they were plugs.

They were colorful and multi-hooked and big enough, at least in a kid’s eyes, to land a whale. Their names, and even their manufacturers’ names, spring readily to mind despite the intervening years:

Topwater Hula Poppers and Jitterbugs, both made by the Arbogast Co.; deep-diving Hellbenders made by Whopper Stopper; shiny MirrOlures made by the L&S Bait Co.; and the granddaddy of them all (translation: the one I most lusted for), the jointed, perch-patterned Pikie Minnow made by the Creek Chub Bait Co.

I never could afford to buy very much, and yet the proprietors of those long-ago stores were invariably tolerant and friendly. Perhaps they knew that if they showed a financially challenged kid some encouragement, the kid might one day become a steady customer.

They were right, but they were wrong. Sporting-goods stores of that era tended to open and close within a few years, and by the time I was able to buy, the stores of my youth had closed.

It’s a pity. Those stores were infinitely more intimate than today’s big boxes, and would be infinitely more fun to shop.

Bad news for West Virginia trout anglers

One of the most popular stretches of one of West Virginia’s most popular trout streams won’t be accessible by vehicle for a while. The U.S. Forest Service has closed a good-sized chunk of the road that parallels the river.

Here’s the Forest Service news release:

(Elkins, West Virginia) – Due to a sinkhole discovered in the driving tread of the Williams River Road in Monongahela National Forest, the popular road is temporarily closed between Tea Creek Campground to a location near Dyer until repairs can be made.  The presence of the hole presents an obvious safety issue to vehicular traffic in the area. Until engineers can fully assess the situation, the extent of damage underlying the road surface is unknown, as is the length of time it will take to implement repairs. Every effort will be made to have the road repaired as soon as possible,especially since the spring fishing season usually brings heavy traffic to this area.
Signs will indicate the closed section of the road. Visitors are requested to not drive around these signs, as there are no suitable turn around locations near the damaged area, and it is possible additional holes will appear in the road as the ice melts.

W.Va. DNR seeks 12-inch limit for Ohio R. bass

Size limits coming soon?

In past years, West Virginia fisheries officials have resisted calls for minimum size limits on largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.

Now they want them — at least on the portion of the Ohio River that borders the Mountain State.

Bret Preston, the Division of Natural Resources’ wamwater fisheries chief, requested the regulation change at a recent Natural Resources Commission meeting. If commission members approve the request, a 12-inch minimum size limit would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. The limit would apply to all 256 miles of the Ohio River between the tip of the state’s Northern Panhandle to the mouth of the Big Sandy River near Kentucky.

Preston said DNR officials are seeking the change so West Virginia’s bass-fishing regulations will be consistent with those of other Ohio River states. A similar sake-of-consistency change went into effect earlier this year for white, hybrid and striped bass.

Anglers will get a chance to comment on the proposal at DNR sectional meetings scheduled for March 14-15 at 12 locations throughout the state.

Despite losses, W.Va. hunting, angling rank high

West Virginians still love to hunt

The bad news is that West Virginia is losing hunters and anglers. The good news is that when you start in the penthouse, coming down a step or two doesn’t seem like all that much.

From this week’s Woods & Waters section in the Sunday Gazette-Mail:

It’s no secret that fewer Americans are hunting and fishing nowadays; participation has fallen steadily for more than 15 years.
In West Virginia, though, declines in hunter and angler participation have been relatively gradual. In fact, according to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey on hunting and fishing trends, the Mountain State’s participation rates remain among the nation’s highest.
Nationwide during the survey trend, the number of hunters fell 11 percent, from 14.1 million in 1991 to 12.1 million in 2006, the latest year for which complete statistics were available. Angler numbers fell at an even greater rate – 16 percent, from 35.5 million in 1991 to 29.2 million in 2006.
Researchers doing the survey compared the states’ trends against the national trends. The number of deer hunters in West Virginia, for example, declined at a slightly higher rate than the national average. So did the number of turkey hunters and rabbit hunters. Only in the area of squirrel hunting did the number of Mountain State participants decline at a lower rate than the national trend.
The number of West Virginians who participate in fishing declined far less than the national trend. In Bass angling, trout angling, catfish angling and “angling for anything,” state residents significantly bucked the national tendency.
More encouraging, at least for West Virginia fish and wildlife officials, was how much higher the state’s participation rates were in almost all areas compared to national rates.
Fish and Wildlife Service number-crunchers placed states into one of three categories: States with participation lower than the national rate, states with participation at the national rate or up to two times greater, and states with participation at least two times greater.
West Virginia fell into the “participation at least two times greater” group in four of the six categories – deer hunting, turkey hunting, squirrel hunting and rabbit hunting. The Mountain State ranked fifth in deer-hunting participation, seventh in turkey-hunting participation, led the nation by a wide margin in squirrel-hunting participation, and ranked fifth in rabbit-hunting participation.
Only in dove hunting and waterfowl hunting did West Virginia come in lower than the national participation rate. The state’s participation rate in both categories was too low for researchers to measure.
State anglers fared nearly as well in the fishing part of the survey. West Virginia more than doubled the national participation rate in bass fishing, trout fishing, catfish fishing, and “fishing for anything.” The state’s bass-fishing rate trailed only Oklahoma’s in the national rankings.
While Division of Natural Resources officials acknowledge that West Virginia is gradually losing hunters and anglers, they draw encouragement from the state’s high finishes in the state-comparison rankings.
“We started near the top, and we’re staying near the top,” said Steve Brown, a senior DNR planner. “There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Budget axes hatchery spending 21 percent

Budget-cutting is all the rage in Washington nowadays, and not all the cutting is being proposed by Republicans.

The Obama administration’s proposed budget calls for a whopping 21 percent cut in funding for federal fish hatcheries, from $54.37 million to $42.76 million. The cuts would apply to 70 hatcheries, including White Sulphur Springs Federal Hatchery — a sizable source of the rainbow trout stocked in West Virginia.

Congress must still agree on the budget, and agreement on anything right now seems a dubious proposition. So there’s still hope…

Mississippi man catches world-record gar

327 pounds of pure ugly

If you want to see a whole lot o’ fishy ugliness gathered into one 8-foot 5-inch, 327-pound package, check out this WAPT-TV story about the Vicksburg, Miss., man who landed what should prove to be the next world-record alligator gar.

Now THAT’s a whopper!

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

New W.Va. fishing regs now in effect

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the state Natural Resources Commission has made several changes in West Virginia’s fishing regulations for 2011. Here’s the Division of Natural Resources’ news release about the changes:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Four new fishing regulations have been established for 2011, according to Frank Jezioro, Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.  “These regulations were proposed to the Natural Resources Commission and presented to the public during 12 statewide meetings in 2010. The regulations are intended to enhance fishing opportunities and protect important sport fish populations,” said Jezioro.
The new regulations include:
  • Shavers Fork Stuart Recreation Area Trout Catch-and-Release –  A new catch-and-release area for trout took effect January 1, 2011.  The new area is approximately a 1-mile section of Shavers Fork River encompassing much of the Stuart Park Recreation Area, just east of Elkins.  “The area is a popular family destination and is a great addition to the existing catch-and-release areas.  We expect it to be popular with trout anglers who like to practice catch-and-release,” noted Director Jezioro. Shavers Fork is a popular trout fishery and attracts many anglers and tourists.  The new catch-and-release area can be accessed by foot from county Route 6 on the River Loop Trail, or by driving into the Stuart Recreation Area to the river. A locked gate is located at the road entrance, and a U.S. Forest Service day-use fee is charged from mid-April through September.
  • New River Walleye –  A new regulation on walleye in the New River provides a two-fold approach to walleye management.  First, a 20-inch to 30-inch slot regulation with a two walleye limit, one of which may be over 30 inches, is in effect on the New River from the Hawks Nest Dam extending upstream to the West Virginia/Virginia state line.  Second, within this section is a catch-and-release regulation for all walleye from the Meadow Creek public access site extending upstream five miles to the base of Sandstone Falls.  “These regulations are intended to protect walleye during our efforts to restore the fishery in the New River,” said Jezioro.
  • Hybrid Striped Bass, Striped Bass and White Bass –  There is a statewide daily limit of 30 fish in aggregate with no more than four fish greater than 15 inches in length, except in the designated special regulation waters: East Lynn, Mt. Storm and Rollins lakes.  “This regulation is intended to reduce confusion among anglers in the identification of these similar species and will lead to consistent regulations on the Ohio River for these popular sport fish”, noted Jezioro.
  • Mash Fork of Camp Creek –  A Children and Class Q fishing area is established on Mash Fork within Camp Creek State Park and State Forest in Mercer County.  This area is approximately 100 yards long and provides trout fishing opportunities for children under 10 years of age and physically challenged persons from March through May.
The 2011 Fishing Regulations Summary is available at all West Virginia hunting and fishing license agents, DNR District Offices, Elkins Operation Center and South Charleston Headquarters. The 2011 Fishing Regulations Summary Regulations is also available online at www.wvdnr.gov.

Trout stocking trucks run, even in winter

If only the weather were this good

This week’s column updates West Virginia’s efforts to stock trout despite snowstorm after snowstorm:

With all the snow we’ve gotten this winter, it’s hard to believe that West Virginia’s trout-stocking crews have managed to stock all but five of the 52 streams and lakes on their January schedule.
It’s true, though.
“When the roads are clear, we really try to get the trout out to the people,” said Mike Shingleton, head of the Division of Natural Resources’ trout program. “We had some bad days this month, but when our crews were able to go they did a really good job.”
The only streams that didn’t get trout were upper Shavers Fork in Pocahontas County; the Cranberry River in Pocahontas, Webster and Nicholas counties; the Williams River in Pocahontas and Webster counties; the West Fork of the Greenbrier in Pocahontas County; and the Little River of the West Fork of the Greenbrier.
All those streams are located way back in the boonies, tucked in among some of the state’s highest mountains. Shingleton said the access roads to those streams were impassable even before stockings began.
“We managed to get all the other waters, but on some of the ones we got we weren’t able to stock all the pools where people are used to seeing us show up. In some cases there was too much snow for a guy to safely carry a 40-pound net filled with trout. In other cases, we had shelf ice along the stream banks and it wasn’t safe to go out onto the ice just to stock a pool.
“A lot of those streams had only a little bit of open water down through their centers. Considering the conditions we were dealing with, we did the best we could.”
Temperatures usually rise as February rolls along, and that stands to make things a little easier on hatchery-truck workers. It had better; February’s stocking schedule is even more ambitious than January’s.
“In February, we pick up the waters designated as ‘biweekly’ and ‘monthly,’ in addition to the ‘weekly’ waters we stocked in January,” Shingleton explained.
The stockings should come in the nick of time; the state’s trout hatcheries are enduring lower-than-normal water flows, and the fast-growing trout are starting to become overcrowded.
“Managers are chomping at the bit to get those fish out of [the hatcheries’] raceways,” Shingleton said. “The fish get bigger, almost with each passing day, and as they grow they become harder and harder to care for. We need to get rid of quite a few fish in February.”
Though anglers might not realize it, many of the streams in West Virginia’s eastern mountains are also running quite low for this time of year.
“It’s hard to convince people we’re in a drought, but we are. We’re getting snowfall, but the water isn’t getting to the streams. What we need is to get a lot of snow, and then to have that snow melt very slowly,” Shingleton said.
Rapidly melting snow runs off quickly and doesn’t replenish underground water tables. Without that groundwater, streams tend often rise and run out equally quickly. In the winter, rain isn’t a hatchery manager’s friend because it melts the snow too quickly to effectively replenish underground water tables.
Shingleton can’t control the weather, but he can influence when hatchery trucks roll. He promised that as long as highways remain passable, trout will get stocked.
“If the roads are clear, the trucks will roll,” he said. “We’ll have some cancellations, no doubt about it. Anglers are pretty understanding, though. They know we’re getting the fish to them as best we can.”

A sure cure for the ‘shack nasties’

The W.Va. Whitetail Hall of Fame, a popular Hunt Show feature

About this time of the year, cabin fever really begins to set in. It’s cold outside, the hunting seasons are pretty much over and the creeks are too frozen to fish.

The West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show comes at the perfect time. A day or two spent wandering the aisles, talking to outfitters, checking out the latest equipment and shooting the bull with other sportsmen can cure even the worst case of shack nasties.

This year’s show is scheduled for noon to 9 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Charleston Civic Center. Admission is $7 for adults and $1 for kids age 6 to 12. Kids under age 6 get in free.