Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

It might be some time before authorities give us a final assessment of what caused last weekend’s boating accident on southern West Virginia’s New River.

These things are clear, though:

Two men are dead and another is missing. Searchers have recovered two bodies, those of 23-year-old Paul Malone of Lester and 49-year-old Sam Acord of Richmond, Va. The search for the other man, Dean Halsey of Lester, is scheduled to resume today.

Two men survived. Jeff Acord of Sandstone and Daniel Malone of Lester swam to safety after the 14-foot jon boat capsized 15 miles downstream from Bluestone Dam.

Boating practices empoyed by the victims were not safe. The Coast Guard rates the carrying capacity of that size jon boat at three people and 350 pounds. Clearly, the boat was overloaded. What’s more, none of the men were wearing life jackets.

“This would not be  atagedy if all those men would have had on life jackets,” said Jeff West, chief ranger for the National Park Service’s New River Gorge National River.

Sadly, this sort of accident occurs with some regularity on the New, a river known for its swift currents and dangerous rapids.

I hope something like this never happens again, but I fear it will.

WVDNR seeks slot limit for New R. walleyes

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A slot-sized New R. walleye
A slot-sized New R. walleye

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.”

Scott said the current two-fish limit and 18-inch minimum size protects mainly male walleyes. “We found that males seldom get more than 20 inches long on the New. You can’t grow a population by protecting only males,” he explained.

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.

‘River of Death’ claims another victim

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newriver.jpgIt happens every summer, and it’s always a tragedy.

The powerful rapids of West Virginia’s New River have claimed another fisherman. Richard Dale Harrison, 31, of Red House drowned near Terry. Harrison apparently slipped while fishing. Some nearby campers saw him fall in and tried to throw him a rope and a cooler, but weren’t able to reach him.

Park Service: Uhhh, never mind…

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National Park Service officials must be getting some heat from hunters and anglers upset at the NPS’s plans to eliminate lead ammunition and fishing tackle from all park units, including West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River.

A Park Service spokesman now says the lead ban was intended to affect only Park Service personnel and was never meant to include hunters and fishermen.

Mmmm-hmmm.

Read the Park Service’s original news release and decide for yourself.

Officials of the National Park Service believe they’re “doing the right thing” by attempting to eliminate lead ammunition and fishing tackle from all national park properties.

Problem is, an awful lot of West Virginians use lead bullets, lead shot, lead-head jigs, lead-head spinnerbaits, lead-head buzzbaits and lead sinkers when they hunt and fish in and around the New River Gorge.

State fish and wildlife officials fear that a ban might suppress hunting and fishing along southern West Virginia’s New, Gauley and Bluestone rivers — all of which fall under Park Service jurisdiction in places.

Park Service officials have promised to solicit public input before making a final decision on the subject. Those discussions should be lively indeed.

The full story can be found in this Sunday Gazette-Mail report.