Angling for More Fish Stocking in Our Area

I read articles urging adults to take kids fishing, and it’s a great idea. But here in the Northern Panhandle, the question looms: Where to fish? For a long time, our fishing opportunities have been diminishing, and the dismal trend looks like it will continue.

Specifically, in the last couple of years, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources suspended trout stockings in two local public impoundments. First, they announced they would no longer stock trout in Dunkard Fork, a lake in Marshall County. The locals protested, but the state offered the excuse that too much trash and debris fouled the lake. Huh? The logical response would be: Why don’t you clean it up? Typically, they ignored us.

Last year, they suspended trout stocking in what is called, variously, Middle Wheeling Lake or Middle Creek Lake, citing the road conditions. They promised to resume stocking again once the road was repaired. It never happened. I scanned the website for news of road repairs or resumed stocking until the season expired. Consequently, local anglers lost two lakes and the thousands of pounds of trout that could have been stocked. I wonder what waters were stocked with the trout we were supposed to get? I suspect they were stocked downstate.

I could add the loss of Burches Run Lake over a decade ago. They drained the lake and have never restored it. Why not? At the time, the word was that the coal mine had to cut a longwall under it. If true, why haven’t they been forced to pay for its replacement? We could apply this to the damage they’ve done to the interstate. Sounds like more corporate welfare to me. They do their damage, declare bankruptcy, then cut and run.

And when was the last time they even talked about creating a brand new lake up here? They built new ones before. Can’t they do it again?

A long time ago, hunters and anglers cut a deal with state and federal governments. We agreed to pay excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and pay money for licenses (including an extra ten bucks for a trout stamp). In turn, that money was supposed to be used to provide hunting and fishing opportunities and manage those resources. Ideally, those resources should have been improved over the years. Now, they are suffering decline and neglect.

Those lakes were created with another important purpose: flood control. Ohio did the same thing locally with Seneca, Piedmont, Salt Fork and Clendening lakes (where, incidentally, many West Virginia anglers do their fishing). But manmade lakes are not forever. They need to be maintained. Over time, the local lakes and ponds become silted in until they are more like marshes, and this degrades sport fishing. Probably every impoundment in the Northern Panhandle needs drained and/or dredged in order to be restored to a vibrant and productive lake with the proper depth. Also, as they grow more shallow their effectiveness in containing rain deluges is compromised.

Two other public lakes in Marshall County are pretty much completely ignored: Turkey Run and Wolf Run. Neither lake is stocked with trout, and both lakes are barely accessible. I’ll bet neither lake has been stocked with a single fish for at least 25 years.

Before they suspended the trout stocking at Middle Wheeling Lake, I fished there. I parked at the gravel lot on Middle Creek Road, which is a long way from the lake. I had to trudge up the steep road, then over the dam to the lake. The lot close to the lake is handicap parking only. At the top of the road, there is a large, flat grass area that would be ideal for a parking lot.

Why don’t they put a parking lot there and improve the road to provide easier access?

Of course, they do stock Wheeling Creek, but finding a place to park along the creek road is dicey, as many property owners do not allow anglers to park on their land.

The creek banks are commonly rocky and treacherous, especially for kids and seniors. Heavy spring rains frequently render the creek unfishable.

The Ohio River has become a productive place to fish, but it was basically an industrial sewer for a century. Those poisons (specifically PCBs) are laced in the sediment. The state posts warnings about the health hazards of eating too many river fish, limiting the consumption of some species to one meal per month. The Native Americans at least had the sense not to poison their own water and food supplies.

There has long been a suspicion here in the north that the state government in Charleston has a certain hostility toward us, so we don’t get our fair share in return for our taxes. The wretched condition of our roads would support this belief. This bias looks pretty obvious when we see how our local public waters are neglected.

My fishing license and trout stamp cost just as much as for a resident downstate, yet I and many local anglers feel like we are not getting a fair return on our money. Our fishing opportunities and state investments in public waters should be commensurate with those available to West Virginia anglers south of the Mason-Dixon line. At the very least, trout stocking in Dunkard and Middle Creek Lakes should be resumed.

Rogerson, of Wheeling, is a professor of English at West Virginia Northern Community College.


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