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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Like many sportsmen, Leon Turner of Fincastle isn't happy with Virginia's trout program which is under the guidance of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The difference, Turner is in a position to do something about it. He is one of the department's 11-board members appointed by the governor to oversee the agency.
One of Turner's jobs is to keep an eye on the department's bottom line, and when it comes to the trout program the finances aren't pretty. Twenty years ago, 100,000 trout licenses were being sold annually. That figure has dwindled to 60,000. We are talking about an annual loss approaching $1-million.
"If we sold 100,000 two decades ago, then we should be selling 150,000 now," he said.
The decline in the sale of trout licenses--they go for $23 apiece--doesn't just mean lost revenue, it also reflects the sad reality that fewer people are experiencing the joys of trout fishing, especially new recruits like youngsters and their moms and dads.
"The program needs a good overhaul," said Turner, who has been a trout fishermen most of his life. "We can't let it go on like it is."
A first step positive step occurred when DGIF announced it will evaluate the program and draft a Stocked Trout Management Plan with help from Virginia Tech and input from anglers during public meetings, telephone surveys and on-the-stream interviews. The question to be addressed: "What can be done to improve angling satisfaction?"
Word on the process has been slow to reach many would-be participants. A news release listing eight public hearings was dispatched Monday, just one week prior to the first session.
It will be interesting to see if the study results in fine tuning or a major overall. Fine tuning could mean more stocking on Saturdays when youngsters and people who work have an equal crack at catching the trout. A major overhaul could mean dropping the current year-round season and giving rebirth to an opening day and the festive atmosphere that goes with it.
"There is no reason we can't pump the program up," said Turner, who added that the lack of trout isn't an issue, what with the new facility at Coursey Springs near Millboro producing an abundance of fish under state-of-the-art conditions.
"Let's don't drag this thing out," he said." Let's get something going by next year."
Turner never has been a fan of the year-round season which replaced the highly popular, but problem prone, opening day in 1996.
"I told them exactly what would happen and it happened," he said. "People would lose interest."
For many, opening day was like the circus coming to town, the first day of spring and Christmas morning all combined. It thrilled some and chilled others.
"I have so many people tell me they miss it," said Turner. "They would bring their family out and camp for the weekend. They don't come anymore. I hope we can get the kids back out and get mom and dad buying licenses."
One drawback under the current structure is streams often are stocked early in the week and by Saturday when the kids and families come out, there is the presumption that most of the trout are gone, said Turner. This gives the advantage to retired people, who can fish any day of the week, and who often follow the hatchery truck.
Opening day wasn't without its problems. One of the major reasons it was abandoned was about 70 percent of the stocked streams were on private land and landowners were overwhelmed by the crowds of fishermen that showed up. Many solved their problem by simply posting their property.
What's more, there was the growing feeling that 100 hip-booted, worm-threading, salmon-egg soaking, corn-casting fishermen surrounding a single pool hardly evoked the spirit of real trout angling.
The point is, there are no easy answers. The study is going to confront divided feelings. But that doesn't mean the department shouldn't try to make improvements, even ones that require bold steps. License sales are declining. New recruits are lacking. As Turner says, that can't continue.
If you would like to voice your opinion, a series of public hearings have been scheduled and are listed below:
Your comments/questions welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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