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Fishermen can be a hard-to-please bunch.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Hubert Mills (left) of Franklin County and fishing buddy Bob Maxie of Goodview cast for trout in Roanoke’s Tinker Creek on Trout Heritage Day. The men started their day in Botetourt County on Jennings Creek, another Trout Heritage Day water.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013
Doug Jessie is a bit of a hybrid trout angler.
While he enjoys casting flies for native brook trout in tiny mountain streams, he also sometimes fishes stocked waters.
When it comes to fishing those stocked waters, the secretary of Roanoke's Trout Unlimited chapter shares a common trait with many of those with whom he shares the water: some level of dissatisfaction.
Among Jessie's concerns is that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries plants hatchery-raised trout over native brook trout.
"They're stocking some brookie streams that are no wider than the cab of your truck," Jessie said. "That seems absolutely silly."
Virginia's trout fishermen can be a hard-to-please bunch, and they are not shy about voicing their opinions.
Among other things, they want more fish.
After listening to that feedback for years, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is taking formal steps to evaluate the state's catchable trout stocking program.
Over the next three years the agency plans to take a deep look at the program. The resulting management plan will help shape the future of the trout program.
Assisting DGIF in the process will be Virginia Tech advanced degree fisheries students Vic DiCenzo and Amanda Hyman. They will work under the guidance of Steve McMullin, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife who has been involved in previous DGIF management plan development.
"We're not saying that the program is not working or that it's broken," said DGIF fisheries biologist Steve Reeser, the game department's point man on the project. "We're saying 'How do we make it better?' "
Improving the program, Reeser said, should improve angler satisfaction and could also help recruit more trout fishermen.
Virginia has about 60,000 trout license holders, down from around 100,000 two decades ago. A license is required to fish any water stocked with catchable-sized trout.
Virginia's trout fishing program is multi-faceted.
The state boasts more than 2,500 miles of streams inhabited by wild trout, including native brook trout, and brown and rainbow trout that became established after long-ago stockings.
The state stocks fingerling trout in some streams and lakes that offer good trout growing habitat but which don't have enough trout reproduction to sustain a sport fishery.
The catchable trout program, however, is by far the biggest element of the program.
The DGIF raises trout in coldwater hatcheries until they meet or exceed the 7-inch size limit for creeling fish. The fish are then trucked to streams, ponds and lakes, where anglers may immediately target them.
A handful of stocked waters are managed under the Delayed Harvest program.
Anglers are restricted to using artificial lures with single hooks, and must release all trout between Oct. 1 and May 31.
Because the waters are generally not suitable for sustaining trout through the summer, the waters open to harvest on June 1.
The vast majority of stocked streams, ponds and small lakes are considered put-and-take waters. As soon as the stocking trucks show up, anglers can start fishing.
Each day at 4 p.m., the DGIF publishes on its web site the list of streams that were stocked that day. But by then many fishermen already have gotten the word, some tipped off by friends who stake out roads near the hatcheries and then follow the stocking trucks to the streams or lakes.
That some fishermen are dunking their bait and lures before the last trout hits the water is a matter of frustration for plenty of trout fishermen.
Hugh Elliott, who lives in Roanoke near Glade Creek, a stocked Roanoke stream, said it annoys him that truck followers and their cronies get first crack at stocked fish.
Elliott said he saw an angler on Glade Creek with three large trout on a stringer, not long after the stocking truck had arrived.
"He watched where they put those big fish, and he nailed them," said Elliott, a 78-year-old who has been fishing for trout for more than 40 years.
Elliott has a thick file of correspondence between himself and the DGIF, as well as copies of notes to and from Congressman Bob Goodlatte's office regarding his displeasure with the DGIF's stocking notification system.
He said he was glad to learn the program is being reviewed.
"It shows that they're trying to do something," he said. "There is forward motion."
The evaluation process will take about three years.
It will start in earnest this fall.
Starting later this month and running through October the DGIF will host eight public meetings with fishermen.
The meetings are intended to explain how the trout program currently works, and also to record concerns voiced by attendees.
"We will let them know that, while we would love to stock every stream chock full with 18-inch fish, we can't do it," Reeser said.
Also this fall, Hyman, a Virginia Tech graduate student, will be conducting interviews with anglers on three trout waters in Southwest Virginia.
Those creel surveys, as they are called, will help the project's architects get a better idea of what aspects of the catchable trout program are most appreciated by anglers, as well as what they would like to see done differently.
Three different waters to the north will get looked at next year.
Adding to the data, current Virginia Tech doctoral student and former DGIF fisheries biologist DiCenzo will oversee a random telephone survey of trout license holders in 2014.
As when the game department developed management plans for big game species including white-tailed deer and black bears, a stakeholder committee will be formed to examine where the program is and where it could go.
Reeser and DiCenzo said that the stakeholder group will represent a variety of interests.
"We don't want yes men," Reeser said. "We want participants from a broad spectrum."
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