*This article appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Sunday, March 5, 2017.
Trout Unlimited’s national president touts WV’s trout potential
By John McCoy, Outdoor Reporter, Charleston Gazette-Mail
The head of the nation’s leading trout-conservation organization believes West Virginia’s efforts to restore and establish wild trout populations have become “a model for other states.”
“The work that is being done in West Virginia is just amazing,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Between the volunteers from local TU chapters and the professionals we have working within the state, things are really getting done.”
Wood, who works out of the organization’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters, will visit Charleston March 14 to speak at annual banquet of TU’s Ernie Nester Chapter. He said he plans to congratulate the chapter’s members for the work they’ve done to establish wild-trout fishing in streams throughout central and southern West Virginia.
“The work the chapter has done to spread the gospel of trout fishing is awesome,” he said.
Since the 1970s, TU members have scoured the state to find streams that can support wild trout. They use water-testing kits to check creeks’ alkalinity and acidity levels. They install maximum-reading thermometers to determine whether the creeks were cold enough. When they find streams that are cold enough and clean enough, they stock the streams with juvenile brown trout.
TU’s efforts have transformed scores of creeks into streams that harbor wild trout. If an angler catches a brown trout in Braxton, Clay, Kanawha, Boone, Fayette, Raleigh or Wyoming County, chances are good that Trout Unlimited helped put it there. Since the 1970s, TU members have stocked more than a million juvenile trout into those waters.
The organization has 2,500 members in eight chapters scattered throughout the Mountain State.
“Those members contribute about 15,000 hours each year to the communities they live in,” Wood said. “As an organization, TU has established 35 Trout in the Classroom projects, with more added every year; in brook trout streams where culverts had cut off [yearly spawning migrations], TU has helped replace those culverts in a way that reconnected those isolated stream segments; and in places where old roads used to bleed sediment into trout streams, TU has helped get rid of those roads.”
Other projects include fencing cattle out of streams so vegetation will grow along their banks, and inserting logs and other structures to redirect stream flows and create deep pockets where trout can feed and hide.
“TU now has 20 to 25 full-time employees that work in West Virginia,” Wood said. “It’s crazy how much work we’re getting done with those employees. When people see how much good has come from the restoration work that’s been done, and connect it back to TU, I believe a lot of those people will want to become members.”
Wood sees trout fishing as a potential economic windfall for the Mountain State.
“Making fishing better might sound like a self-serving thing, but it is big business,” he said. “Almost one in four West Virginians have fishing licenses. There are more anglers per capita in West Virginia than in most states. Fishing generates something close to 6,700 jobs.”
The potential is greatest, he said, in southern West Virginia, where many streams once rendered nearly fishless by coal mining have rebounded and are now considered trout waters.
“The more we can repair these streams, the more opportunity we’ll provide for kids to go out there and fish, and at the same time generate jobs and economic opportunities,” Wood said.
As a case in point, Wood pointed to McDowell County’s Elkhorn Creek — a stream widely known for producing trophy-sized rainbow and brown trout. Wood said anglers throughout the country would travel to fish for those trout if Elkhorn’s banks could be freed of litter and its waters freed from the raw sewage that gets dumped into it every day.
“TU does a cleanup there every spring,” he added, “but it’s not enough. I’d like to see TU lead an effort to get a sewer project for that entire watershed. It’s hard to imagine what the stream’s potential as a trout fishery might be if we could eliminate the environmental problems.”
Wood said he understands the political headwinds a project such as that would need to overcome, but he said the end result would be worth the effort.
“I think we need to realize that clean water should not be a political issue,” he explained. “People in these communities need to realize that they deserve cold, clean, fishable waters. They need to know the value of keeping the Clean Water Act intact. It starts locally and extends up to the national level.
“West Virginia might have highest potential in the east for wild-trout fishing. It has the elevation and it has great habitat. It’s our job to help protect high-quality habitat and work with state and federal agencies to recover as much degraded habitat as we can.”
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.