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Rainbow record raises questions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has a new state-record rainbow-trout - one that raises a few uncomfortable questions.

Tony Corbin of Gerrardstown caught the 30.5-inch, 17.31-pound fish May 2 from a Berkeley County quarry pond. On May 20, Division of Natural Resources officials issued a news release confirming the trout's record status.

And the questions began.

The release said the fish had been caught "from a private pond." Within days, Bret Preston, the DNR's assistant chief in charge of fisheries had received what he called "a few critical comments from anglers."

"Some people don't think it's appropriate for us to recognize state record fish from private waters," he said.

Apparently the term "private waters" raised the possibility in critics' minds that the fish might have been purchased from a hatchery and stocked into someone's backyard pond specifically for the purpose of claiming a record.

That wasn't what happened. A MetroNews report on Corbin's catch revealed that the pond had been stocked several years earlier with trout and hybrid striped bass. Apparently the pond was deep enough, cold enough and rich enough in forage fish to grow at least one trout to record-breaking size.

From that standpoint, Corbin's catch appears legit.

The catch does, however, bring to mind some questions.

First, why do DNR officials award records for fish caught from private waters?

The short answer: Because they always have. The current state-record list contains five specimens caught from private lakes and ponds: bluegill, bowfin, common carp, grass carp and rainbow trout. And by the way, the previous state-record rainbow also came from private waters - a pond in Monroe County.

"Truth is, we've [recognized catches from private waters] for many, many years," Preston said.

Second question: Would the current policy force DNR officials to accept a state record caught from a "fee fishery" such as a pay lake in which all the fish come from private hatcheries?

"We haven't been faced with that," Preston said. "State code says an angler has to hold a valid fishing license in order to claim a state record. People who fish pay lakes aren't required to purchase licenses.

"But that doesn't address what we would do if a licensed angler tried to claim a record with a fish from a pay lake. That's a gray area that, so far, we've never had to take into account."

Addressing a stocked-trout record-fish issue wouldn't exactly be a new experience. DNR officials have done it before.

A few years back, the agency took a pounding for recognizing a state-record trout stocked from one of their own hatcheries. The blowback from that "instant record" resulted in a policy that, effective from that day forward, no fish exceeding record size were to be stocked.

Preston said Corbin's record has touched off yet another round of questions.

"I understand and recognize that this is a legitimate point of discussion," he said. "I suspect that at our next fish staff meeting, we'll be taking a look at it. We'll more than likely look at other states to see how they handle these questions."

For starters, Preston looked up Ohio's and Pennsylvania's policies. Ohio recognizes fish from private waters; Pennsylvania does not.

"This does cause us to pause and think about our state-record program," he said. "And I understand folks' concerns. Our last two rainbow-trout records have come from private waters, and people are questioning that."


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