"They took over the walleye and hybrid striper production, and that has allowed us to do more muskies, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and catfish," Null said. "That, in turn, has benefited the fishermen of West Virginia because two hatcheries can grow a lot more fish than one hatchery can."
The ponds at Palestine also accommodate paddlefish, a plankton-feeding species that, until the DNR began growing them, had all but disappeared from Mountain State waters. The presence of plankton in Palestine's waters keep help keep food costs to a minimum. Most of the fish hatched there feed on plankton while they're very young, and the plankton allows Null and his technicians to raise minnows to feed the hatchery's older fish.
Operating an aging facility isn't without headaches, and at age 70-plus, Palestine causes more than a few. Its water comes from the Little Kanawha, which often runs muddy for weeks at a time.
Null and his crew try to minimize strain on the hatchery's 50-year-old main pump by running it only when the river is running clear. Sometimes, though, they have no choice but to take in muddy water, which strains the pump and clogs the hatchery's plumbing with sediment.
"Our biggest problem is old, deteriorated water lines," Null said. "We did a big pond renovation about five years ago. Basically we cleaned out the pond bottoms and put in new water lines and drain lines. That helped matters a lot."
Null said the good thing about working with antiquated technology is that most of the problems are pretty straightforward.
"When something breaks, it's usually pretty easy to fix," he added.
The hatchery's low-tech nature also helps it keep a low profile. Trout hatcheries, with their crystal-clear waters, tend to attract scads of sightseers. Null said Palestine rarely gets visitors.
"The ponds are murky, so there isn't much to see," he said. "Sometimes in the spring, we spawn fish in the hatchery building, but that's about the only time of year we're doing anything people would want to watch."
There might not be much to watch, but O'Bara said there's plenty for anglers to enjoy.
"Because of Palestine, fishermen are seeing more fish and better-quality fish," he said. "And they're seeing some species, like paddlefish and blue catfish, that we would never have been able to get involved with."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.