CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- To earn a West Virginia Trophy Fish Citation, anglers must kill the fish they catch, right?
That used to be the case, but it no longer is. Nowadays anglers can qualify for citations based only on their catches' lengths. So if they can measure their catches, take photos of them or have friends confirm the fishes' lengths, catch-and-release anglers too can qualify for citations.
The rules actually changed in 2004, but apparently a lot of folks didn't get the memo.
Mark Scott, a district fish biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources, wishes they had.
"I'm forever getting calls from people asking where they can get their dead fish weighed," he said. "A lot of them are surprised when I tell them they don't have to get their fish weighed at all."
DNR officials changed the rules because so many fishermen had begun to practice catch-and-release angling. Those anglers wanted recognition for their catches, but were unwilling to kill the fish just so they could haul it someplace and have it weighed on certified scales.
So now, in addition to the old-fashioned weight criteria for trophies, DNR officials maintain criteria for different species' lengths.
A sunfish, for example, must be at least 10 inches long to qualify. A muskellunge must measure 40 inches or more. Other popular species include rainbow trout, 21 inches; largemouth bass, 21 inches; smallmouth bass, 20 inches; channel catfish, 25 inches; and flathead catfish, 29 inches.
Scott said the presence of length criteria make getting a citation relatively easy.
"Basically all you have to do is measure the fish. The application for a Trophy Fish Citation has a place for that measurement," he said.
The application also has a blank for the fish's weight, but anglers should keep in mind that any fish submitted for a weight-based citation must be weighed on state-certified scales, such as those found in supermarkets' meat and produce departments.
Because the scales must be state-certified, anglers almost always have to kill the fish in order to weigh it. A few inventive anglers have managed to keep their catches alive long enough to get them to a store, have them weighed and return them to the water, but those are pretty much exceptions that prove the rule.
"There's nothing wrong with keeping a fish if you want a citation, but [with the length option] you don't have to kill the fish anymore," Scott said.
According to the DNR's website, the procedure for submitting a length-based Trophy Fish Citation application is as follows:
Back when weight was the only criterion, DNR officials issued the citations for free. The $5 fee came with the addition of the length-based criteria.
"Truth be told, we didn't want to charge for the citations, but we realized that if we didn't we'd have people wallpapering their houses with them," Scott said. "The $5 fee covers our costs in printing and issuing the citations. We wanted the charge to be affordable, but high enough to discourage people from wanting too many of them."
Trophy Fish Citation criteria
Following are the lengths required for West Virginia game fish to qualify for state Trophy Fish Citations:
Species Length (inches)
Brook trout 15
Brown trout 21
Rainbow trout 21