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It's a scramble when trout stocking ramps up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- And you think Santa Claus stays busy making deliveries.

Ol' Saint Nick has nothing on the people who stock trout into West Virginia's waters.

From the first week of March — when the full stocking schedule kicks in — until the final stockings around Memorial Day, truck drivers and workers from seven hatcheries make a minimum of 1,017 stocking runs to 213 lakes and streams.

"Most people don't recognize the intensity of effort it takes to get all these trout into the water," said Mike Shingleton, the Division of Natural Resources' assistant chief in charge of coldwater fisheries. "From now to the end of the [stocking] season, it's pretty intense."

A less intense stocking schedule in January and February helps crews get into the rhythm of running the trucks and moving the fish around.

"It's a lighter schedule, especially in January, because at that time of year only three categories of streams receive stockings," Shingleton explained.

Waters earmarked for weekly stockings later in the season receive only one stocking in January, as do waters stocked biannually and waters designated for monthly-plus-January stockings.

In February, the activity ramps up a bit. Waters designated for biweekly stockings get added to the mix and receive one shipment of fish. Weekly waters get two stockings instead of one.

When weather permits, crews make more than 350 runs during the January-February segment of the season. Problem is, the weather doesn't always cooperate. Snow and ice often prevent at least a few waters from being stocked, and this year is no exception.

"Right now, we're behind on stockings for the Williams and Cranberry rivers, the upper section of Shavers Fork, and for the West Fork of the Greenbrier," Shingleton said. "The way things are looking right now, it will be a while before we can get fish into those waters."

Runs missed in January and February will have to be made up between early March and the end of May, which renders the most intense segment of the stocking schedule even more hectic.

"We make sure that all our waters receive their full allotments of fish," Shingleton said. "Sometimes that means we have to do extra runs. If we have time, though, usually we add the missed poundage to the next load, or maybe split it between the next load and the load after that."

Not all waters require a separate stocking run. Shingleton said that in most cases, crews are able to stock two, three and even four waters with a single truckload of trout.

"When you consider the distance some of these runs cover, it only makes sense to try to hit as many waters as you can," he added. "For example, the fish stocked in Barboursville Park's lake come all the way from our Reeds Creek Hatchery in Pendleton County. We try to make that run more cost-effective by hitting a couple of other waters along the way."

All of the DNR's trout hatcheries are located in the state's mountain counties, which puts them close to the most heavily fished trout waters. Shingleton said the locations are a two-edged sword. They help shorten runs to most waters, but they sometimes contribute to anglers' frustration.

"When people in the rest of the state experience moderate temperatures and clear roads, they have a hard time believing that a hatchery like Reeds Creek might still be iced up, and the truck would have a hard time making it all the way over the mountains," he said.

"For example, at our Tate Lohr Hatchery [near Princeton], it's only 3 miles off a four-lane highway, but the road to it is mostly single-lane and goes over a heck of a steep hill. Nobody else lives out there, so sometimes the road doesn't get plowed. There have been times when they've been snowed in for a day or two."

Shingleton said the long-term weather forecast appears more favorable for the next couple of weeks than it has since early January, and that bodes well for the remainder of the 2014 stocking schedule.

"We have every intention to get all our stockings made," he said. "It's going to take a lot of effort and some schedule-juggling to do it, but we'll get them all in."

That would amount to more than 1,000 stockings in 60 days. And that would be intense, indeed.


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