Despite the extensive stockings, relatively few West Virginia waters harbor wild, reproducing rainbow-trout populations. Before alkaline drainage from abandoned coal mines created ideal conditions in several southern streams, the number of Mountain State waters where rainbows were able to reproduce could be counted on one hand. Now, according to Shingleton, more than 20 streams have spawning populations.
"It's been a recent phenomenon, within the last 10 to 15 years, but rainbows are now reproducing in several McDowell, Wyoming and Logan county streams," he said.
Fisheries scientists used to believe rainbows were close relatives of brown, cutthroat and other dark-spotted trout. DNA research showed, however, that both rainbows and cutthroats are much more closely akin to coho, Chinook and other Pacific salmon species.
The grouping makes sense behaviorally as well as genetically. Like salmon, young rainbows in streams that feed into lakes or oceans tend to run downstream, mature in open water, and then return to their home streams to spawn. Migrating rainbows are called steelhead.
West Virginia has no steelhead fisheries, but good steelhead fishing can be found nearby in the Lake Erie tributaries of western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, as well as the Lake Ontario tributaries of western New York.
Mountain State anglers' best bets for rainbows include streams that receive weekly stockings between March and the end of May - the Cranberry River, the Elk River above Webster Springs, the South Branch near Franklin, the North Fork of the South Branch, Shavers Fork and the Williams River.
West Virginia's stocked rainbows average almost 11 inches in length, and hatchery crews almost always toss in a few 3- to 8-pound "brood rainbows" for variety.
In 1963, DNR officials introduced what they called the "Centennial golden trout," and have stocked them ever since. Those "goldens" are actually rainbow trout that lack melanin, the pigment that gives the species its dark spots and overall greenish color.
For some reason, those butter-colored rainbows seem to be more difficult to catch than their natural-colored brethren. Savvy anglers treat goldens as "indicator fish" and cast all around them, knowing that well-camouflaged rainbows probably lurk not far away.
Their reward comes when one of those hidden treasures takes the bait and, feeling the hook, vaults skyward in an aerial display worthy of the nickname "trout on the flying trapeze."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.