"We found that depth was a big factor. If we set them in 5 feet of water, they didn't get used much. Through trial and error, we found out that putting them in 3 feet of water works a lot better, especially if it's on a sunny slope with some sandy substrate nearby," Brown said.
Moving poorly located boxes isn't easy. Weighted with patio paving stones, they tip the scales at roughly 120 pounds apiece.
"We've been waiting until the lakes are drawn down in winter to move the boxes into better locations," Brown said. "It's a tough job, but we're gradually getting it done."
Brown and his co-workers have come up with a unique way to determine which boxes are being used. During the spawning season, they lower a waterproof video camera attached to a long stick into the water near each box.
"It's amazing, some of the images we've gotten," Brown said. "You can see the catfish holed up in the boxes with hundreds of yellow eggs under them."
Nuckles, a DNR wildlife manager based in Gassaway, builds the boxes from green, freshly sawn hemlock. So far he's made 350 of them at a cost of about $20 each.
"It's pretty cost-effective," Brown said. "Every time a catfish spawns successfully, it represents hundreds or even thousands of fish we won't have to raise in our hatcheries. That's a powerful incentive for us to put out more boxes, and to move unused boxes to places where they'll get used."
In the past two years, boxes have been placed in Burnsville, Beech Fork, East Lynn, Stonewall Jackson and Tygart reservoirs, plus half a dozen or so smaller lakes. Brown expects the number of waters to grow.
"We'll continue to build new boxes and install them," he said. "The goal is to make fishing better by increasing the standing crops of catfish in all these waters. We think we're off to a pretty good start."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.