CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's most-anticipated fishing-regulation change in years has gone into effect.
Since Jan. 1, anglers at Lewis County's Stonewall Jackson Lake have been allowed to keep some of the bass they catch. The old regulations, which required anglers to release all the bass they caught, are no longer in effect.
Bret Preston, fisheries chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, acknowledged that the change might disturb at least some members of the bass-fishing community.
"It's a significant switch, and it might not be 100 percent popular," Preston said. "Those [catch-and-release] regulations had been in effect since the lake was impounded [in 1989]. A lot of people are used to fishing the lake that way."
The catch-and-release requirement helped transform Stonewall from a fledgling bass lake to what is arguably the state's finest trophy-bass destination. In recent years, though, biologists have noticed signs of decline in the once-vibrant fishery.
"Overall, the condition of the lake's largemouth bass has diminished, and there are far more spotted bass in the fishery than there used to be," Preston explained. "We believe the new regulations will help to counter those trends and maintain really good bass fishing at Stonewall Jackson."
Under the new regulations, anglers are able to keep up to six bass a day, and only one of those fish can measure more than 18 inches in length. By restricting the take of large bass, fisheries officials hope to maintain the lake's trophy-producer reputation.
"We wanted the new regulations to encourage the harvest of smaller fish, but at the same time allow someone who catches a really nice bass to keep it," Preston said. "We don't think allowing people to keep one trophy bass will have any adverse impact on the lake's ability to produce trophy fish."
By targeting smaller bass, biologists hope to accomplish several objectives: encourage the harvest of spotted bass, which don't grow nearly as large as their largemouth cousins; thin out the overall bass population to prevent the spread of largemouth bass virus; and promote growth among surviving bass by removing competition for food.
Preston said DNR officials put a lot more thought and effort into this regulation change than they do for others, mainly because they hope to preserve Stonewall's reputation as the state's best bass fishery.