SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The man who has headed up fish management in West Virginia for the past 15 years is moving on. Brett Preston logged his last day on the job Tuesday with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Preston, for the past 15 years, has been the Assistant Chief for Fisheries for the agency.
“My career began in 1995 when I was hired for the DNR here in the Charleston office working with Bert Pierce who at the time was the assistant chief,” Preston noted in what will be his final appearance as the assistant chief on West Virginia Outdoors last Saturday. He was promoted to his current position after Pierce retired in 2002.
Before coming to West Virginia, Preston worked with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and also the state of Maine’s Inland Fisheries department and legislature. But his roots are in the mountains. His family is from Huntington and he grew up just across the river in Ohio, but he spent some of his younger days in the Mountain State when his dad worked as the West Virginia DNR’s district fisheries biologist in Middlebourne and Lewisburg for a period of time.
“My father has been a huge influence on me,” said Preston. “At an early age he introduced me to fishing and looking at aquatic insects, bugs, snails and things in the water. This goes back a long way and I’m grateful for his mentorship.”
The family legacy continues. Preston’s youngest daughter is in graduate school at the University of Montana working on a masters degree in environmental science. Her focus isn’t necessarily on fish biology, but more on water resources, agriculture and water use planning.
When Preston looks back at the improvements which have happened on his watch, he fends off any credit for them and rather lays the accolades on an exceptional staff. It’s a staff he had a large hand in assembling over time.
“The thing I’m most proud of is our staff. All of DNR and Wildlife Resources, and I’m especially proud of the fisheries biologists and staff and the hatchery personnel,” said Preston. “What they do, that’s the real accomplishment. For the size of our staff and things they get done, it’s amazing.”
But when you look at the difference in fishing now and fishing when Preston arrived at the agency, the biggest difference are in two species, musky and walleye.
“I’m really proud of our staff for moving those species along and developing plans and guidelines for enhancing fishing opportunities,” Preston noted. “There’s some really good fishing for muskies and we’ve benefited a lot from water quality, but we’ve also made some changes in our fish production at the hatchery.”
The change included raising larger fingerlings to be part of the musky enhancement stocking program in recent years.
“That’s made a big difference,” he explained. “We may stock fewer fish, but they are larger and we have increased survival and that’s really made a difference over the years.”
When considering what he’ll be doing in retirement, Preston doesn’t sound like the type to sit back in a rocking chair to watch the world go by. He did admit there will be some of that–and his fishing pole will finally get some dust knocked off of it in the years to come. But he’s still a believer in the DNR mission and hopes to continue to be an ambassador for those programs.
“I’m going to try to send the message out about how hard this agency works for the benefit of anglers and sportsmen,” he said. “Who knows where I’ll wind up. I have no long term plans, but I do plan to fish a little.”