SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The goal of any bass angler is to catch the biggest creel you can. Tournament fishermen will put their heart and soul into five big bites–six if it’s a team tournament, but the task is rarely easy. However, at Stonewall Jackson Lake it may be easier than most places in West Virginia to catch bass over 18 inches long. Such a six fish limit would be what most anglers dream about, however in would also be illegal, at least at Stonewall.

Five years ago, the Natural Resources Commission agreed to the DNR’s recommendation to lift the long held catch and release restriction on black bass in the Lewis County lake. However, in an abundance of caution, the new regulations allowed anglers could keep six fish, but only one over 18 inches. Imagine how hard it is to catch ONE fish over 18 inches and five others UNDER 18 inches. It has certainly created an odd dynamic, and a lot of complaints, for those participating in bass tournaments on Stonewall Jackson Lake.

This year, the DNR is proposing a slight adjustment to the regulation which promises to increase the size of creels in the Stonewall tournaments considerably. Under regulations proposed to the Natural Resources Commission and now out for public comment, anglers participating in a registered bass tournament would be allowed to keep up to six bass of any size in their livewell until the tournament weigh-in.

WVMetronews/Chris Lawrence

Stonewall Jackson is among West Virginia’s best trophy bass lakes. The DNR hopes adjustment of the regulation for tournaments will help showcase the fishery more.

“We use our tournaments to showcase Stonewall Jackson Lake as a trophy fishery and to bring people to our state to fish,” said Acting Assistant Chief of Fisheries Jim Hedrick. “This exclusion doesn’t mean the tournament anglers keep fish, they still return them, but are just able to hold them in their livewell until a certified weigh-in.”

Afterward the bass are all redistributed back into the waters of the lake as they have been in the past. The frustration for tournament anglers is only part of the reason behind the shift in policy according to Hedrick. Stonewall Jackson is an extremely productive lake, but because of the restrictions the tournament data is artificially flawed. The data is important to the Division of Natural Resources biologists in making management decisions.

“It makes a lot of difference when it comes to comparing that lake to others in tournament catches,” Hedrick explained. “The tournament directors are required to provide us with information on all fish caught in their tournaments. When you’re only allowed one fish over 18 inches when many more would probably be available it changes the number of fish you’ll see.”

Hedrick said for now, the regulation would only apply to large tournaments issued a required permit by the DNR, smaller “club tournaments” would still be bound by the one fish over 18 inches rule.

It’s one of a couple off bass related fishing regulations proposed by the DNR during the recent Natural Resources Commission meeting in South Charleston. The other deals with imposing a slot limit on Parker Hollow Lake in Hardy County. The 34.5 acre lake was built a decade ago and has been designated 100 percent catch and release for the duration of its time.

“The bass population has done extremely well there as we expected it would,” Hedrick explained. “Now after ten years, the lake is less productive so we’d like to see a slot limit there.”

The slot limit would be all black bass from 12 to 16 inches must be returned to the water immediately. Anglers would be allowed to catch six fish to keep, but all would need to be under 12 inches, with the exception of one which could be over 16 inches.

The proposed regulation changes are out for public comment and will be voted on later this year by the Natural Resources Commission.

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