The West Virginia Legislature has under consideration in its final week the Highway Aquatic Tourism bill. HB 9341 would introduce West Virginia to the fledgling industry of “micro fishing.”
Micro fishing originated in Japan, where there is intense interest in fishing as a pastime and a food source. The shortage of available lakes and waterways, as well as overfishing, forced the country’s natural resource officials to stock fish in very small naturally occurring or man-made mini lakes.
Some of these “fishing holes” are no bigger than a few feet across and a foot or two deep, but they often serve as excellent habitats for certain species of fish. And because there are so many locations—an estimated 7,000 of them—sportsmen normally have to travel only a short distance to fish.
We might never have heard about micro fishing in this country had a Montana Department of Highways engineer not had a brainstorm while visiting Japan in August, 2010. The engineer had been fighting a losing battle trying to keep up with pothole patching on his state’s highways, and he envisioned turning some of the biggest potholes—the ones that were proving impossible to patch—into fishing holes.
The Montana Legislature, desperate to try anything, agreed to a pilot project of 100 pothole fishing spots on State Route 15 south of Great Falls. However, the experiment got off to a rough start. Despite the road signs informing motorists of the micro fishing locations, many motorists still hit the potholes, causing the fish significant trauma and, in some cases, death.
The worst incident occurred in July 2013, when an 18-wheeler ran through one of the larger fishing potholes, killing nine fish and damaging 14 others so badly that they had to be killed. However, in the months that followed, Montana highways and natural resources officials improved pothole security through additional signage and a public awareness campaign. Accidental fish kills by vehicles are down 82 percent since 2013 and the number of micro fishing holes has expanded to 1,850.
West Virginia officials believe the idea could work here. “It’s a win-win,” said one West Virginia official. “We have plenty of fish and Lord knows we have plenty of potholes.” Sources say that last week’s two-day visit to Preston County by top state highways officials was a preliminary scouting expedition to find the best potholes for stocking.
State Department of Natural Resources officials say they will have no problem keeping the micro locations stocked. “We have a technique called ‘rolling stocking’,” an official said. “The stocking truck driver just slows down and tosses the fish out of the window into the pothole. It’s actually faster than traditional stocking… as long as he has good aim.”
But West Virginia fishermen should not expect immediate access to the state’s prized fish—the Rainbow Trout—anytime soon. “Trout are extremely sensitive to their environment,” an official said. “We plan to start with bottom feeders, like catfish and carp, and then work our way up to walleye and musky. Perhaps one day we could even have small mouth and large mouth bass in some of the potholes.”
A few of the potholes will be set aside for mahi mahi and grouper, even though they are ocean fish. “We put enough salt down on the roads that the water in a few of these holes will have enough saline to support hardy saltwater fish,” the official said.
West Virginia Tourism officials have been lobbying skeptical lawmakers to support HB 9341. “We see it as turning a negative into a positive,” one official said. “Our visitors, instead of grumbling about the potholes, can stop, pull out their fishing pole and wet a line.”
Some fishing experts believe pothole micro fishing could one day replace traditional fishing. “Young people have short attention spans,” reports Fishing Trends Newsletter. “You can micro fish for 10 or 15 minutes instead of four or five hours and still catch your limit.”
We will see if pothole micro fishing catches on here or, like this commentary, it’s just another fish story.