Back from the Dead

 

DNR Biologists shocked up this sizeable smallmouth in the summer of 2008.  The size of the fish shows how far the river has come from the dark days of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s

There are plenty of streams in West Virginia that have endured their share of abuse over the years.  Poor mining and timbering practices for years gone have decimated many a watershed.  The Cheat River, snaking from the high mountains of Tucker County to the dam in Monongalia County near the Pennsylvania border would be one of those waterways.

However, as poor as the Cheat has been over the years the resurgence of the water quality it rapidly becoming one of the biggest success stories in stream resurrection.

"Over the last 10-12 years, it’s really changed,” said DNR Biologist Dave Wellman. "Over the last 20-to-30 years there’s been a lot of acid mine remediation projects and all these little projects are starting to accumulate."

The high acidity levels for years in stream tributaries made the Cheat’s waters nearly sterile for aquatic life.  Millions of dollars and creative thinking are changing things.    Limestone filtering has proven to be a remarkable remedy.

"It’s adding all that needed alkalinity to the Cheat River and the fishery, which is the bottom line of whether these projects are starting to do what they are supposed to, are really coming back," Wellman explained in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors. "It’s really starting to be a good place to go up and catch some smallmouth."

Now, Wellman is a realist.  He admits the production of the Cheat doesn’t compare to the

The upper stretches of the Cheat around Seven Islands, St. George, and Parsons offer easier access and gentler waters for anglers in search of smallmouth bass.

more highly fertile Greenbrier or New Rivers.  However, he says there’s clear evidence things are improving.

"Around 1993 (DNR Biologist) Frank Jernejcic did some surveys at Seven Islands and it showed some depressed fish population, specifically smallmouth populations," said Wellman. "We went back in ’99 and did some surveys and found the smallmouth per acre had increased more than four times."

The difference, said Wellman, was the installation of the limestone drums on the Blackwater River in 1994.  The downstream benefits have been tremendous.

Acid pollution hasn’t been the only enemy of the Cheat.  The 1985 flood caused damages that continue to be noticeable and literally changed the habitat of the river.  

"That was just a devastating flood and changed the characteristics of the Cheat River.  I’m sure some of the streams haven’t recovered physically from that flood yet,” Wellman noted.

The changes are most noticeable on the river between Rowlesburg and Kingwood.   Huge boulders, scoured from the bedrock now line the stream.  It has largely improved the smallmouth habitat, and given the stream the appearance of a trout fishery.    However, the river is dangerous to navigate there with a canoe or raft–and below Albright becomes a raging whitewater stream.  

Some believe it would be in the best interest to make the river one of the DNR Trout Program’s regular stocking locations.   The DNR balks at the proposition.

"It’s definitely more of a warm water fishery, it’s a smallmouth stream," said Wellman.  "Quite a few people want us to stock the Cheat River, unfortunately we just don’t have the resources to do that."

A private organization in the Kingwood area has taken on the task of stocking the Rowlesburg to Kingwood stretch.    Reports indicate some nice sized trout are caught from the waters.  However, their time frame is limited as spring nears and water temperatures elevate.

Further downstream, the effects are also being noticed at Cheat Lake, which has come on as one of the best bass fishing waters in the state.   The lake has also gained stature for its populations of perch and is slowly becoming an incubator for walleyes stocked by the DNR.

 





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