The snow and ice
"The first week of January we were able to stock 10-waters and so far this week three waters," said DNR Trout Program Chief Mike Shingleton in Elkins. "We have about 56 waters total to stock in January. From that you can see we’re pretty well behind."
Shingleton is hoping for milder weather in the forecast enabling hatchery personnel to get those fish to the streams. The problem is not only an inconvenience for anglers stricken with a flaming case of cabin fever, it’s also putting a strain on the hatchery’s master plan.
"Our hatcheries are at maximum capacity and we rely on these January stockings to get rid of some of that poundage to allow growth for the remaining fish," Shingleton said.
It’s possible the delay could cause some of those fish stocked in March, April, and May could be slightly smaller because of the high numbers in the raceways, but Shingleton doubts it will be any noticeable decline.
The most difficult waters to reach are in the higher elevations where remote roads haven’t been cleared in days.
"A lot of the waters stocked in the western part of the state are stocked by hatcheries in Grant and Pendleton County, which is on the other side of the Alleghenies," said Shingleton. "That’s part of the problem. The waters over there that have been stocked have been stocked out of Bowden in Elkins. They don’t have to contend with getting across the mountains."
Access by trucks is only part of the problem. Access by foot can often limit the stocking trips as well. Shingleton says it’s unsafe for stocking workers to be maneuvering on foot for 100-yards across rocks, logs, and other rough terrain covered in snow and ice with a dip net full of fish. The easiest stockings are in the impoundments where a hole is cut in the ice and the truck pipe runs the sluice directly into the water from the truck. Even streams accessible by truck are difficult propositions since the only exposed water is in the riffles, across several feet of dangerous thin ice.
Although water quality hasn’t been an issue, it too could be a roadblock to the stockings. A quick melting could drop pH levels below the sustainable level for trout, which would void a stocking schedule.
"We check the pH before we stock a water and the pH has to be above six," Shingleton said. "Snow and rain pH is usually around four. If it melts off slowly it’s usually not a big problem. But if we get a big warm-up and it melts off quickly it can cause a sudden drop in the pH."
DNR officials assure anglers however all trout that were scheduled to be stocked into designated waters will eventually be put there, even if it means additional stocking trips once warmer weather arrives.