BOWDEN, W.Va. — While one hatchery worker stood in the raceway, another stood atop a two ton truck hoisting nets of trout with a winch to load into the onboard aerated tanks. Personnel made quick work of the job, which is a daily routine during the spring at the Bowden Fish Hatchery. However, these fish had a different destination than most. This trip was the second of what will be three rail stockings along Shavers Fork.
The stockings from the railroad are done each year from Bowden all the way to the abandoned town of Spruce at the top of the mountain. Much of the area is accessible only by foot and the trout stocked will typically survive the entire summer in the cold high mountain water.
“The big objective of the program is to not only provide recreational fishing, but to provide a variety of opportunities. We have a lot of people who like a back country type of experience,” said Jim Hedrick who heads hatchery programs for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
The rail stocking program has been a longtime endeavor as part of the agency’s put and take trout fishing. The effort has evolved over time into a more streamlined process. New investment in equipment is expected to save money in the long run and allow for expansion of rail stocking programs.
The DNR invested in railroad gear to be installed on one of the large hatchery trucks. The old stockings involved hauling fish from Bowden on the highway to Cheat Bridge or Bemis, offloading them onto a cart hauling two tanks, and then towing those tanks with a small pickup truck up and down the river. The endeavor was labor intensive, expensive for fuel, and took a lot of manpower. With the new arrangement, hatchery personnel loaded the fish onto the truck at the hatchery and jumped on the railroad on the other side of Shavers Fork and we were underway.
“It saves time, it saves effort, and it saves a lot of cost. Even though the rail gear initially was expensive, by being able to load at the hatchery, we can put the truck on at the hatchery and put the fish on one time. We don’t have to have other trucks meeting us and pumping water out of the river and transferring the fish. Plus the heavier truck is actually safer because a heavy truck doesn’t derail as easily,” Hedrick explained.
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The big truck rolled up the rails with a regular stocking crew hopping out with nets of fish and hurrying them to the bank. In some cases, buckets were used for the longer walks from the railroad to the river bank. Along the way, there were a few fishermen, even in areas where they clearly had to walk in.
There are five major sections along Shavers Fork for stocking. The agency stocks from Bowden to Bemis, Bemis to the Fish for Fun area. The Fish for Fun stretch of water has been a longtime catch and release section–but will soon become a delayed harvest stretch. It’s allocated its own segment of trout during the year. The next section from the top of Fish for Fun to Cheat Bridge is one of the weekly trout waters and can be stocked by truck from the road. The final stretch is from Cheat Bridge up to Spruce and is the most remote area of the river.
“We take a thousand pounds at a time on that truck and try to distribute about 500 pounds in each section. Previously we distributed more in each section, but before we only made two trips and now we’re hoping to make three trips. We want to compensate and make more trips rather than stocking all of the weight at one time,” said Hedrick.
Hedrick said it’s hard to know how many people take advantage of the remote fishing opportunity, but he believes it’s popular enough to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
“I hear people refer to it all the time. People may come up here a couple of times a year, hard core people maybe more than that. But I know there are also guides who bring clients into this area who want an outdoor adventure they can’t get in their own backyard or even their own state for that matter,” he said.
The major rail stockings for now in West Virginia are on Upper Shavers Fork and the Buckhannon River but with the new equipment, there’s hope other areas can be added.
“They’ve improved some rail grades and you can actually take this rail line all the way over to Cass Scenic Railroad. Plus we’re hoping to eventually gain some other rail access and make some other stockings like this throughout the state,” said Hedrick.