GRAFTON, W.Va. — It is now official. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, anglers on several popular West Virginia trout streams will no longer be allowed to use minnows as bait. In fact, they won't be able to use any sort of fish as bait.
The state's Natural Resources Commission, a seven-member panel that sets hunting and fishing regulations, voted unanimously at its Aug. 4 meeting to impose the regulation. The idea behind it is simple: to protect the endangered candy darter, a small bottom-dwelling fish.
Eight major streams and all their tributaries will be affected. The list of major streams includes the East and West Forks of the Greenbrier River; the Gauley River upstream from the Route 55/20 bridge; the Cherry, Cranberry and Williams rivers; Camp Creek and Manns Creek.
On those streams, the only fish legal to keep will be trout and other game fish. Non-game species (suckers, darters, sculpins, minnows, etc.) will be off-limits.
To further protect the candy darter and another endangered species, the Elk River's diamond darter, the commission also voted to outlaw the possession of any darter species found within the state.
Walleye regulations will be changing, too.
On the Elk River upstream from Sutton Dam and on the Gauley River upstream from Summersville Lake, a 20- to 30-inch slot limit will go into effect on Jan. 1. Anglers will only be able to keep two fish per day. Both must fall outside the 20- to 30-inch slot, and only one can be longer than 30 inches.
The same regulation will go into effect Jan. 1 on all tributaries of the following rivers: Bluestone, Coal, Elk, Greenbrier, Gauley, Kanawha (upstream of Winfield Dam) and New.
Creel limits for Ohio River walleye, sauger and saugeye will also change on Jan. 1. Because anglers often mistake one species for the other, the commission decided to establish a 6-fish daily aggregate limit for all three. Only two of the six fish can be walleye, and both must measure at least 18 inches in length.
All the walleye regulations are aimed at giving the slow-maturing fish a chance to spawn before they're kept.
In another unanimous vote, the commission reset the daily creel limit for muskie, tiger muskie, northern pike and pickerel to one fish per day. The current limit is two for muskie, tiger muskie and pike. There is no current limit on pickerel. The change will go into effect Jan. 1.
The commission also changed the minimum size limit for tiger muskie, which currently is 28 inches. On Jan. 1, that limit jumps to 30 inches.
Truth be told, the 28-inch limit on tigers was an oversight. Years ago, when Division of Natural Resources officials proposed a 30-inch minimum size limit for muskie, they forgot to change the limit for tigers. That mistake has now been corrected.
The final regulation change will apply to Bluestone, Beech Fork and R.D. Bailey lakes, all of which are home to some combination of white, striped or hybrid striped bass.
Effective Jan. 1, a four-fish aggregate creel limit for those species will go into effect, along with a minimum size limit of 15 inches. That should keep anglers from mistakenly keeping young stripers and hybrids, which closely resemble their smaller white-bass cousins.
Mark Scott, the DNR's assistant chief in charge of fisheries, said the agency now purchases hybrids instead of raising them, "and we don't want to see 30 of them [the statewide white-bass limit] going out before they're 15 inches long."
The commission lifted East Lynn Lake from that regulation and reverted it to statewide regulations because the DNR no longer stocks hybrids in the lake.