Whether to “catch-and-release” or “keep your limit” when angling for the coveted Cheat River trout is a debate almost as old as fishing itself. It is a quarrel that currently rages as strong as ever. Thankfully for the open-minded angler, the Cheat River watershed offers opportunities for both!
For many anglers, obtaining their sustenance through fishing is a spiritual connection to nature. At the same time, this reduces fishing pressure on other remote destinations, which can improve those fisheries. Although the term “put-and-take” appropriately suggests that trout are “put” there to be “taken”, a 6 trout per day creel limit is in place on most trout water (consult the WVDNR Fishing Regulations for laws specific to your waters of interest). And, although conditions may not be conducive to trout reproduction, they may be suitable for trout survival throughout the year. One such destination would be Big Sandy Creek at Bruceton Mills.
Catch-and-Release (C&R) fisheries provide a completely alternate experience. While they may be stocked to bolster numbers, these waters often boast high water quality and support natural reproduction within the watershed. They must be accessible to the public, and often times are located in remote areas such as state or national forests. The remote setting and pristine water quality provide a unique opportunity to allow natural processes to dominate the ecosystem and to demonstrate how places relatively untouched by human society function. In WV, these waters often have restrictions on the types of lures that can be used, limiting them to only artificial lures made of materials like feathers, metal, plastic, or wood such as spinner baits or “flies” and they limit the number of barbed hooks that may be used.
Because many fishermen are interested in catching trout to eat, C&R streams generally have lower fishing pressure compared to put-and-take waters. The remote setting often adds to the difficulty in traversing the terrain, further reducing fishing pressure (especially the farther you get from the parking lot). Because C&R regulations require the fish to be returned to the water at-once and they are often high quality streams with diverse food webs, combined with the reduced fishing pressure, these areas provide unique opportunities for catching trophy trout. This makes them popular with fisherpeople targeting larger, mature fish. To maximize the likelihood the fish will survive, employ a net and leave the fish in the water while removing the hook and only take it out to take a quick photo (if then)! A section of Blackwater River beginning at Blackwater Falls is designated C&R trout fishing water.
An extension of this form of regulation would be “Fly-fishing Only” waters. These waters are typically all C&R in West Virginia, but they limit equipment used to that which is appropriate to fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is widely regarded as a more primitive form of fishing when compared to more modern creations like open- or closed-faced reels. Therefore, fly-fishing is also generally considered more difficult than its counterparts, because it takes a greater deal of effort to make an effective cast, to match the local food sources, and ultimately land a fish. Attend a local Trout Unlimited meeting and consult with peers about these streams; they are highly coveted.
To ensure that these fisheries are here for future generations, it is important to follow the regulations on the specific waters we fish. Biologists carefully determine which waters receive stockings, their stocking rates, and which receive special regulations for diversified opportunities. Consult the WV Department of Natural Resources for fishing regulations, lists of trout stocked waters, stocking schedules, lists of special regulation waters, and contact information for DNR Biologists and District Offices. The US Forest Service Ranger District offices are good sources of information for our National Forests. Visit Trout Unlimited for more information regarding local waters. Regardless of whether you catch-and-release every fish, remember to limit you keep to safeguard this precious natural resource.