In West Virginia’s rivers lurk monsters from prehistoric times.
Anglers seldom see them, but they’re there. And, say state fisheries officials, they’re here to stay.
Sturgeon and paddlefish once thrived in Mountain State waters, but water pollution during the late 20th century wiped out the sturgeon and nearly killed the paddlefish. For the last decade, however, Division of Natural Resources crews have been reintroducing them, mainly in the state’s major rivers.
Both species are throwbacks to an evolutionary time when fish were transitioning from cartilage skeletons to bony ones.
Paddlefish look like toothless sharks with long, paddle-shaped snouts that project from their upper jaws. Sturgeons look … well, like sturgeons – long, slender, with undershot sucker-like mouths and bony knobs called scutes on their flanks.
Chris O’Bara, the DNR’s fisheries management supervisor, said the paddlefish-restocking program is doing quite well, but the sturgeon restoration effort is getting only middling results.
“As far as paddlefish are concerned, we’re actively rearing them in our hatcheries and have been stocking them for the past 10 years or so,” O’Bara said. “We usually raise 3,000 to 4,000 of them a year in our hatchery ponds.
“We’re actually getting quite a few reports of people snagging them while they’re fishing for something else. We’ve had reports from every [navigation dam] tailwater on the Ohio River, from the Winfield and Marmet dam tailwaters on the Kanawha, and also from the Little Kanawha River, Middle Island Creek and the Elk River.”
O’Bara said paddlefish swim upstream during high spring flows until they reach an object that blocks their progress.
“We have had them reported just below Sutton Dam on the Elk and below Burnsville Dam on the Little Kanawha,” he said.