Unfortunately, it’s not too uncommon to hear of a disabled truck polluting a stream and killing off a countless number of fish in the process; however, in the early-1970s, a disabled truck was responsible for transforming a polluted West Virginia stream into what would become a thriving waterway for trout.
A half-century ago, West Virginia’s Elkhorn Creek in the state’s southern coalfields had garnered a reputation as being one of the most polluted waterways in the entire Appalachian region. Used in the nasty job of washing coal, the overwhelming majority of locals viewed the tainted creek as being an eyesore and a scourge upon the landscape of Mercer and McDowell counties — thus the creek was used as a sewer collection system for many years and the thought of fishing in the stream was completely out of the question, as raw sewer and trash seemed to be the only thing one could find in the Ohio River bound creek.
Amazingly, all of this changed in the 1970s — by sheer accident.
As the story goes, a hatchery truck heavy laden with live Rainbow Trout was en route to a river when it broke down while traveling along US-52.
Fearing the fish would die if left in the stagnating water of the broke down truck, the driver unilaterally made a decision that would reshape communities for years to come: he released his entire payload into the polluted Elkhorn Creek. Though there wasn’t much hope for the fish to live in the dirty water below the roadway, the slim-to-none chances were better than if they’d stayed in the baking water.
In the initial years that followed, this stocking of Rainbow Trout went unnoticed to most, until dozens of local residents began reporting the presence of very large Rainbow Trout in what was believed to have been a dead waterway.
Turns out, the water supplying much of the creek is emitted from old coalmines, making it consistently cold throughout the year, allowing the trout an opportunity to spawn naturally. Additionally, the coal in eastern McDowell County is relatively low in sulfur, therefore its effects upon the fish is minimal.
The discoveries led the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to introduce Brown Trout into the Elkhorn in what proved to be a successful program in 1993.
Today, the Elkhorn Creek has become a cherished waterway in many of the communities through which it flows, with businesses catering to anglers wishing to take advantage of one of the very places in West Virginia rainbow and brown trout spawn naturally.
Sadly, the clean up effort still has a long ways to go, as trash often lines the banks and waterway of the Elkhorn. “Abandoned homes, many of them crumbling and hollowed-out shells, commonly line the stream banks, testaments to better times or at least different ones when King Coal ruled,” writes Game & Fish Magazine.
Numerous organizations and individuals, however, have made it their mission to clean up this incredible West Virginia creek and with growing national interest in fishing the unique waterway that seems tailor made for the largescale production of trout, naturally, the outlook for this historic waterway is bright.
Due to the fact that the creek is not stocked and the trout spawn naturally, fishermen are urged to practice catch and release while fishing in the stream.
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