The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 15, 2013

Spring in West Virginia is a great time for anglers

Point Blank column

By John Blankenship
Columnist

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Another winter has come and gone. But there’s much to be thankful for in our corner of the world.

Southern West Virginia offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the Eastern United States.

And the past fall hunting seasons proved ample testimony: More people hunt and fish (per capita) in southern West Virginia than any other place on earth. It’s been estimated that one out of every two households in our region has at least one person who hunts, fishes, hikes, boats or watches wildlife.

That’s great news for local retailers, whose cash registers ring year round from sales to free-spending sportsmen and their consumer cousins from other recreational tribes.

A number of new businesses have sprung up in our community since last year. Their goal: to provide consumers with the “stuff” needed to pursue their favorite pastimes.

There’s gold in them thar hills, all right, but you won’t mine it with a pick and shovel. Fishing and wildlife activities account for millions of dollars annually that are channeled into the state’s treasury.

It’s all part of the great scheme of things. Tax dollars from sportsmen and their friends help build scenic highways and schools. The funds also help guarantee healthy game and fish populations throughout the state.

Although winter temperatures are still upon us (not for much longer, we hope), we’ll be trekking to our favorite streams in a couple of weeks.

I’m already looking forward to early spring angling. I don’t know of any other kind of entertainment that offers as much fun as fishing.

I think that cavemen had it right the first time. With their increased brain size, the early humans soon discovered that flexing saplings aided considerably in landing fish, a fact unchanged over the millennia.

It’s just as true today. The oldest form of all recreational fishing gear mounted a monumental comeback during the last century.

I’m talking about the fly rod in particular. Ranging in length from 6 to 14 feet, the fly rod is a direct descendant of those saplings cut by ancient anglers to lengthen their reach, to toss their bait over brush and obstacles between them and the water.

All great mechanical devices aside, there is a primitive satisfaction in being able to lift line and lure (be it popping bug, nymph or floating fly), and drop it precisely where the itinerant game fish whirl.

Already there are countless anglers gathering gear and fiddling with fly-tying equipment as winter releases its merciless claim on the southern mountains. If you can stand the cold air and the solitude of the streams, consider yourself lucky: the best is yet to come.

In fact, there’s no better time to tuck rod and reel under the arm and escape to one of the region’s prolific fishing holes.

It’s among the quieter and more pleasant times to spend afield. The time is right to savor the blue spring skies and experiment with some timeless fishing techniques, which have evolved over centuries.

But so have the prey.

Don’t think for a single minute that our quarry hasn’t figured us fishermen out. When the tall shadow is lurking on the bank, when the willowy stick begins to wave and a tempting tidbit splashes down, the wily game fish know that it’s time to retreat, look things over and wait until the angler gives up.

Fish have evolved in intelligence just like our predatory ancestors.

In another 2,000 generations, I wonder if trout will have a brain nearly four times as big, too.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net