ELKINS, W.Va. — Four West Virginia anglers have completed the new Master Angler challenge from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The program was first unveiled in January and put forth a challenge which would require the fisherman to be proficient at a host of fishing techniques and situations.
The first to complete it was Zach Adkins of Cabins, W.Va.
“A few of us had chatted about it when it first came out. We got excited about it because several of us multi-species fish throughout the year, so this was right up our alley,” Adkins said in an appearance recently on West Virginia Outdoors.
Along with Adkins his fishing buddy Jonathan Paine of Elkins completed the program a few weeks later. Two other fishermen, Alex Foster and Jesse Truman, both of Charleston, also completed the challenge.
Adkins, as the first to finish the new program, was awarded a plaque by Governor Jim Justice for the accomplishment.
“I didn’t set out to necessarily complete it right at first. I’ve got a one year old son and work like everybody else. I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to complete it so I fished when I could for all the different species when I could. With a little luck, most of the species fell in early June,” Adkins said.
The species are broken down into six separate “slams.” Each slam has multiple species of fish and there is a minimum size for each.
The Black Bass Slam includes a largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass all a minimum of 12 inches. The Catfish Slam includes a 20 inch blue and channel catfish and a flathead catfish at least 16 inches. The Non-Game Fish Slam may be the most unusual. Anglers will be required to catch a fallfish, bullhead, and freshwater drum all at least 12 inches long and a common carp at least 20 inches. The Pan Fish Slam requires at least a six inch sunfish, seven inch rock bass, a black or white crappie at least eight inches long, and an eight inch yellow perch. The Predator Slam includes a 30 inch musky, 15 inch walleye, and a 15 inch striped or hybrid striped bass. The final slam is the Trout Slam which requires a rainbow, brook, brown, golden, and tiger trout all a at least 12 inches in length.
“I was hoping to complete four of them with just normal fishing,” said Paine. “I thought I catch those every year anyway, but there were some I wasn’t sure of like the ones which involved bank fishing. I don’t do much of that so I thought the carp and catfish might be tough. But after I got started and got those first four completed I thought, well, I’m close I might as well go ahead and complete it.”
The challenge was designed to force an angler to try some things they don’t usually do. For Paine, the bank fishing was a great example. The other issue was the need to travel across West Virginia to catch some of the species on the list.
“The fall fish is relatively easy to catch, but it’s just a matter of getting where they actually are, which is over here in the eastern panhandle,” Adkins said. “But we don’t have blue cat and drum and things like that over here in the panhandle so we’ve got to travel for other ones,”
Adkins said the most frustrating one to catch for him was the yellow perch.
“We fish in a private panfish tournament and I needed yellow perch for that tournament anyway . I bet I caught 100 seven inch yellow perch before I finally got one that was big enough to qualify,” he laughed.
Paine’s biggest hang-up was unexpectedly the spotted bas.
“I thought I’d be hung up on the bullhead, but I ended up catching that fairly quickly. But the spotted bass isn’t around Elkins, so you’d have to travel to Stonewall or Sutton. I’d keep catching them just under the 12 inch limit and it became a running joke. I caught a freshwater drum early in the spring, but it was a half inch short. So I could have been done a lot sooner, but those two fish ended up giving me fits in the end.” he said.
As for beating the average, both caught 20 inch smallmouth bass which blew away the minimum 12 inch limit. Atkins said he was also able to obliterate the minimum size requirement on the bullhead as well.
“The last one I got was the bullhead, as far as blowing the minimum size I was pretty happy with that one. It was 17 inches, so for a bullhead that’s pretty good sized,” he laughed.
The challenge remains in place and Paine, Foster, and Truman will also be awarded plaques for the accomplishment. The DNR continues to run the program hoping all anglers are working on expanding their fishing skills and discovering new water and new ways to fish.
“It was really nice that we could drive around West Virginia and explore a lot of lakes and rivers we don’t normally fish,” Paine said.