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Study on New River trotlines reveals changing traditions in fishing


Man holding large catfish with both hands. Master’s student Ben Dickinson interviewed trotline fishers along the New River.

Feb. 15, 2016 – While the popularity of fishing for smallmouth bass is on the rise in Virginia’s New River, the decades-old practice of fishing for catfish using trotlines is fading, according to a recent study. A trotline is a heavy fishing line with baited hooks attached at regular intervals. Most trotline fishers in the New River use trotlines sunk to the bottom, minimizing exposure to other river users. Catfish fishing and trotline fishing have never been strictly regulated in Virginia, according to the research article, published in Fisheries magazine, by former master’s student Ben Dickinson, Professor Donald Orth, and Associate Professor Steve McMullin.

Dickinson interviewed 39 trotline fishers, and it was a challenge to find that many. Fifty years ago, harvest was the primary goal of fishing in the New River, with catfish the predominant fish harvested. Now recreation is the goal, with game fish such as bass, muskie, and walleye being the focus, many of which are caught and released. Several retired fishers said they no longer need to supplement their diets with wild-caught fish. “Our findings provide a peek into characteristics of trotline fishers that should prove useful for managing or studying this or other hidden fisheries,” the authors concluded.

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