Wild Trout Stream: 20th Annual Elkhorn Creek Cleanup

The trout found in Elkhorn Creek are wild; that means they spawn, or reproduce, on their own. Wild trout tend to be more colorful, like this Rainbow Trout that was caught there. (WCHS/WVAH)

Deep in the Southern Coalfields of West Virginia, there's a stream.

You most likely won't notice it at first. At times, though, you may. Large pieces of trash--including chairs and even an occasional couch--can be seen along and in the water.

Elkhorn Creek in McDowell County needs a lot of TLC, but what you don't see--which is a hidden treasure--are wild and beautiful trout under the water's surface.

These Rainbow and Brown trout have been successfully reproducing on their own in this stream since the 1970's--this gives them the 'wild' title. Quite frankly, the majority of West Virginia streams, even across the higher, eastern mountains, can't say this.

These members of the Salmon Family have a unique story to tell on how they got here in the first place. Neither of these fish are native to West Virginia--meaning this is not their original home--but they are stocked in our waterways for anglers to catch. As the story goes, a Trout truck--back in the 1970's--broke down along US Route 52 in McDowell County; in case you were wondering, Elkhorn Creek was not the destination for those Rainbow Trout. The driver faced a dilemma-- either leave the trout in the truck to see them die, or give them a fighting chance by dropping them into the nearby creek, Elkhorn. He chose the latter option. Little did he know that the water chemistry and the water temperature in this overlooked stream was perfect for trout to not only survive, but thrive. Today, the descendants of those fish continue to thrive in this Southern West Virginia waterway.

That's why Bronson Brown, an avid angler and Vice President of the Southern West Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited--a group that aims to protect our waterways and to keep our fish healthy--understands the importance of this stream. Yes, there are some trophy fish here--but the implications of this goes much further than a brief adrenaline rush; this is a County that's nearly lost 80,000 people since the coal industry started to decline--they are in desperate need of an economic boost. The infrastructure is in bad shape, too--raw sewage is an issue--but this is the 20th year of the Elkhorn Creek Cleanup, and Bronson has seen a positive change over the years thanks to the selflessness of Trout Unlimited members, volunteers and several other organizations.

"To see the people from surrounding states--traveling far and beyond for this event. It's going to get bigger. It's going to get cleaner. It's going to help out the economy any way we can down here", said Brown.

Jeff Nelsen, an angler who travels down from Charleston to fish Elkhorn Creek and an Ernie Nester Trout Unlimited Chapter member, says helping out during this event is the least they can do. "We use the water, we're down here. It's just our way of trying, in a small way, to say, 'hey, thanks for letting us be here".

The hope is to get this creek as clean as possible--and to bring new businesses, tailored towards this excellent fishing, into the county.

"We really would like to see some fishing shops brought in, some more restaurants for anglers to come down and stay in this county--not to go to the other neighboring counties", said Brown.

Bronson thanks his late friend, Ernie Nester, for his passion for this event. Ernie's name continues to live on with the Trout Unlimited Chapter based out of Charleston. It also lives on through this event.

"I was a really good friend with Ernie Nester and he brought me down and showed me, one of the first times I was down here, and just the trash--it was amazing, and it was a great reason to come down and volunteer some time to help with the stream cleanup. He would be very very proud".


  • To visit the Ernie Nester Chapter of Trout Unlimited, just click here.
  • To visit the West Virginia council of Trout Unlimited, just click here.
  • Wild trout streams really depend on chilly water and a higher pH--that is water that's more alkaline and not acidic. This stream, thanks to the water flowing out of old coal mine shafts, has both.
  • Brown says that the coal in the southern part of the state tends to produce more of an Alkaline runoff--this phenomena has resulted in other streams in southern West Virginia being able to sustain wild trout streams. Counties further north and east suffer from more of an Acidic runoff with their coal--not as favorable for wild trout.
  • Brown says there are a lot of organizations to thank for allowing this event to happen--Southern WV Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Ernie Nester Chapter of Trout Unlimited, DEP Reap, Americorps, McDowell Solid Wast Authority, Wal-Mart of Princeton, Taste of Memphis BBQ of Princeton, River Tactical Flies, Project Healing Waters of Parkersburg, Virginia Trout Junkies and special thanks to Steven Pugh.

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