When I was a West Virginia conservation officer it was fashionable within the department to refer to all recent recruits by the title of New Boy. It was one of those deals where we gray heads kind of looked down our noses at the young ones, until they had the chance to earn their stripes.
Sounds kind of mean I guess, but the Division of Natural Resources really was one big family then, so there was no harmful intent.
The most recent New Boy in Mineral County, working my old duty station, is Natural Resources Police Officer Brett Simon, who has been assigned here for about one year. Simon comes from Jefferson County at the far end of the Eastern Panhandle and is a graduate of Shepherd University.
I first met Officer Simon in the hunter education classes we teach throughout the county. He fit in pretty well and impressed me with the fact that he had the sense to listen when the older (wiser?) guys were talking.
Also, while most new officers cannot wait to get reassigned to their home county, Simon seemed content to learn the places and faces of his current assignment as he continues progress into this new career. That impressed me as well.
So, knowing from experience that it can be difficult to be the new guy in town, I recently called this New Boy to see if he would like to float the South Branch on his day off. Since most natural resource police officers are natural born outdoorsman too, Simon quickly accepted.
The plan was for him to use my spare kayak, so I was pleased to learn that Simon had formerly worked for one of the Shenandoah River outfitters and was a good hand with a small boat.
Well actually, probably better than I am, so I did not have that to worry about.
We floated a portion of the black bass catch and release area, putting in at the U.S. Route 50 Bridge near Romney and taking out at Hanging Rock. It was a classic summer day with a blue sky, gusty dry winds and blistering hot temperature. Welcome to the South Branch.
We were both fishing with artificial lures, a gold Rapala minnow is what I settled on, and the New Boy looked to be using a silver broken back minnow.
We did pretty well on pan fish, particularly sunnies.
They were big, fat and colorful fish that would have provided several good meals if we had been keeping them.
I also picked up a couple of plump rock bass, which is the first of those I have caught in several years.
Of course the main attraction on the branch will always be smallmouth, and we caught a few. Mostly little ones, but each of us picked up one or two hard fighting 12 inchers and we saw some bigger bass in the clear water. Still, it was fewer bass than one would expect to catch in an area that has been under catch and release restrictions for more than two decades.
We stopped at a gravel bar to cool off in the river for awhile, had the obligatory adult bald eagle sighting, and spoke unkind words about whoever it was that left those three 12 packs of beer trash along the river.
As the old guy in the mix, I took the opportunity to tell some tales and give a little advice, something that will no doubt make Officer Simon’s supervisors cringe a bit if they read this.
I tried not to tell too many war stories, but do think it is important that the young guys understand what happened before they came along, and who made it happen. To his credit, Simon did not snore or frown during these stories.
I think the people and natural resources of Mineral County will be well served by this new officer.
Brett Simon is an enthusiastic and dedicated guy who has plans for the future.
This should be a good career for him.
One last thing. We did not keep track of who caught what, or how many, on this trip, but since this is my column I can say that I caught more fish than the new boy. A lot more.
Dave Long is a retired West Virginia conservation officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.