Fall-release trout thrive at Howard Prairie

ASHLAND — One of the sides in the war that's raging between bass and trout in the bowels of Howard Prairie Lake has found some re-inforcements that might keep the lake's invaders at bay.

Test nets reveal that 6-inch rainbow trout stocked this fall may be outwitting bigger bass. The trout are part of an experiment meant to test whether stocking larger trout late in the season will improve their survival rates.

Late-fall netting surveys show that almost 90 percent of the trout caught in the test nets were part of the release of 50,000 fin-clipped trout that were released at twice the size of the fingerlings normally released in the high-mountain reservoir.

The strong showing suggests that trout released in the fall may do better at not becoming food for predatory smallmouth bass, which were stocked there illegally.

"I can't say anything conclusive yet," says David Haight, a fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, who conducted the netting survey. "But it's an early indication that the fall releases might be successful."

Of the 34 trout captured in the nets, 30 were from the fall release, Haight says. It could mean the program is working, but it's too early to tell.

"If predation from the bass is a big factor, then the later release should help a lot," Haight says. "If it's competition for food, then it's still a problem."

The fine showing by the fall fish is exciting news to Terry Sowerbutts, a nine-year veteran at Howard Prairie Resort.

"I'm sure it's going to work," Sowerbutts says. "The bass are dormant in the fall.

"We were totally jazzed that they did this plant."

Trout-o-philes are looking for any good news at Howard Prairie, where bass have harmed the lake's traditionally great trout fishing.

The illegal stocking of warmwater species in lakes managed for coldwater fish like trout have become the method of choice for some who want to alter fisheries. They've had varying effects, some more damaging than others.

The South Umpqua and mainstem Umpqua were illegally stocked several decades ago with smallmouth bass. While the bass are feared to at times prey on wild salmon and steelhead pre-smolts, the bass have blossomed into an excellent summer fishery that now puts the Umpqua on the bassmasters' map.

At Emigrant Lake, however, the illegal stocking of yellow perch, possibly from Iron Gate Reservoir in Northern California, has all but eliminated the black crappie population. While the yellow perch have been received well by young anglers who enjoy these easily-caught fish, the lake no longer lives up to its reputation as a "trophy crappie" fishery.

Though trout fishing is down, Howard Prairie's smallmouth reputation has put it on the map for warmwater anglers.

"It's an upside if you're like me — a fishermen who just wants to catch fish," Sowerbutts says.

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