It looks like hurry up and wait at Hyatt Lake

ASHLAND — Bob McNeely stares across the snow and ice that continues its cold grip on Hyatt Lake, and he doesn't worry whether trout fishing will be good here. He just wonders when.

A combination of great water conditions and boat-loads of extra rainbow trout create a likelihood that Howard Prairie's sister lake atop the Dead Indian Plateau should have a great trout season, which opens Saturday here and elsewhere in Oregon.

"We plan on having a fantastic season," says McNeely, who co-owns Mountain Resort at Hyatt Lake with his brother. "We've had a lot more trout stocked here than in past years and it's a great water year."

The only question for McNeely is when all this greatness begins.

Like most High Cascades lakes this spring, most of Hyatt Lake likely will remain covered with snow and ice for the traditional Opening Day of trout season, which historically is the fourth Saturday in April.

Ice likely won't deter an estimated quarter-million Oregonians who make their spring pilgrimages each opening weekend to mountain lakes or streams that have been closed to angling since Halloween.

Locally, Hyatt and nearby Howard Prairie lakes east of Ashland are the main water-bodies welcoming anglers back Saturday. Also opening is the Jenny Creek system east of Ashland the Ashland Creek forks upstream of Reeder Dam near Ashland.

Diamond Lake in eastern Douglas County also draws big crowds, and it too remains shackled by ice.

The Rogue River remains open for steelhead and spring chinook salmon, while most other water bodies, like Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs, have been open year-round.

Despite fishing opportunities elsewhere, the lure of trolling for rainbows in lakes closed for close to half a year is as magical to many Oregonians now as it was when they were kids.

Dan VanDyke certainly can attest to that, though he hasn't fished Saturday's trout opener in years.

To his chagrin, VanDyke will be wearing an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife uniform Saturday as he mingles with anglers, talks fishing and conducts a creel census as the agency's Rogue District fish biologist. But his heart will be in his boat, trolling slowly across a glass-lake's surface until all hell breaks loose.

"Trolling for trout on lakes is my thing," VanDyke says. "I definitely enjoy the calm water and beautiful weather. Then ... BAM! A fish slams your rod down and there's a fish.

"Ahh," he says. "I never get over that thrill."

Though anglers like VanDyke might never get over that thrill, they likely will have to wait a few weeks for it this year.

Deep snowpacks, the remnants of a frigid winter and the recent cold front that brought snow to Medford last week have conspired to make Opening Day just another day at Cascade mountain lakes.

Up and down the range, most lakes are heading toward Saturday with their trout largely inaccessible.

And that is certainly true at Hyatt Lake, where the McNeelys are stuck somewhere between Howard Prairie's largely broken-up ice that will attract boaters Saturday and Diamond Lake's thick ice that some expect to support ice-fishers.

In terms of elevation, Hyatt Lake is 500 feet higher up the Cascades than Howard Prairie, and the difference is intense this year.

McNeely says his crews plan to ensure some open water around the resort's parking lot and at the dam.

"We'll have some open water," he says.

But McNeely is not taking the lead from Diamond Lake Resort managers and suggest people ice-fish at their own risk.

"This is not the time of year to go out and put a hole in that ice," McNeely says.

Spring weather can be finicky at Hyatt Lake, where Opening Day often comes and goes without anglers.

A few warm and windy days could get the ice broken and moving within a few days. Or, the lake can remain locked under the ice into mid-May.

Either way, McNeely has good reason to expect a good season at Hyatt Lake — once it starts.

The high water level and heavy inflows forecast for the lake mean its water will remain high and cold, offering good trout fishing deep into summer and creating less chance of a toxic algae bloom that has been the lake's bane in lower-water years.

Better conditions also come with more fish.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocked 240,000 fingerlings in Hyatt Lake last fall to see whether these bigger-than-normal sized trout at stocking time will fare better against predation by the lake's swelling population of illegally introduced bass.

And there likely are a few more of the big trout captured last year during the draining of Little Hyatt Lake for release in Hyatt Lake.

A few of those trout are the big ones that excite anglers like VanDyke.

"Some of those trout from Little Hyatt Lake were up to 29 inches," McNeely says.

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