Jim Burford of Lowell prepares to boat out onto Diamond Lake in this October 2007 photo. - Jim Craven

Trout opener at Diamond Lake: an icy affair

There is so much ice coating Diamond Lake this week that it could be a good thing — but that good thing comes with an asterisk big enough for a lawyer to see a block away.

The bitter winter in the High Cascades has left Diamond Lake with ice that many people believe will be thick enough to support the weight of ice-fishers during Saturday's opening of the trout season.

Diamond Lake Resort employees have been monitoring the ice all winter and test holes dug with augers this week revealed ice thicknesses of about six inches, beneath two-plus feet of snow — enough to have some people expecting the opener won't go fishless here like it often does.

"I don't see a problem at all for people ice fishing," says Rick Rockholt, the resort's events coordinator. "We'll have augers on hand for people to dig holes."

But those augers come with a disclaimer, and you won't see resort workers cutting into the ice for visitors, Rockholt says. The reason?

"Liability," he says. "Someone falls through, we'd be liable."

There's not enough ice on that lake for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Laura Jackson to feel comfortable suggesting for a minute that anyone walk out there with a fishing rod on Saturday.

"We're not encouraging people to go out on the ice," Jackson says. "It'll be so rotten. There could be places along the bank where people get to do some fishing."

Despite the divergent opinions on ice-strength, people remain unanimous in expecting fishing season ATC-2 — the second season After Tui Chubs — to produce an excellent season for the tens of thousands of anglers expected to venture there this year.

"I don't think it will be ice-off until mid May, and when it does, fishing is going to be awesome," Jackson says.

Awesome is a word many people have used about the fishing at Diamond Lake after a September 2006 poisoning of the lake to remove about 100 million tui chubs that sapped the lake's water-quality and trout fishing since the early 1990s.

Under a $5.6-million program, technicians applied enough rotenone to kill everything in the lake, then began a conservative fish-stocking and aggressive monitoring program that saw an explosion of fish sizes and fishing success at what used to be Oregon's most popular trout lake.

Last year's fishing was phenomenal. More than 72,000 angler trips there led to the catching and keeping of almost 87,000 stocked trout up to 6 pounds, with catch rates at 1.3 fish per stay on the water.

Anglers collectively spent more than $2.7 million — about three times what an environmental study estimated in 2000 for last season.

The catches, trips and revenue all far outstripped even next year's goals and inched close to historical levels of 100,000 angler trips a season.

That might be reached this year, in part because of the fat holdover trout stocked as fingerling last summer. Those fish were 11 inches long when the fishing season ended last Oct. 31.

The ODFW stocked 100,000 of those trout last summer, and estimates are that 40 percent to 70 percent should survive, Jackson says.

"Even if only 50 percent of them survive, that's 50,000 trout," Jackson says. "They might be 111/2; inches, but they'll be nice, beautiful trout."

And they should be hungry Saturday, Rockholt says.

Ice-fishers must cut holes no larger than 12 inches wide, Rockholt warns. The bait of choice should be bright-colored PowerBait or Velveeta cheese — a long-time Diamond Lake staple, he says.

"After five months in an ice-covered lake, they're going to be pretty darn hungry," Rockholt says. "They see something different, they'll eat it. They won't be leader-shy."

If you listen close, you might even get to hear the trout's teeth chatter.

"The water's so cold, those fish are going to be lethargic," Rockholt says. "People are going to catch a few, but it won't be gang-busters quite yet."

That gang-busting bite should occur sometime in mid-May, when the ice might be completely melted and the lake is into its full spring swing. Another 70,000 to 80,000 fish are set to be released at Diamond Lake this season, Jackson says.

Diamond Lake's daily limit remains five trout a day, with an 8-inch minimum. Only one of those five can be more than 20 inches long.

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