Agate Lake offers early opportunity for anglers

When Wes Davenport and Doug School drove from nearby White City to Agate Lake early Tuesday to while away the afternoon with a little fishing, they discovered an odd-looking truck parked on the boat ramp.

The truck wasn't here to load or unload a boat. It was marked with Desert Springs Trout Farm on the side, and it was launching a new fishery.

Agate Lake facts

212 acres, built in 1966 by the federal Bureau of Reclamation to store water for the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District. The area around it is a Jackson County park.

  • Shallow, often murky water that's home primarily to warmwater fish such as largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and perch.
  • Limited fishery for rainbow trout stocked in the fall and now in mid-February.
  • Bank fishing is best near the boat ramp and off the dam. Shallow slope near the boat ramp often calls for long casts.
  • Boat anglers often wind-drift or troll. No gas motors are allowed, but electric motors are legal.
  • Baits such as worms, PowerBait and egg-and-cheese combinations work best for trout.
  • To get there from Medford, take Highway 62 north, then east on Highway 140 to Riley Road, just past Stone Ridge Golf Club. Go right, then turn right though the park gate.
  • Open sunrise to sunset.

"When we got here we saw the truck, and they were still stocking trout out of it," says School, 30. "Fish were jumping all around. It was pure luck, man."

These White City fishing buddies were the first to stumble onto a new winter angling opportunity designed to keep people like them entertained without burning lots of gas and travel time.

Tuesday marks by far the earliest date in which Medford's closest lake has received a fresh complement of trout, creating a mid-winter angling option for Rogue Valley dwellers with a taste for fresh trout.

This shallow, 212-acre lake off Highway 140 now sports 1,000 legal-sized trout about 8 inches long, as well as about 100 larger trout — plump rainbows running 12-14 inches long.

They will be bending rods and filling coolers normally not present at Agate until fall, when the lake has been stocked with trout in recent years.

"It's another fishing opportunity, especially for the people close to Medford," says Dan VanDyke, Rogue District fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Though the trout didn't bite right away Tuesday, Davenport did.

"Usually I'm here with my kids in the summertime," says Davenport, 33. "But I'll be coming here now. And next time, we'll have to remember to bring some chairs."

Agate's stocking marks a wrinkle in Oregon's relatively new 25-Year Angling Plan that is designed to give the state's roughly 440,000 trout bums what they've asked for — more urban fishing opportunities to target a variety of different-sized trout and in more seasons than just spring and summer.

ODFW over the past two years has used $400,000 from license fees earmarked by the Oregon Legislature to buy trout from private hatcheries such as Desert Springs near Summer Lake and release them statewide.

The fish are in two groups — so-called "large" trout 12 to 14 inches long and "trophy" trout averaging 16 inches. They cost ODFW $3.90 per pound.

They are much larger than the fingerling and 8-inch "legal-sized" trout typically stocked from state hatcheries, where the trout program generates a pound of trout for about $3.

In the local area, these fish have gone into Expo Ponds, as well as Agate Lake and Rheinhart Pond in Grants Pass. The Rheinhart stocking happens in May before the spring youth-only fishing event there.

But Expo and Agate sport unique problems as trout lakes.

Their shallow waters can sport summer temperatures in the mid-80s, and that's lethal to trout. So they can support trout fisheries only from fall to spring, making them perfect candidates for the supplemental winter stocking, VanDyke says.

That made Davenport and School the perfect people to test-drive the program. After an hour or so, the trout had failed to cooperate for Davenport and School, who tossed everything from worms to lures and PowerBait at the rainbows.

"They've taken a few worms from us," School says. "I'm going to switch up and try bubble gum pretty soon."

Then Davenport's bobber plunged, and he reeled in one of the 12-inchers right to the base of the boat ramp. But the rubbing of the line against the serrated concrete broke the line and the fish finned away free, for now.

"Oh, (BEEP)," Davenport says. "That was a big one. I'll tie on a hook he won't be able to break next time."

As Davenport walked over to his tackle box irked that he got schooled by a trout, School snickered.

"That happens to him all the time," School says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail

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