Hyatt Lake stocking strategy gets its first big test

Fingerling trout now legal-sized, if they outsmarted bass
Some ice remained on Hyatt Lake this week, but anglers should have plenty of open water to fish on opening day. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

Biologists hope a stocking strategy used successfully at Howard Prairie Lake will help trout fishing in nearby Hyatt Lake, where an explosion of smallish largemouth bass have taken over the lake.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife last fall released 80,000 fingerling trout at Hyatt, hoping the fish will be able to survive predation from largemouth that ate so many of the lake's 250,000 spring-planted fingerlings that the program was discontinued two years ago.

Last fall's plants should be legal-sized this year, and the first inkling of how well these fingerlings fared will come April 23, when the lake opens to anglers for the first time in 2011.

The lake is virtually ice-free, almost full and ready for anglers on opening weekend.

"We want to see if these fish can survive, and we'd like to hear from anglers who catch these fish," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist.

The agency has been releasing about 25,000 legal-sized trout there annually "just to keep the fishery going," VanDyke says. Those releases will continue.

But good survival rates of the fall fingerlings could mean a new program at Hyatt that is similar to the successful one at Howard Prairie, VanDyke says.

The trout-bass conundrum dates to spring of 1990, after the lake was poisoned with rotenone to rid it of millions of illegally stocked brown bullhead catfish that had overpopulated the lake and killed its ecosystem — much the way tui chubs murdered Diamond Lake in the 1990s.

At that time, ODFW resumed Hyatt Lake's popular fingerling trout stocking, but agency biologists added some largemouth bass, as well.

The bass were initially seen as insurance, capable of gobbling up any bullhead that survived the treatment, but then they became too much of a good thing.

So many largemouth exploded in the lake they stunted their own growth rates. Now, hordes of 7- and 8-inch bass dominate the waterscape there, with traditional trout fishing the biggest loser.

"We expect conditions to normalize if we can get these really, really strong year classes to thin out," VanDyke says. "We expect that to happen naturally."

And they're getting some help. Local bass clubs fishing under special permits have caught and relocated about 10,000 Hyatt largemouth to Lost Creek, Applegate and other lakes across the state where largemouth are desired.

Those remaining provide an excellent fishing opportunity for families because the fish are easy to catch using a variety of methods, especially during the mid-summer camping months.

Nightcrawlers, small spinners, plastic worms, crayfish-looking lures and even top-water frog imitations will scare up a passel of 7-inch largemouth all days.

Think of it as an opportunity to clean out the tackle box by using whatever lures didn't work elsewhere because Hyatt bass are so hungry they bite anything.

"It's a great opportunity to get kids into fish and for anybody who wants to take some of these smaller bass home for dinner," VanDyke says.

In spring, Hyatt faithful troll for trout with Triple Teasers or Tasmanian Devils, often spiked with a piece of nightcrawler.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at

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