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MailTribune.com
  • Ice-free Howard Prairie primed for opener

    Resort officially opens Saturday with boat moorings planned; online camping, RV reservations available
  • You won't see Howard Prairie Resort owner Joel LeGrande transforming his wooden barge into an ice breaker all next week — as he did two years ago — in hopes of turning the High Cascades lake from a skating rink into a trout-fishing factory for anglers anxious to fish there opening weekend.
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  • You won't see Howard Prairie Resort owner Joel LeGrande transforming his wooden barge into an ice breaker all next week — as he did two years ago — in hopes of turning the High Cascades lake from a skating rink into a trout-fishing factory for anglers anxious to fish there opening weekend.
    The lake has been ice-free much of the winter, with a complete complement of trout just waiting for the first gobs of PowerBait and worms to be slung their way.
    That means you'll see LeGrande orchestrating final cleaning of campgrounds and the placement of docks in preparation for the April 23 opener — a much better job than past years, he laughs.
    "The days of running the barge to break up the ice are long gone," LeGrande says. "Things are looking great. It's exciting."
    The excitement begins Saturday when the resort officially opens and the first fishing boats and sailboats are launched for mooring. The weather forecast calls for temperatures of close to 60 degrees, LeGrande says.
    The lake is in its third season of a new trout-stocking regimen that sees the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife release 150,000 6-inch rainbows in the fall. That schedule replaced the traditional May planting of 350,000 fingerling rainbow, whose populations crashed after illegally introduced smallmouth bass established themselves there and began preying on the small trout.
    The larger trout stocked in the fall — when bass are less active — have gained a leg up on their warmwater rivals and the lake has since developed into a two-tier fishery — rainbows in the spring, early summer and fall, with smallmouth fishing during the hot summer months when trout fishing typically hits its doldrums.
    "It does look like that fall fingerling release is performing very well," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist. "I think we've gotten good response in fish getting caught and anglers seem to like the quality of the fish."
    Like neighboring Hyatt Lake, Howard Prairie is a very productive lake, and surveys in the past have shown that these trout grow 1 to 2 inches under the ice during winter, VanDyke says.
    Survival rates would increase if anglers paid more attention to carefully releasing the smaller trout they catch, VanDyke says. That means unhooking trout while still in the net, keeping fingers out of gills and being as gentle as possible, he says.
    "I've seen some pretty sloppy releases of fish at Howard Prairie," he says.
    Early-season fishing typically is best with worms, chartreuse or rainbow dough baits or single salmon eggs and cheese. Success is good off the dike at the resort, as well as for boat anglers anchored in 10 to 15 feet of water.
    Last fall's planters should be in the 9- to 10-inch range and they will be bolstered by holdover trout, which should provide an excellent opener, VanDyke says.
    "I doubt we'll ever get back to where it was, but I think we'll see a few more of the fish going 20 inches like anglers are used to up there," VanDyke says.
    Another thing you won't see this year are valley residents buzzing up the Greensprings Highway on Thursdays just to commandeer a campsite for the clan on the weekend.
    The resort has added an online reservation system for its 244 camp and RV sites at http://hplake.com.
    Already LeGrande has received more than 450 reservations and he expects scores more as word of the system reaches valley residents.
    The resort is planning a trout-fishing derby June 25 and an outdoor concert Aug. 6. Both events raise money for the Boys and Girls Club.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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