Lost Creek Lake's once celebrated largemouth bass fishery is starting to bounce back in small increments thanks to help from a local bass club and the bountiful offerings of Hyatt Lake.
As part of a program aimed at giving warmwater anglers an alternative to smallmouth bass at Jackson County's largest reservoir, Lost Creek Lake received an infusion Saturday of 420 largemouth caught in Hyatt Lake by members of the Black Bass Action Committee.
Anglers say the Lost Creek largemouth are holding on and growing amid the smallmouth that have out-competed them for food and space since they were illegally introduced decades ago.
"The transfers are working out pretty well," says David Haight, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who oversaw the transfer of largemouth from Hyatt, which is overrun with small largemouth, into Lost Creek Lake. Urban ponds in the Willamette Valley and Bend areas also got some of the Hyatt bucketmouths.
"We're definitely seeing improvement in the largemouth fisheries where we're moving them," Haight says. "That part is definitely a positive."
But positive is relative.
Bass angler Colby Pearson says the smaller Hyatt bass stocked in recent years are now about 12 inches long and weigh about 2 pounds. He says they're catchable casting senkos or crankbaits near submerged brush or the rows of recycled Christmas trees sunk in the lake annually for largemouth habitat.
"The largemouth sometimes show themselves to a lucky smallmouth angler, but the best bets would be senkos around brush," Pearson says.
Luck, or the lack of it, has been a recurring theme for Lost Creek Lake largemouth anglers ever since the 3,430-acre reservoir was carved out of the forest in the mid-1970s.
The clearcut basin carved into bedrock is more conducive to rock-friendly smallmouth bass than largemouth, which prefer vegetative cover.
Still, the original stocking of rainbow trout and largemouth bass proved effective, as largemouth feasted on fingerling rainbows and grew to become the largest largemouth in Oregon.
Lost Creek Lake had its coming-out party in 1988 when Joe Pool of Central Point caught an 11-pound largemouth which, at the time, set an Oregon record that since has been broken.
But the lake already had tasted its fate by then.
Sometime in the mid 1980s, someone illegally released smallmouth bass in the reservoir, where they felt at home among the rocks and didn't struggle with fluctuating summer water levels as much as largemouth do.
By the mid-1990s, smallmouth bass were everywhere and only a few big largemouth remained. Smallmouth were feasting on juvenile largemouth, and by 1997 the fishery was all but gone, another casualty of renegade fish-stocking.
Since then, groups like The Black Bass Action Committee have helped ODFW biologists catch bass in other lakes and release them into the reservoir. They also are planting willows and sinking discarded Christmas trees by the thousands each winter to create more largemouth habitat in the moonscape lake bed.
But too many smallmouth, too few largemouth and far too few Christmas trees leave largemouth in the lurch.
Pearson says the Hyatt Lake largemouth, as well as bigger ones transferred from Davis Lake, create a small fishery that's not likely to get much better.
With no fingerling trout stocked there now, the bass have little to eat, Pearson says.
And it's only going to get worse.
Someone illegally released spotted bass into the lake recently, adding another competitor for largemouth.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.