After four hours of mining Diamond Lake Friday, Don Olson and Bobby Meyer dump their take of finny gems on the deck at the fish-cleaning station and the place sparkles with rainbows.
Olson sizes up the 16 plump and bright trout, ranging from 16 to 19 inches long, and the LaPine angler sums up the day as ... ho-hum.
"We didn't get any big ones today," Olson says. "We usually catch bigger ones. Still, there's more than 30 pounds of fish there."
Better take one last look at it because the days of extracting pounds of pink flesh from Diamond and other High Cascade lakes are about to end for the year. Monday marks the end of the trout season in many area lakes and reservoirs, where 2011 has proven to be the Year of the Rainbow for anglers like Olson.
Heading into the last weekend of the traditional April to Halloween fishing season in South Cascades lakes, anglers have just a few more days to tack the final sentences onto a trout-season eulogy that will sound more like a jig.
The seasonal lakes that dot this region all sported excellent trout seasons in 2011, taking advantage of good water conditions and changes in fish-stocking patterns to provide memory-making adventures as well as plenty of carcasses for barbecues and smokers.
Howard Prairie Lake's popular fishery got a boost when the fall fingerling stocking program produced many rainbows 15-plus inches long.
At nearby Hyatt Lake, cool temperatures and higher-than-normal water levels helped created a long trout season before anglers switched to largemouth bass.
And waters like Fish Lake, Lemolo, Lake of the Woods and even Expo Pond — that former gravel pit turned into an urban angling destination — took turns garnering the attention of area anglers in search of legal and lunker rainbows stocked strictly for their enjoyment.
But nowhere was the season more festive than at Diamond Lake, which started its season with a rare plea from state fish biologists to please, please, please keep more of the fish you catch.
The lake opened in April with close to half a million rainbows, and more than half of them ran 16 inches or longer. In fact, the sheer biomass of trout was near the ceiling of the lake's carrying capacity, so the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife temporarily upped the limit from five to eight trout per day and asked anglers to fill their coolers legally and regularly.
And they did.
Through Labor Day, the lake hosted more than 47,500 angler-days leading to the catch of 145,518 rainbows for a catch rate of just under three fish per angler per day, according to ODFW creel surveys.
That's well over the catch rates at the majority of Pacific Northwest trout lakes.
Add in the average size of more than 16 inches, and it's easy to see why trout bums from numerous area codes keyed in on this lake in the shadow of Mount Bailey in eastern Douglas County.
"At other places, you go fishing. At Diamond Lake, you catch fish," says Rick Rockholt, of Diamond Lake Resort, where business jumped 20 percent from last year.
"I think we are, by all accounts, the best trout-fishing lake in the Pacific Northwest," Rockholt says.
Results of post-Labor Day effort and successes are not yet available, but they likely will pencil out well within the goals targeted for the lake since it was treated with rotenone to kill off tui chubs and restocked with rainbows in 2006.
"I think the season went well," says Laura Jackson, the ODFW's Umpqua District fish biologist who put the word out for more anglers to eschew catch-and-release and embrace catch-and-eat fishing.
"Most people enjoyed seeing the increase in the limit. We want to get between 50,000 and 100,000 (angler days) at Diamond Lake each season, so we should reach our target this year," Jackson says.
The temporary rule allowing for the eight-fish limit expired Wednesday, so it's back to five trout a day through Monday. But a permanent eight-fish limit kicks in next year.
The lake grows so many big and fat rainbows because its post-chub profile reads like the ultimate horror story for insect-o-phobes.
The lake is so full of leeches, damsel flies and freshwater snails that the rainbows stocked there have off-the-charts growth rates — so much so that it influences stocking rates.
Jackson says she was planning for a June stocking of 250,000 fingerling this year, down from the 315,000 fish stocked last year.
A late melting of the ice meant stocking didn't happen until early July, and only 200,000 fingerling were released then.
"It was obvious that we didn't need to stock as many fish," Jackson says.
Of those, 190,000 fingerlings came from the standard Oak Springs strain, which tend to be fatter and have redder meat in the fall, especially if they feasted on the freshwater shellfish dotting the weeds on the lake's south side.
"You feel their bellies, and it's like they're full of gravel," Rockholt says.
The remaining 10,000 trout were so-called "fishwitch" fish bred to feed on the small population of illegally stocked golden shiners. Those are fall spawners, so they are a little darker and thinner now than the Oak Springs fish.
Olson and Meyer caught plenty of both.
And when trout fishing returns there in 2012, they'll be back and ready to fill that fish-cleaning table with fat Diamond Lake denizens again.
"This is my favorite lake," Olson says. "It's the gem of the Cascades, period."