ASHLAND — For more than 30 years, Bob Isaacs hasn't missed the opening day of the trout-fishing season at his favorite haunt — Hyatt Lake.
He would tow his 1960 Hydroswift boat, handed down from his grandfather, and launch at the Bureau of Land Management ramp even if he had to chop through the ice like he did three years ago.
Hyatt Lake is primarily a troller's lake, with boaters dragging lures such as Tasmanian Devils and Triple Teasers just beyond the weed lines around the lake or along the old creek channel they find on maps or by using their depth finders.
Others park their boats at places like the Orchard, which has a bunch of dead Douglas fir rising out of the water.
Fly-fishermen do well at the lake casting streamers or chironomids. Damsel and dragonfly nymphs are also good bets in the late spring when those insect hatches peak.
Bank fishing is best with PowerBait floated 40 inches or so off the bottom to keep away from the weeds. The coves around the Bureau of Land Management campground and along the lake's west banks are good bets for bank casters.
"That was four hours of hard work, but we caught some nice fish in that little spot," says Isaacs, 59, of Central Point.
When the BLM announced last week it wouldn't be opening the only public ramps at Hyatt Lake until mid-May, Isaacs wasn't worried.
"We were ready to do whatever it takes to get on that lake," he says.
Now that BLM has backed off on plans to keep the ramps closed, Isaacs won't have to come up with a creative way to keep his opening-day tradition afloat. Thanks to help from state and county agencies, as well as local fishing groups, the BLM ramps will be open on Thursday, well ahead of the Saturday, April 27, trout opener.
And it looks like the High Cascades reservoir off Highway 66 east of Ashland will have an excellent opener.
The lake already is virtually ice-free and 96 percent full, and early weather forecasts are calling for pristine weather for opening-day weekend. On top of that, the 90,000 6-inch fingerlings planted in the lake last fall should be 8- to 9-inchers now, big enough for anglers like Isaacs to keep and savor for barbecues and smokers.
"Hyatt's a really good lake for production," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist. "Even under the ice, those fish will grow a couple inches in the winter.
"That's my goal," VanDyke says. "Get a couple of inches of natural food in them over the winter to make that nice red flesh anglers want."
Also, holdover trout stocked in earlier years should be 15 inches or longer, providing excellent opportunities for anglers to take home some opening-day hawgs, VanDyke says.
"I think there are some big fish swimming around Hyatt for anglers this year," he says.
While the two ramps will be open, the BLM's campgrounds, fish-cleaning station and bathrooms will remain closed until the BLM begins staffing the complex in mid-May, BLM spokesman Jim Whittington says.
A hiring freeze went into effect at the BLM before the agency could hire the 60-plus seasonal employees it normally takes on for summer recreation work at the Medford District, Whittington says.
This marks the first fishing season since BLM spent $426,000 rebuilding the two public ramps and improving parking at the complex along the lake's southern end.
The lake is in the midst of a renaissance after four years of stocking fingerling trout in the fall to give them a better chance of surviving predation by the huge population of illegally stocked largemouth bass in the lake.
Coupled with an aggressive transfer of largemouth from Hyatt to other lakes, those fall releases have stabilized the trout population, VanDyke says.
ODFW used to stock Hyatt Lake in May with 350,000 fingerlings about 3 inches long. They usually grew well enough to reach the 8-inch minimum length to be kept by the end of the season, which is Oct. 31.
But the largemouth population exploded and the bucket-mouths started gorging on those fingerlings, so ODFW started stocking legal-sized trout and the larger, 6-inch fingerlings in the fall, when the bass have become less active from the colder water.
"The fall fingerling definitely help survival, but we'd still like to go back to those spring releases," VanDyke says.
ODFW will experiment this year to see whether they can go back to the good-old days of spring stocking at Hyatt.
VanDyke says biologist plan to release 37,500 fingerlings there in early June. Unlike the other trout stocked there, these fish will have clipped adipose fins. Fall gillnet sets and creel surveys next year will show whether those spring fingerling will survive at rates strong enough to go back to that program.
If so, anglers will benefit. It costs ODFW $6,000 more to raise 150,000 fingerlings to the 6-inch size than it does to raise 350,000 fingerlings to the 3-inch size, VanDyke says.
"We're testing the waters to see whether that overpopulation of stunted bass is no longer a problem," VanDyke says.
Regardless, the lake appears to have rebounded.
Last year's fishery showed that the insect population remains strong enough to grow the large, fat and red-fleshed trout anglers expect from this lake on the Dead Indian Plateau.
"Man, there was some great fishing up there," says VanDyke, a trout-troller himself when not at work. "Even in late summer, those fish had a nice layer of fat inside."
VanDyke doesn't have to sell Isaacs on that.
He's made the trek to Hyatt for well over 50 years, with many of those trips shared with fishing buddy Chuck Todd, who lives in Seattle.
The pair exchange daily emails during their traditional countdown to opening day — and the launch of that relic of a Hydroswift — when they will be trolling for rainbows with lures or anchoring to sling bait at them.
"That's our lucky boat," he says.
Sometimes, they feel lucky just to be out there, even if the fish aren't biting, because it's their favorite lake.
"We've spent more fishless hours on Hyatt Lake than anyone else," he says. "But we get our fish."