Brothers Mike and Dave Strahan celebrated Mike's Nov. 2 birthday a day early atop the wind-chopped waters of Diamond Lake, but without much fanfare.
In a few hours of fishing Nov. 1, all the pair could muster was one rainbow trout — and even that was subpar for what has been one of the Northwest's premier trout-fishing lakes.
"It was 7 or 8 inches long," says Dave Strahan, from Grants Pass. "It was the smallest fish I've ever caught at Diamond Lake."
But it could be one of the more famous.
That seemingly innocuous trout caught between snowstorms was one of the first ever caught — at least legally — here in November, ushering in the final leg of Diamond Lake's status as the newest year-round fishing lake in Oregon.
The lake began its inaugural year-round fishing season Jan. 1 after nearly 100 years as a spring-through-October fishery, making this November and December virgin months for Diamond Lake-o-philes like the Strahans.
Because they've never been allowed to fish during these months, anglers heading to this High Cascades trout mecca don't have experience to fall back on, so they're having to figure out on their own the best ways to catch them.
"Right now the truth is nobody really knows," says Rick Rockholt, a 30-year veteran employee at Diamond Lake Resort and perhaps the water's most seasoned trout bum. "It's the first time it's been legal to fish, so it's never happened before, except for maybe a couple poachers."
But the first two weeks of November have offered some hints on what to expect at the lake.
The stocked rainbow trout that make the lake famous are predominantly fish bred from fall-spawning rainbows, so they're likely stacking up around the lake's three feeder creeks — Silent, Short and Camp creeks, which are all near the lake's south end.
The fish don't realize they have nowhere to find any happy endings. The creeks provide virtually no spawning habitat, but the trout still have to go through the motions of staging off those creeks. At least, that's always been the theory for anglers fishing the last two weeks of October.
In late-Octobers of old, bait anglers floated worms a few feet off the bottom or a few feet below a bobber, and fly-fishers slowly stripped large leeches while everyone kept an eye on the weather.
The rainbows also are pretty hungry — likely aware that shorter and colder days mean the lake's filthy-rich insect population that fuels gargantuan growth rates here will soon go dormant.
"Most of the trout in here have been through one winter under the ice, so you'd think they know it's coming," Rockholt says. "Some of the bad weather we've had the past couple weeks should tip them off.
"You'd think they'd be bulking up right now," he says. "Hopefully, that's what will happen. We'll get some good weather and a good bite."
Good bites have been somewhat elusive at Diamond Lake this year, which saw the lowest catch rates since the lake reopened in 2007 following the September 2006 rotenone treatment to poison the nearly 100 million non-native tui chub that caused the trout population to crash and the lake's water-quality to diminish.
Anglers are taking fewer trout out likely because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is putting fewer in.
Stocking levels have been as high as 346,000 fingerling in 2009, which not only triggered record catches in 2010 but also caused some of the same water-quality problems caused by the overabundance of chub.
Since then, stocking levels have been reduced to achieve better water-quality and improve fishery balances at the lake, says Laura Jackson, ODFW's Umpqua District fish biologist.
Last year's stocking was down to 166,000 fingerlings, and that was followed up by just under 170,000 fingerlings and 16,000 legal-sized trout this year. Even with the lower stocking numbers, a bloom of nontoxic algae permeated the lake during much of the fishing season, Jackson says.
The daily catch rate here so far this year is 1.13 per angler, Jackson says. That's well below the post-rotenone record of 3.73 trout per day in 2010, when anglers caught and kept about 128,000 fish at Diamond Lake, but they caught and released more than 76,000 trout in the process.
ODFW estimates that Diamond Lake anglers last year released almost one-third of their catch but still killed and took home 78,156 trout during the regular spring-to-fall season, Jackson says.
"Every year, you fish off the previous year's fish," Jackson says.
The Strahans certainly learned that, and their weekend at Diamond might have showed what a November fishing day in the High Cascades could be like following relatively low stocking rates.
The brothers woke up Saturday morning to a boat-full of snow, so they spent most of the day in front of their cabin's woodstove. Fishing a few hours the next day yielded another trout, but at least the weather was better.
"It may take some time to figure this thing out," Strahan says.
Ultimately November at Diamond Lake sounds a lot like, well, fishing.
"Sorry, I don't have any pearls of wisdom," Strahan says. "I guess you just have to find a way to get in front of a biter."