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MailTribune.com
  • When the going gets low

    Hyatt and Emigrant lakes hit by drought conditions, but Howard Prairie has a bright side for fishing
  • GREENSPRINGS — Conor Quinn and three friends filled their rented powerboat with a few fishing rods and a cooler Tuesday and motored away from the Howard Prairie Resort dock with a plan to ply Howard Prairie Lake for rainbows not easily accessible elsewhere.
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    • Not all is lost
      Not all Southern Oregon lakes are struggling with low-water conditions amid the current drought.
      Willow Lake is 93 percent full, while Fish Lake is 50 percent full, and both are stocked with tro...
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      Not all is lost
      Not all Southern Oregon lakes are struggling with low-water conditions amid the current drought.

      Willow Lake is 93 percent full, while Fish Lake is 50 percent full, and both are stocked with trout this summer.

      Lake of the Woods and Diamond Lake don't see much change in elevation during the summers because they are not drawn down for irrigation purposes.
  • GREENSPRINGS — Conor Quinn and three friends filled their rented powerboat with a few fishing rods and a cooler Tuesday and motored away from the Howard Prairie Resort dock with a plan to ply Howard Prairie Lake for rainbows not easily accessible elsewhere.
    "We wanted to get away from the heat in the valley, do some fishing," says Quinn, of Ashland. "Besides, Howard Prairie's better than Hyatt."
    Quinn doesn't realize how right he is.
    Drought conditions have sidelined anglers and wreaked havoc on trout-stocking schedules at numerous lakes, but Howard Prairie is far better for fish and fishing than its two sister reservoirs, Hyatt and Emigrant.
    Heading into the teeth of summer, Howard Prairie is the lake of choice among Ashland-area waters for trout anglers.
    The combination of the unique design of the reservoir's dam and alterations to the lake bed made during a comparable drought 22 years ago means boat anglers and trout-stocking trucks will have access to Howard Prairie's water until the fishing season ends there Oct. 31.
    That's not true for Emigrant or Hyatt, the latter of which already is down to 28 percent full as the quest continues to feed the irrigation needs of the Talent and Rogue River Valley irrigation districts.
    Already Hyatt Lake has been drawn down below its two concrete boat ramps, leaving anglers to fish from shore or find bank spots away from the mud flats where they can launch cartoppers and other smaller boats.
    While Emigrant has ramps that extend far into the reservoir, it also will be drawn down to its bare watery bones by mid-September, according to TID.
    "Emigrant and Hyatt are going to be pretty close to empty, inactive storage," TID Manager Jim Pendleton says.
    But Howard Prairie's outflow is set so no more than 60 cubic feet per second of water can be drawn from it, a feature added during its design in the late 1950s to ensure that at least one of the reservoirs would have some water going into a post-drought filling season, Pendleton says.
    So that reservoir will probably bottom out at around 20 percent full, Pendleton says.
    "There's only so much water I can get out of Howard Prairie," he says.
    Joe Hott, who works at the resort's marina, checks every day what Pendleton is getting out of Howard Prairie.
    He uses a stick to measure the height of the water at the end of the resort's ramp, which today is about 4 feet high.
    By Hott's measurements, that 60 cfs of water flowing out of the reservoir means the lake is dropping about 1.5 inches a day, "or 2 inches on a hot day because of extra evaporation," he says.
    All but the resort's ramp are high and dry, but the resort's ramp could continue to function well into August.
    "It's definitely going to get challenging in August, for sure," says Steve Lambert, manager of the Jackson County Parks Department, which owns and operates the resort. "We'll see how things look when the water drops."
    Even if the ramp ends up dry, not all will be lost at Howard Prairie.
    A quarter-mile gravel road that snakes northeast from the resort into the reservoir will provide access over the muddy lakebed throughout the season thanks to Lambert's predecessors, who grappled with similar low-water conditions 22 years ago.
    The gravel was laid just before the 1992 fishing season to provide access to the water, which was actually lower in April of 1992 than it is today.
    The road has sat dormant under the water for years, and its exposed parts so far are in remarkably good shape.
    "I walked out there (Tuesday), and I thought I could launch my boat if I had to," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist, who is a trout-troller in his off hours.
    "And I pull my boat with a minivan," VanDyke says.
    If VanDyke's minivan can traverse the course, so can an ODFW stocking truck.
    That means the fall stocking program meant to fuel next year's trout fishing will occur as planned, though it will be shaved from 100,000 to 80,000 fingerlings. VanDyke hopes to release 10,000 legal-sized trout there next spring, as well as any extra rainbows from Cole Rivers Hatchery.
    At Hyatt, VanDyke has canceled the fall fingerling releases expected to fuel next year's fishery, replacing them with 30,000 legal-sized trout for release there next spring.
    VanDyke also has canceled the 800 large trout set to be stocked in October in Hyatt and Howard Prairie. He plans instead to release 600 2-pound trout in each reservoir next May.
    Despite the grim future, drought does a funny thing at lakes like Howard Prairie.
    What's bad for the fish is good for fishing because the trout are more concentrated and easier to find — like the 27-inch rainbow pulled out of Howard Prairie a few weeks ago.
    "That thing was 7 pounds and looked like a salmon," Hott says. "The low water, for now, is a benefit."
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.
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