A

ASHLAND — Nothing says spring better than a cluster of kids lobbing night crawlers off the banks of upper Emigrant Lake, waiting to see what grabs it before the worm reaches bottom.

Most times, it's a yellow perch. Other times, it's bass, bluegill, rainbow trout and even a rarity like a channel catfish.

Most are there illegally, released by some minnow-brained anglers who apparently believe they know better than anyone what finny creatures ought to call Emigrant Lake home.

But collectively these fish make the submerged willows of the lake's Emigrant Arm perhaps the single best spot in all of Southern Oregon for kids to catch enough fish to retain their attention.

Those escapades will come later and stay longer in the Emigrant Arm this year, as high and cold water levels and a snow pack for the ages conspire to alter fishing conditions here.

Emigrant Lake is already near full and water rushing from Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes down Emigrant Creek and into the lake is so cold that the regular frenzy of kid-fishing in Emigrant Arm likely won't begin until some time in May.

"With the water and the weather being cool, it might take a bit for the bass and the crappie to get active," says David Haight, a fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Central Point. "But once things start warming up we'll have a pretty typical warm-water fishery up there."

One thing that should be atypical about fishing in the Emigrant Arm is that it could last well into mid-summer thanks to the same water conditions that are delaying the start of good fishing there.

Talent Irrigation District Manager Jim Pendleton says we likely will see higher water elevations, unless a severe hot spell increases demand by the district's irrigators.

That means the willows will be submerged longer than normal, which is good for angling in so many ways.

That will allow anglers to stay within the arm's no-wake zone and away from waterskiers and personal watercraft operators. And the longer the water remains in the willows, the longer the fish will remain there, as well.

"It sounds like those fish will be able to use those willows longer," Haight says. "And with the colder water, it delays the spawn so the fish will be holding there longer. Plus, there will be a lot more access to them by kids on the banks before those fish drop into deeper water."

In short, the Emigrant Arm will be the destination of choice for kids, particularly those in the Ashland area.

The lake is the 39th most popular boating lake in Oregon, drawing almost 13,000 people in 2005, the last year that the Oregon State Marine Board did its boating survey. And of those, half came to fish.