A fledgling nonprofit group has formed locally to help make more and bigger trout available for anglers mining Oregon's inland lakes and streams.

A fledgling nonprofit group has formed locally to help make more and bigger trout available for anglers mining Oregon's inland lakes and streams.

The Gold Hill-based Oregon Fisheries Enhancement Foundation formed in March to assist the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife by helping to plug financial holes in its fish-propagation programs and expand stocking programs in lakes that need it.

The group, which now boasts about 40 members statewide, is planning three fundraising fishing derbies this year, with the first kicking off at Diamond Lake During Free Fishing Weekend.

Foundation President Greg Graham of Gold Hill says he hopes these tournaments will raise money to help offset fish-food costs at state-run hatcheries. Other plans include setting acclimation "net pens" in lakes where excess fingerling trout can be fed and reared to larger sizes that would draw extra attention from Oregon's cold-water anglers.

The group's parent organization, Kokanee Power of California, has done similar projects over the past decade in Shasta Lake in Northern California and New Melones Reservoir in Central California, where rainbow and brown trout were raised to about 16 inches long before release.

"They've been a good project for the fishermen and for public relations," says Gary Coe, president of the California group, which was founded in 1998. "We get a bigger, better-quality fish in a shorter time than elsewhere. They're a high-quality fish."

Local possibilities also include raising money to boost the sizes of rainbow trout stocked in Jackson County's Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes, where illegally stocked bass have altered the lake's balance and harmed the historically robust growth rates of the trout.

"We see the need, from lack of ODFW funding, to put fish where we think they need to belong," Graham says.

"We'd love to help Howard Prairie and Hyatt," Graham says. "We want to help the lakes that need the help the most."

Dan VanDyke, the ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist, says he knows little about the group's plans and has not seen any specific project recommendations.

"When there's a need, that's the kind of thing we jump on," VanDyke says.

The group's first fundraising effort will be the June 7-8 trout-fishing derby at Diamond Lake in eastern Douglas County.

Registration costs $100 per person, and organizers have pledged $2,500 in cash prizes paid to the top 15 finishers — but payouts could go higher depending upon the numbers of registered anglers, Graham says.

Participants will fish both days only from boats, and they will weigh in two fish per day — but only one of them can be more than 20 inches long.

Total weight of rainbows caught both days will determine winners.

Similar events are planned for Green Peter Reservoir in July and Crescent Lake in August.

So far, Graham says, about 50 people have signed up for the inaugural tournament, which is carrying several sponsors and includes a Saturday night banquet at the Diamond Lake Resort, a T-shirt and door prizes.

For this initial tournament, the organization hopes to get 100 participants, Graham says.

"It's difficult," Graham says. "But, if we can manage to make a little money or just break even, it'll be a winning situation just for us to get the word out."

Getting the word out about their new group has been something of an obstacle since Kokanee Power of California sanctioned the Oregon group, Graham says.

It started as a group of Oregon anglers, such as Graham, who regularly fished rainbow and kokanee derbies to raise money for fish-feeding and pen-rearing projects there, Graham says.

In Oregon, most fish called kokanee are excess coho or chinook salmon stocked in reservoirs, where they are legally considered trout. They have a passionate following among some anglers who target them for their tasty flesh.

Under terms of the Forest Service permit issued for the derby, participants in the Diamond Lake derby will be required to clean their boats and inspect for non-native invasive species before launching.

For more information on the derby, along with entry forms and rules, visit the group's Web site at www.kokaneepower.com, call 541-469-3900, or e-mail kokaneeoregon@hotmail.com.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.