ASHLAND — Anglers had a glimpse of the good ol' days at Howard Prairie Lake, where a new stocking regimen paid dividends for anglers hitting the high-mountain reservoir during Saturday's Opening Day of trout-fishing there.

ASHLAND — Anglers had a glimpse of the good ol' days at Howard Prairie Lake, where a new stocking regimen paid dividends for anglers hitting the high-mountain reservoir during Saturday's Opening Day of trout-fishing there.

Good numbers of anglers Saturday caught their five-trout limits of plump and long rainbow trout in what biologists say was close to the benchmarks set for Howard Prairie.

The 6-inch trout released last fall turned into 10-inchers as expected, surviving smallmouth bass predation to turn into the kind of trout that drive Opening Day activity there.

"I'd say fishing was good," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist, who checked anglers' creels Saturday.

"I think the halcyon days aren't just there yet, but it was certainly the best of the sites we creeled this year," VanDyke says.

Anglers also flocked to nearby Hyatt Lake for what was reportedly a good day of bank angling, and visitors to Diamond Lake in nearby eastern Douglas County cut their way through the ice to pull out plenty of fat trout Minnesota-style — through their ice holes.

Those three lakes anchor the traditional spring trout-fishing opener, set for the fourth Saturday of each April.

At Diamond, the creel checkers found about 100 chilled anglers catching trout 12 inches to 20 inches long, and an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife creel-checker rated the weekend's fishing as "medium."

"But considering that's ice-fishing, that's pretty good," says Laura Jackson, the ODFW's Umpqua District fish biologist.

Some open water was available to anglers at Diamond Lake's southern end near the mouth of Silent Creek, Jackson says. Other than that, people were dangling dough baits or worms through holes cut in the ice.

The lake's surface is a combination of ice and snow that Jackson earlier this week called "fairly rotten."

People should ice-fish at their own risk, Jackson says.

Hyatt Lake hosted a plethora of bank anglers casting dough baits and worms into cold but ice-free waters.

"The entire bank was lined out here," says Bill Duke, general manager of the Mountain Resort at Hyatt Lake. "But we haven't had one fishermen (Tuesday). It's kind of snowy and nasty now."

Most eyes were on Howard Prairie, eager to see the results of a stocking experiment meant to reverse the harm that illegally introduced smallmouth bass have done to the trout fishery there.

In recent years, the bass population has exploded and the predacious fish all but ate their way through spring fingerling trout plants there — the backbone of the lake's fishery.

Each of the past two Novembers, ODFW biologists have stocked 100,000 trout that are 6 inches long and sport clipped adipose fins. The idea is that they are too big for easy bass prey and their November release comes when the cold water makes the bass sluggish.

The ODFW has received a state Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program grant to do creel checking there this spring, and Saturday's data shows promise.

Based on interviews with 63 fishing parties, anglers averaged .5 trout per hour of fishing and 1.7 trout caught per angler that day, VanDyke says. The goal, he says, is to see an overall catch rate of .75 trout per hour.

Further breakdown proves it's worth renting a boat if you want to catch fish there.

Boat anglers trolling a variety of lures or wind-drifting worms collectively sported an average of .87 trout per hour and slightly more than three fish per person, VanDyke says.

Bank anglers caught .24 trout per hour and collectively averaged less than one fish apiece.

The fish released in November 2007 averaged 13 inches. The trout releases last year hit the 10-inch mark and their body condition was considered good.

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