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Snowpack leaves lakes unready for trout season

A trout fishermen calls the Fish Lake Resort to reserve a space for this weekend's traditional opening of trout season, and owner Jim Blodgett has more to do than pencil the spot full.

He jumps onto his snowplow, dodges the snowmobilers and carves — feet of snow away from a space that should only be dusted with white stuff in mid-April.

Heading into trout season, the Cascade Mountain snow remains so thick even the snow people are complaining.

We've even heard snowmobilers say, 'We're tired of snowmobiling,' Blodgett says. They're ready for barbecues and fishing.

Anglers may be ready to start searching for rainbows beginning with Saturday's traditional opening of the spring trout fishing season, but many of the lakes are only partly ready for them.

A hefty snowpack compounded by a cold spring has left many area lakes either locked beneath sheets of ice or only partly open for the hordes of anglers who hold ritual the fourth Saturday of April fishing Cascade Mountain lakes.

— Regular destinations like Diamond Lake and Hyatt Lake remain iced-over with no open water for anglers who haven't fished these haunts since they closed last Halloween.

Howard Prairie finally is ice-free but visitors there beginning Saturday could find the fish they catch shivering from frigid water temperatures.

And Fish Lake is one-third water, two-thirds ice ' and access is only through the Fish Lake Resort boat ramp plowed last week so the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife could get 4,900 legal-sized trout into the lake.

At the same time we're getting ready for fishing, the Sno-Cat is still grooming snowmobile trails, Debbi Blodgett says. It's nuts.

The nuttiness extends throughout the mid-elevation areas of the Cascades socked in by immense amounts of snow.

While high-elevation areas are hovering around 150 percent of full, which alone is more than enough to feed reservoirs and swell rivers well into summer. But the woods around the 4,500-foot elevation ' the same height as Howard Prairie and Fish lakes ' are wallowing in snow.

Fish Lake's snowpack is 349 percent of average, while King Mountain sports 379 percent of average.

I don't ever remember this much snow at those mid-elevations, and I've been working here since the 1970s, says Steve Johnson, snow ranger for the Ashland Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

While nature conspires to keep anglers at bay, many people in the recreation business are doing all they can to put anglers on the water Saturday.

The recent thawing of Howard Prairie has slowed pre-season preparations at the Howard Prairie Resort, considered the most heavily visited local resort for the traditional opening weekend.

The ice came off the lake so late that we've had to scramble to get this marina put back together, says Chris Johnston, the resort's general manager. But we're all ready.

The boat ramps are open and the campground is about 80 percent open, Johnston says. But the massive amounts of snow are causing other kinds of water problems.

The water temperature was hovering around 39 degrees this week, far cooler than the 43- to 47-degree temperatures normally seen for trout openers, Johnston says. And that should impact fishing.

The last time water temperatures were that cold was 1999, when anglers struggled to find the trout, Johnston says.

The trout can be sluggish and less apt to bite. Plus, the temperature tends to be pretty uniform throughout the water column, so the trout could be anywhere

In 1999, the fish were in 5 feet of water and 40 feet of water, Johnston says. It was tough on guys. People were spending two to three hours trying to find fish.

People Saturday won't be able to find the water at Diamond Lake, where an estimated — feet of slushy ice cloaks the shrinking water now getting drained in preparation for chemical treatment in late summer to kill off tui chubs.

The ODFW has put off stocking 24,000 legal-sized trout there until at least Mother's Day, and workers at the Diamond Lake Resort hope to have happy anglers by the end of May.

We're shooting for really good fishing Memorial Day weekend, if the weather holds, resort marketing director Rick Rockholt says. Can you believe it?

Normally, the lake's edges are ice-free by now and the ice ledge sags daily as it melts toward the middle.

But the winter draining of the iced-over lake has left the surface as much as 6 feet above the actual water line, Rockholt says. So the ice at the lake's center now seems to be sagging, ready to implode and melt from the center on out.

I'm taking lots of pictures because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Rockholt says.

While anglers remain thankful they aren't pondering the normal summer fishing demon ' drought ' they may, however, find themselves with too much of a good thing.

Howard Prairie is 103 percent full, with water running over the lake's spillway and the surface still is rising about an inch a day from snowmelt. With all that snow still cloaking the hills, a quick melt could be problematic.

If we end up with a warm rain, watch out. We may be sandbagging, Johnston says. It's just crazy.

Snow has become anglers' deadbeat brother-in-law who was a pleasure to have visit for Thanksgiving and tolerable when he stuck around through Christmas. But now, with Easter come and gone, he seems far too comfortable in the Barcalounger.

In November, we want snow, says Blodgett, scanning snowdrifts where RVs soon will park. We want it to come. And it came.

Well, now it's time to go, he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail Snowpack leaves lakes unready for trout season"mfreeman@mailtribune.com.