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'Climate year' would dictate fingerling stocking

Diamond Lake will continue to be stocked with up to 400,000 fingerling trout in late spring or early summer under a new plan for long-term management of the lake in its post-tui chub era.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will stock the fingerlings five to eight weeks after ice melts in the eastern Douglas County lake and not rely on a fixed calendar date for releasing those fish, according to a draft of the plan.

That way, fingerlings will focus less on zooplankton and more on insects, allowing a good ecological balance in the lake that will promote fish health and water quality, according to Laura Jackson, the ODFW's Umpqua District fish biologist.

"We'll start adapting to a climate year, not a calendar year," Jackson says.

Though relying on the traditional fingerling stocking, the plan allows the ODFW to stock legal-sized or larger predatory trout should chub or more shiners show up in the lake, according to the draft.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will be asked to adopt the new plan when it meets Friday in Grants Pass.

The commission, which meets occasionally on the road away from its traditional Salem environs, will meet at 8 a.m. in the Floral Building at the Josephine County Fairgrounds.

Friday's meeting will be preceded today by a tour scheduled to include visits to Savage Rapids and Gold Ray dams along the Rogue River and lunch at the new Robert and Phyllis Mace Memorial Watchable Wildlife Pavilion at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Central Point.

Savage Rapids Dam is in the process of being removed this summer and fall, while Jackson County is seeking bids to remove Gold Ray Dam as early as next year as environmental studies and other factors point toward removal as the best choice for the decommissioned hydroelectric dam.

"The commission hasn't been here in several years, so it's a great opportunity to show them first-hand some active and potential dam-removal projects that will greatly benefit the Rogue's fish and wildlife," says ODFW spokeswoman Meghan Collins, who helped coordinate the tour.

In drafting its new Diamond Lake Management Plan, the ODFW has declared the lake recovered from its 2006 rotenone treatment to kill the 100 million chubs that harmed the lake's water quality and strangled its storied trout fishing.

After stocking various-sized rainbows in 2007 and '08 to jump-start the fishery, the ODFW this year returned to its so-called "basic yield" program that relies on fingerlings.

Fingerlings are less expensive to raise and are expected to take advantage of the lake's voluminous insect population to recreate the "family fishery" popular there from the 1960s through the 1980s.

The goal would be to encourage between 50,000 and 100,000 angler trips per year with anywhere from 200,000 to 270,000 trout going home in coolers.

Despite a late thaw and a nearby summer wildfire, the lake has seen about 39,000 visitors who on average are catching 1.4 trout apiece, Jackson says. Many of the fish are measuring 18 inches and longer, she says.

"It's actually been a wonderful summer," she says.

The draft that goes before the commission Friday differs little from the version circulated among the public for comment in May. However, it does contain more discussions about how the ODFW plans to monitor and analyze the fishery and the lake's water quality.